Chinese New Year Unofficial Start to Macao Rebound

Published on: January 24, 2023, 04:54 am.

Last updated: 24 January 2023, 04:54.

Chinese New Year 2023 — the Year of the Rabbit — officially began on January 22. One of the most important holidays in Chinese culture, the Spring Festival, as the week-long celebration is also known, marks the end of winter and the beginning of the spring season.

Chinese New Year Macau Casinos China COVID-19
Macau Chief Executive Ho Iat Seng makes a public appearance during Chinese New Year on January 24, 2023. Macau’s casinos are enjoying a substantial rebound in visitor traffic as China lifted its “zero-COVID” policy at the end of in November 2022. (Image: Macao SAR Government)

Chinese New Year is a time for commemoration and reflection, with most workers having seven days off. But this year’s holiday also marks the unofficial start of China’s post-COVID-19 recovery on the mainland and in the country’s two special administrative regions (SARs) – Macau and Hong Kong.

After three New Years weakened by the coronavirus, the 2023 holiday is the first holiday without pandemic-related travel restrictions since COVID-19 emerged in China in late 2019. And mainlanders flock to Macau for the holiday period, the only place in China where gambling is allowed.

Macau Rush

Macau casinos are finally catching up to pent-up demand from other major gambling markets after their host countries eased pandemic protocols. Las Vegas, for example, set new annual gambling revenue records in both 2021 and last year.

With Macau’s borders fully open to the mainland, the enclave receives a flurry of visitors during the holiday extravaganza, which officially runs from January 22-29. The Macau Government Tourism Office (MGTO) said 71,678 border crossing points were counted on Monday alone. This is the highest number for a single day since the enclave imposed entry restrictions on arriving travelers and residents in early 2020.

The successive holding of wonderful and diverse New Year celebration activities and general publicity have further attracted many tourists to come to Macao to celebrate the New Year. The square is full of people and all the districts are full of festive and festive atmosphere to welcome the Spring Festival,” said a statement from MGTO.

Travelers arriving at Macau’s border gates from the mainland, Hong Kong and Taiwan are allowed unrestricted entry. Foreigners, however, must submit a negative COVID-19 test collected within 48 hours prior to their departure for Chinese SAR.

Visitor numbers gradually increased over the holiday weekend. Macau said 32,554 visitors entered the region on Saturday (New Year’s Eve). Sunday traffic totaled 50,041 people.

The three-day total of 154,273 entries represents a 217% year-over-year increase.

Gaming Rebound

More people means more players for Macau’s six casino operators. Daily gaming checks from brokerages suggest that January 2023 will be Macau’s best month in years.

Game analysts Carlo Santarelli and Steven Pizzella of Deutsche Bank say daily gaming revenue has grown from about $14 million a day at the end of 2022 to about $39 million every 24 hours in mid-January.

Macau casinos earned $5.25 billion last year — less than half of the $10.8 billion the firms are expected to generate in 2021. In 2019 before the pandemic, the same six gaming giants reported a VGR of over $36.4 billion.

Deutsche Bank analysts believe casino property EBITDA could surpass 2019 levels this year. But the brokerage acknowledged that business forecasts had changed with the reworking of Macau’s regulatory framework last year, with the focus now on the mass market over VIPs.

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