Macau’s tourism data dipped in November and visits are expected to tumble again this month, making it unlikely that 40 million travelers will have come to the Special Administrative Region (SAR) this year.
Officials are forecasting a dip in visits in the first half of 2020 because the growth seen in the first 10 months of 2019 is being attributed to the opening of the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge, providing tough comparables for next year’s numbers.
In recent comments before the International Council for Small Business Macao Government Tourism Office (MGTO), director Maria Helena de Senna Fernandes said tourism to the world’s largest gaming center will be up this year compared with 2018. But reaching 40 million visits appears unlikely.
I believe that in November we will see, for the first time, a decrease in visitor arrivals. I also believe that we all witnessed a decrease in visitors of the Macau Grand Prix last month,” said Senna Fernandes.
Official November tourist data is due out later this month. But it has already been reported that gross gaming revenue (GGR) on the peninsula plunged 8.5 percent to $2.8 billion in November, marking the worst month of 2019 to that point.
Lots Of Headwinds
This year, the six Macau concessionaires, including Las Vegas Sands, Melco Resorts, and Wynn Resorts, have been confounded by a variety of headwinds. The US/China trade war, signs of weakness in the Chinese economy, and geopolitical turmoil in Hong Kong are among the factors widely cited in explaining tepid GGR figures in the SAR.
More recently, another scenario has entered the equation: strict visa controls implemented by Beijing ahead of the 20th anniversary handover celebration later this month. Those festivities, marking the switch of Macau to Chinese control from Portuguese oversight, are expected to lure a slew of a dignitaries from the mainland, perhaps even President Xi Jinping.
Visa restrictions were imposed on Nov. 22, which was earlier than expected, meaning those controls hampered Macau tourism for a portion of last month and will likely do so for all of December. Although the MGTO said it isn’t aware of the visa controls, its forecast for 2019 tourism is tepid.
We are not that optimistic in the figures for November and December. I think it [the 2019 visitor tally] could be eventually be close to 40 million, but probably not exceeding it,” said Senna Fernandes.
The tourism agency believes there will be a carryover effect, and that visits to the gaming mecca will slide year-over-year in the first half of 2020.
Hong Kong Problem
While Senna Fernandes was reluctant to acknowledge the visa controls as a reason for reduced November and December tourism in Macau, she wasn’t shy about blaming the pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong for hampering visits to the peninsula.
Senna Fernandes said geopolitical volatility in Hong Kong has kept international visitors and tour groups from Mainland China, the primary source of Macau tourism, at bay. The protests have lasted more than six months, resulting in nearly a dozen deaths.