Christmas Delivers Macau Casinos Presents With Strong Visitation and Bookings

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Christmas isn’t exactly a major holiday in China, but Macau, one of two Special Administrative Regions (SARs) belonging to the People’s Republic, was nonetheless busy on Dec. 25 and its surrounding days.

Travelers in Macau pose for photographs with the city’s Christmas tree on Dec. 23, 2023. The Christmas holiday ushered in about 456,000 travelers to the Chinese Special Administrative Region where casinos are allowed. (Image: South China Morning Post)

The Macau Government Tourism Office (MGTO) in an update released on Wednesday said the enclave’s hotel rooms were occupied at a rate of nearly 91% between Dec. 23 and Dec. 26.

Macau is home to approximately 45,700 hotel rooms. The city’s casinos account for the vast majority of the rental lodging.

The 90.8% occupancy rate is a 2.7% uptick on the same three-night period in 2022. During the four days cited, the Macau Statistics and Census Service said the region counted “over 456,000” visitor arrivals, or about 114,000 a day.

The Chinese government does not promote the observations of religious holidays, especially a Christian one. The People’s Republic, however, does recognize five official religions — Buddhism, Taoism, Islam, Protestantism, and Catholicism. Buddhism is the most popular, with an estimated 185 million to 250 million people being practicing Buddhists.

Since Macau and Hong Kong operate under the “one country, two systems” policy arrangement that gives the SARs a bit of governance independence from Beijing, the regions are more popular Christmas destinations than many mainland cities.

Macau and Hong Kong both have stronger Christmas mood, which is appealing as a destination to mainland Chinese visitors,” analyst Hoffman Ma Ho Man explained.

Ma said Hong Kong is also a major feeder to Macau during the Christmas period.

Macau Rebound

2023 marked the start of Macau’s COVID-19 recovery more than four years after the coronavirus originated in China’s Wuhan.

China President Xi Jinping maintained his controversial “zero-COVID” response strategy that faced a flurry of criticism from foreign leaders. After widespread protests against the policy that mandated sporadic lockdowns upon detection of new case clusters, Xi finally lifted the directive in early December 2022.

The eradication of “zero-COVID” allowed Chinese people to more freely move about the country and its two SARs. Macau, desperate for visitors, benefited and gaming slowly initiated its revival.

Through 11 months of 2023, Macau’s six commercial casino operators have jointly won over $20.4 billion from gamblers. While that’s a 325% year-over-year increase from the same period in 2022, the gaming win accounts for about 61% of the market’s 2019 GGR for January through November.

Market observers at JPMorgan focused on Macau’s gaming market are forecasting a December win of $2.11 billion. If that is realized, full-year 2023 GGR will come in around $22.51 billion — or about 62% of the 2019 win that totaled $36.3 billion.

Approximately 5.7 million visitors came through Macau’s border gates in 2022. Through November, 2023 visitation totaled nearly 25.3 million travelers.

Mass Play at Full Strength

The JPMorgan note on Macau’s December GGR forecast included the revelation that mass play has presumably returned to 2019 levels. The revenue shortcomings are largely due to VIP junket groups no longer bringing hordes of high-rollers to town after Beijing ordered law enforcement to closely scrutinize the industry.

Mass GGR is running at around 100%,” the JPMorgan release detailed.

Macau is undergoing an effort to overhaul the destination with non-gaming attractions. The six casino operators last year pledged to invest $13.5 billion in non-gaming projects before 2033.

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