The number of visitors to the Tigre de Cristal casino resort (pictured) in the Russian Far East has declined so far this year, but business should “quickly rebound” once the outbreak of the novel coronavirus Covid-19 is contained, a senior executive of the property’s promoter, Summit Ascent Holdings Ltd, told GGRAsia.
The Russian government announced this week a temporary entry ban for Chinese nationals – including from people from Hong Kong and Macau – effective from Thursday (February 20). The ban affects those who travel with tourist, private, student and work visas, said the country’s Foreign Ministry.
The measure was announced as part of the efforts to contain the novel coronavirus outbreak centred in China that has infected more than 75,000 people worldwide. Visitors with official, business, humanitarian and transit visas will still be allowed into the country, the Ministry stated.
Earlier this year, Russia shut down its land border with China and suspended all train services to mainland Chinese territory.
Eric Landheer, executive director of Hong Kong-listed Summit Ascent, told us on Thursday that the temporary entry ban to “most, but not all, travel from China … has understandably had an adverse impact on our visitation to start 2020”.
The executive said however that the winter period is “historically” Tigre de Cristal’s annual low season. “So, the impact is not as pronounced as if it had occurred over our peak summer months,” said Mr Landheer.
Summit Ascent’s Tigre de Cristal, near the Russian Pacific port of Vladivostok, has been marketed by its promoter as within short flying time of a large portion of North Asia, a region populated by consumers keen on casino gambling.
“We have a diverse customer base and are not solely reliant on one feeder market,” said Mr Landheer. “We also have many repeat visitors that have only postponed (not cancelled) their planned visits to our property, so we anticipate a quick rebound once we have moved past this challenging period,” he added in his comments to GGRAsia.
The executive said it was “too early” to provide any guidance regarding the financial impact on Tigre de Cristal’s business. “We cannot forecast when the [health] crisis will pass and when Northeast Asian travel and flight connectivity will return to normalcy,” he stated.
Mr Landheer said nonetheless that the company had “maintained stringent cost controls” and “conservative financial policies” over the years. “We have the resources to weather a lengthy adverse situation if necessary,” he added.
Tigre de Cristal is currently the only casino property in operation in the Primorye Integrated Entertainment Zone (IEZ), a casino development area located 50 kilometres (31 miles) from Vladivostok. The Primorye IEZ is being promoted by Primorsky Krai Development Corp, a government-owned company under the Department of Tourism of Primorsky.
Summit Ascent reported in August a profit of HKD42.8 million (US$5.50 million) for the first six months of 2019, on net revenue that rose 23.8 percent year-on-year, to HKD257.3 million. The company said at the time that Tigre de Cristal’s casino rolling chip operation – which “primarily targets foreign players” – generated a turnover of approximately HKD8.36 billion in the first six months of 2019, a year-on-year jump of 28.5 percent.
Mr Landheer stated that to date, there had been no case of confirmed Covid-19 infection at Tigre de Cristal, adding that the property’s management had implemented several measures to safeguard the health of visitors and staff. Such measures included “[body] temperature screening of all staff and visitors to the property, and stringent hygiene and heightened cleaning procedures,” he noted.
Suncity Group Holdings Ltd, a Hong Kong-listed firm controlled by the boss of privately-held Macau casino junket brand Suncity Group Alvin Chau Cheok Wa, is now Summit Ascent’s main shareholder. Mr Chau was appointed as Summit Ascent chairman in June last year.
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Lei Wai Nong
Macau Secretary for Economy and Finance