Visitor arrivals to Macau numbered 2.25 million in June, down by 7.6 percent year-on-year, data from the city’s Statistics and Census Service showed on Thursday. That was the lowest monthly tally since September 2012, when the city received 2.16 million visitors.
The year-on-year fall was even wider regarding the number of mainland Chinese tourists that visited Macau last month.
The number of visitors from mainland China decreased by 10.1 percent year-on-year to 1.44 million in June. That was the lowest aggregate monthly figure of such visitors since March 2013, according to official data.
The government data show that mainland visitors travelling to Macau last month under the Individual Visit Scheme (IVS) – described by investment analysts as generally representing the more affluent segment of the outbound mainland tourist market – dropped by 4.2 percent from a year earlier.
The Macau government has asked Beijing to “improve” the system that lets independent Chinese travellers visit Macau, an announcement that followed the overcrowding experienced at Macau’s borders and main tourist spots during the Lunar New Year festive season.
Macau’s aggregate visitor arrivals in the first half of 2015 decreased by 3.5 percent from the prior-year period to 14.8 million, showed Thursday’s data. In January, the head of the Macau Government Tourist Office forecast that the number of visitors to Macau could grow by 5 percent in 2015. Macau saw a 7.5 percent jump in visitors during 2014, to 31.5 million arrivals.
Investment analysts have said that headline visitor numbers are not directly correlated to overall gaming demand, as gross gaming revenue (GGR) in the Macau market has been typically skewed to high-end play.
Casino GGR in Macau fell 36.2 percent year-on-year in June to approximately MOP17.36 billion (US$2.17 billion). It was the slowest monthly rate of year-on-year decline since January, when the market contracted by 17.4 percent.
The Macau government last month announced it was relaxing length-of-stay rules on transit visas used by some mainland Chinese passport holders for visits to Macau. With effect from July 1, mainland Chinese that transit via Macau are again allowed to stay for up to seven days, provided they have documented proof of onward travel to a third destination.
The transit visa policy loosening is “unlikely to change underlying [gaming] sector fundamentals,” analysts at Daiwa Securities Group Inc said in a recent note.
Rob Goldstein, president and chief operating officer of Las Vegas Sands Corp, parent of Macau casino operator Sands China Ltd, was asked by an investment analyst during the group’s second quarter earnings call on Wednesday whether the Macau transit visa rule change might be a “positive signal” regarding local policies for the Macau casino market.
The executive replied, referring also to a complete ban on smoking in casinos that is likely to become law next year: “We wait patiently for the government’s direction, be it smoking, be it visas: but for us to sit here and pretend to know… we just don’t know. We are respectful of the government. We’re hopeful that they’ll support Macau.”
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"The six Macau casino operators should not be penalised for upping expenditure on player incentives, so long as their EBITDA margins are not materially diluted”
George Choi and Ryan Cheung
Analysts at Citigroup