Acquiring VIP and premium-mass gamblers from outside China is a priority for Asia Pacific casino operators, say several industry marketing specialists spoken to by GGRAsia.
That could be a challenge particularly for Macau operators, that have spent more than a decade generating a lot of their gambling volume from high-value customers from mainland China, added one of the experts.
In pre- Covid-19 times, drawing on Chinese customers had benefitted the tourism and gambling markets not only of Macau, but also of “Singapore, the Philippines, South Korea, Cambodia and Australia”, noted Kevin Clayton in comments to GGRAsia. He has worked as a senior marketing executive for several Macau licensees, and is now integrated resort specialist for consultancy Megabrands Asia.
Since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, China has been exercising a zero-tolerance approach to community infection, resulting in movement controls for outbound and inbound travellers to the mainland, Macau, and Hong Kong.
The Chinese authorities have also continuously emphasised in the past few years a crackdown either on citizens travelling overseas for casino play, or being involved in online betting: referred to collectively as “cross-border gambling”. The country has amended its criminal code to outlaw anyone assisting others in such activity. It came into effect from March 1, 2021.
Commenting on other developments recently in the Macau high-roller market, and referring to how regional casinos formerly recruited players from mainland China, Mr Clayton noted: “VIP customer acquisition and financing through traditional junkets is now a thing of the past.”
He added: “A battleground in Asian markets will be Chinese and [South] Korean expats living, working and owning businesses in [the destination] market – particularly in [South] Korea and Vietnam where locals are banned from entering foreign-owned casinos.”
Jit Ng, chief marketing officer of Hoiana, a casino resort in Vietnam, said it was essential for an operator to get a “broader” clientele, and work on getting a suitable product mix for attracting them. The gaming and leisure complex, located on Vietnam’s central coast, has a foreigner-only casino and has been launching luxury hotel accommodation on a phased basis.
“Our strategy has always been about striking a balance in our customer base due to the attractiveness of Da Nang as a major tourist spot not only for Chinese, but also for [South] Koreans, Malaysians, Japanese, and Singaporeans. These markets have always been important to us, and our balanced approach have been effective in bringing in valuable customers,” the Hoiana executive said.
“When it comes to volume, one needs to recognise that the VIP [gaming] volume seen previously in Macau no longer exist in today’s market so it comes down to driving our strategies in mass and premium mass” play, Mr Ng remarked to us.
Battleground in Asia
The Hann Casino and Resort located at Clark, in the Philippines, has not seen much impact from China’s campaign on “cross-border gambling”, said Daesik Han, the president and chief executive of the resort’s promoter, Hann Philippines Inc.
“Hann is yet to capture a solid Chinese market, so…[China’s] campaign… does not affect the usual business here much,” said Mr Han. Hann Casino Resort, which had a soft launch in mid-December, is an expansion and rebranding of the former Widus Hotel and Casino complex.
Mr Han had told GGRAsia previously that his group was looking to move its Clark resort upmarket in consumers’ minds, with the brand-change exercise.
“Our main focus is on expanding and diversifying our market by catering to leisure travellers and more local [as well as] international players from the VIP cluster and premium mass through both gaming and non-gaming facilities,” Mr Han said in his latest comments to GGRAsia.
He added that Hann Casino and Resort’s non-gaming offer included “world-class” golf facilities, and “luxury staycation” packages. “The newly revamped Clark [International] Airport is sure to boost international tourist travels… which can definitely support Hann’s operation,” Mr Han remarked.
Even without an influx of Chinese gamblers, “domestic gaming growth in the Philippines”, and the “size of the domestic markets in Australia, Malaysia and Singapore” means projects in those places “are sustainable”, said Megabrands Asia’s Mr Clayton.
Nonetheless, Asia-Pacific’s high-end casino resorts were vying for a relatively small number of premium gamblers, the consultant added.
“Macau’s ambition to reduce its long-standing reliance on gamblers from mainland China and Hong Kong… is certainly admirable but this will be far more difficult to achieve in the medium term,” Mr Clayton said. He added that the “Macau government must work much closer in partnership with casino operators in changing,” how it markets Macau outside China.
No ‘blanket approach’
“With increasing restrictions from mainland China on gambling-related travel… casino operators in Asia will place a lot more attention on [South] Korea and Japan as feeder markets, with Vietnam and Thailand also now of interest,” Mr Clayton added.
He further remarked: “The number of higher-value casino gamblers from each country will be small by comparison, and the majority of gamblers are unlikely to play anywhere near the level and frequency of China VIP and premium mass,” clients. “VIP and premium customer-acquisition in these Asian markets is a slower process, but these are important gaming markets nevertheless. ”
To cater to a wide spectrum of feeder markets, Hoiana’s Mr Ng said “language” is one of the most important aspects to work on in marketing works.
“We are catering to a more diversified group of customers,” encompassing “different culture and languages as well as preferences.” He added: “To win in a diversified market is to have a new set of strategies that are country-specific, not a blanket approach that we used in our previous market conditions.”
Megabrands Asia’s Mr Clayton expected the region’s casino resorts would have increasing emphasis and investment on player development and digital marketing. “Casino resorts need to ensure their food offering, resort attractions, signage, communications, and ‘customer journeys’ can best attract and serve Japanese, [South] Korean, Vietnamese and Thai visitors,” he told GGRAsia.
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