Authorities in mainland China’s Zhuhai city – next door to Macau – will resume on Wednesday (August 12) the issuance of exit tourist visas to the casino hub. That includes visas for package tour trips and for independent travel under China’s Individual Visit Scheme, also known by its acronym IVS.
The announcement was made on Monday by Macau’s Secretary for Social Affairs and Culture, Ao Ieong U, during a press briefing.
Ms Ao Ieong said that extending the resumption of IVS and package tour visas to other cities in mainland China would take place gradually. Upon assessing the impact of Zhuhai’s visa resumption, the Macau government would eventually request China’s central government to authorise more cities to resume issuing such visas, she added.
The official did not provide a tentative calendar for the resumption of IVS and package tour visas for the entire Guangdong province nor for the whole of mainland China.
Ms Ao Ieong stated it was “difficult” to forecast the impact of Zhuhai’s IVS and tour visa resumption on tourism inflows to Macau. “We do hope to see more mainland Chinese tourists coming in,” she said. “Our economy requires the support of these tourists.”
The IVS programme, which allows mainlanders to travel independently to Macau and some other places, was suspended in late January, as part of Covid-19 containment measures, with tour group visas paused around the same time as the IVS ones. A return of IVS visas has been mentioned by industry insiders as a key element in Macau’s casino market recovery.
Brokerage Sanford C. Bernstein Ltd said in a Monday note, following the Macau government’s announcement: “Zhuhai… is the city of around 1.7 million people in Guangdong province bordering Macau. The direct impact on [Macau's] gross gaming revenue (GGR) from the Zhuhai IVS restart will likely be limited (perhaps adding a few percentage points to GGR recovery from current levels) once the full process occurs.”
Analysts Vitaly Umansky, Tianjiao Yu and Kelsey Zhu added: “However, the restart of IVS and group visa issuance… is another baby step in the right direction as [mainland] China and Macau slowly loosen travel between the two jurisdictions.”
The Sanford Bernstein team stated it expected other cities in Guangdong province to resume IVS and package tour visa issuance to Macau “either later this month or in September”.
The brokerage noted that the Guangdong province was a “key feeder market” for Macau’s casino industry. It estimated that Guangdong residents accounted for approximately 40 percent of mass GGR market-wide in Macau pre-Covid-19, and for between 15 percent and 20 percent-plus of VIP GGR.
JP Morgan Securities (Asia Pacific) Ltd said in a Monday note that, “barring a second wave of Covid-19 in Macau, we are even more comfortable in expecting that a gradual resumption of travel visas should come in from here, say, for Guangdong by end-August, followed by other provinces from September in phases.”
Analysts DS Kim, Derek Choi and Jeremy An added: “We think it is not impossible to see travel visas for most major provinces to resume by the time of the October Golden Week.”
The first week of October marks a seasonal holiday encompassing China’s National Day, and is also known as autumn Golden Week. China’s State Council declared the 2020 holiday period as running for eight days, i.e., October 1 to 8, as it also includes the Mid-Autumn Festival.
The October Golden Week is usually a peak period for Macau’s tourism and casino industries.
In late July, authorities in mainland China’s Guangdong province had retrospectively confirmed that they resumed – on July 15 – the issuance of non-tourism-related visas for travel to Macau. The rest of the provinces in mainland China are to follow suit with exit visas for Macau-bound travel – for purposes other than tourism – starting Wednesday (August 12).
Non-tourism-related visas to Macau issued by mainland China provinces include visas for business trips or for study purposes, or for travel related to family matters.
Those inbound from mainland China – including with a tourist visa – must have a certificate proving they have tested negative for Covid-19 infection, that has been issued within the preceding seven days.
During Monday’s press conference, Secretary Ao Ieong warned that the Macau authorities could review its Covid-19-related countermeasures for inbound mainlanders, namely if there were surges in new infections in mainland China. Such measures could include the reintroduction of a 14-day quarantine condition for inbound travellers from places in mainland China listed as ‘high risk’ for Covid-19.
Ms Ao Ieong also announced that, starting on Wednesday, Macau residents holding a valid travel authorisation would no longer be required to under go quarantine when visiting any part of mainland China, provided that they had not left Macau over the past 14 days and could produce a certificate of a “valid nucleic acid test” proving freedom from Covid-19.
(Updated at 9.00am, Aug 11)
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