Chinese wary of Hong Kong protests bolster Macau casinos4 min read . Updated: 08 Oct 2014, 06:00 PM IST
More than 845,000 mainland Chinese tourists have poured into Macau since the China National Day holidays began on 1 October
Hong Kong: As Hong Kong protesters were blocking roads and forcing shops to close, a record number of Chinese tourists were occupying the streets of Macau.
More than 845,000 mainland Chinese tourists have poured into the world’s largest gambling center since the China National Day holidays known as Golden Week began on 1 October, with growth accelerating to 17% over last year. The surge came as the Occupy Central pro-democracy movement pushed Hong Kong into its worst political crisis in decades and cut its rise in holiday week visitors to 6.8%, compared with 18% last year.
“Occupy Central has boosted the retail market and brought more mainland Chinese to Macau," said Lei Kuok Keong, who plans casino trips for high-rollers and is also vice chairman of the Macau Gaming Industry Frontline Workers union. “Some Hong Kong people who wanted to avoid the protests also came to Macau. That has helped boost the visitor numbers to casinos."
That’s been a dose of relief for the former Portuguese colony, which is experiencing its worst slump in casino revenue in five years. President Xi Jinping’s nationwide graft crackdown has squeezed high-stakes gamblers, who account for more than 60% revenue in China’s only enclave of legal gambling.
Macau casino stocks fell on Tuesday amid a broader drop in Asian markets. Sands China Ltd fell 2.5% to close at HK$42.15 in Hong Kong, while MGM China Holdings Ltd and Galaxy Entertainment Group Ltd dropped 3.2% and 2.7%. Wynn Macau Ltd lost 2.1%, Melco Crown Entertainment Ltd 2.5% and SJM Holdings Ltd 1.6%. The benchmark Hang Seng Index was down 0.7%.
Casino operators are shifting their focus to China’s growing middle class. That means catering to couples, families and gamblers who bet thousands of yuan instead of millions, a “mass-market" strategy adopted long ago in Las Vegas. The trick has been drawing enough people to make up for the drop in high-rollers.
Take Jerry and Joycelyn Lu, who arrived in Macau from the eastern city of Nanjing with their two young children on Saturday. The family expected to spend at least 30,000 yuan ($4,900), including a stay at the Sheraton and 8,800 yuan for a Tissot watch. Jerry Lu said he would only spend about 1,000 yuan in the casinos, a sum he had already lost.
“We are not very keen on gambling," he said. “We would prefer to spend our money on dining and shopping."
The average daily revenue of Macau casinos was down an estimated 33% year on year during Golden Week, Cameron McKnight, a senior gaming analyst for Wells Fargo Advisors Llc, said in a note on Tuesday. McKnight said fewer high-stakes players were visiting casinos.
Sands China had almost 1.5 million visitors at its properties in the first six days of the holiday, an increase of 9% for the same period last year. That’s the same number of visitors that it attracted in the entire seven-day break last year, when it recorded a 23% rise.
During a visit to four Macau casinos on 6 October, tables with lower minimum bets had more gamblers than those with higher ones. Customers were scarce in the luxury shops at the Wynn Macau, with a few customers browsing Louis Vuitton bags and Jaeger-LeCoultre watches.
Similarly, the economy section of a Shun Tak ferry from Hong Kong was almost full while about two-thirds of the more expensive superclass seats were empty. Macau is located about 60km west of Hong Kong, roughly an hour’s journey by ferry.
This year, more than five times as many Golden Week visitors arrived in Macau directly from the mainland. That may help explain why the gaming hub’s traffic soared while Hong Kong’s fell.
“Macau has gradually become a tourism destination of its own because it offers shopping, dining and entertainment experiences, such as boxing, concerts and gambling," Victor Yip, a Hong Kong-based analyst at UOB-Kay Hian Ltd, said on Tuesday by phone. “I would expect Macau to benefit from some travellers who avoided Hong Kong."
As major Hong Kong retail chains reported declines in holiday sales of as much as 50%, shops have fared better in Macau.
Chow Sang Sang Holdings International Ltd saw sales at its five Macau jewelry stores rise more than 10%, with more than 90% of customers hailing from the mainland.
“Shoppers in Macau were more willing to spend compared to those in Hong Kong," Dennis Lau, director of sales operations for Chow Sang Sang Jewellery Group, said by phone on Wednesday. “Our Macau sales increase may be partly due to tourists avoiding Hong Kong amid protests."
For some tourists, like Zhao, a businessman from the southeastern city of Xiamen, Macau offers something Hong Kong can’t match: casinos. He said he plans to spend more than 50,000 yuan eating Portuguese food, getting massages and gambling at places like SJM Holdings Ltd’s Grand Lisboa.
“The protests don’t affect me at all," said Zhao, who would give only his surname. “I have no plans to visit Hong Kong anyway." Bloomberg
Stephanie Wong in Hong Kong contributed to this story