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Macau: Casinos set for bumper month as tourists flock to world’s biggest gambling hub

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Macau reported a record number of tourists for the Lunar New Year holiday so far, led by a boom in travel demand from mainland China, signalling a bumper month for casinos in the world’s biggest gambling hub.

The Venetian Macao Resort Hotel is shown in Macau. Casinos set for bumper month as tourists flock to world’s biggest gambling hub (AP Photo/Kin Cheung, File)

The city reported about 1.08 million visitor arrivals in the first six days of the week-long holiday that started Feb. 10, according to provisional data from the government. That’s up 3.7% from the corresponding period in 2019, and is the highest since at least 2017, when daily data for peak seasons became available.

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Travellers from mainland China accounted for 77% of the total, with visitors from Hong Kong making up 18%, according to the data. The city’s hotel occupancy rate reached 97% on Monday and Tuesday, local media outlet TDM reported, citing Macau’s tourism chief Maria Helena de Senna Fernandes.

Macau and its casinos have been major beneficiaries of a Chinese pullback in overseas travel. Facing economic headwinds, intensifying geopolitical tensions and a slow resumption of flights to many destinations abroad, travelers from mainland China are choosing trips that keep them closer to home. That’s helped the gambling hub’s recovery from 2022’s Covid slowdown, with gaming revenue surging more than 300% last year.

“Daily visitor arrivals during this holiday are far higher than during the October Golden Week last year,” said Angela Hanlee, a senior gaming and hospitality analyst at Bloomberg Intelligence. “Gross gaming revenue in February could surpass our previous expectation of $2.5 billion” and also be higher than October last year despite this month having fewer days, she said.

The surge in visitors may also highlight deeper changes taking place in Macau. The city is shifting focus to developing non-gambling activities after a crackdown by Beijing nearly wiped out its high-rollers sector, meaning casinos are more reliant on mass-market tourists who typically spend less than VIPs.

BI’s estimate for February compares with casinos’ 25.4 billion patacas ($3 billion) in takings in the same month of 2019. Gaming revenue was $2.4 billion January this year.

A gauge of Macau casino stocks rose for a 12th straight day on Friday, its best streak since February 2021 and taking the index to the highest since October.

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