Posted on: April 27, 2022, 09:59h. 

Last updated on: April 27, 2022, 11:16h.

Macau is readying to open its enclave borders to foreign travelers for the first time in more than two years.

Macau border COVID-19 pandemic casino gambling
Macau’s downtown area, with Grand Lisboa and Wynn pictured. Macau government officials say the Chinese enclave is considering allowing in foreigners for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic began. (Image: Bloomberg)

Inside Asian Gaming relayed today that Macau Social Affairs and Culture Secretary Elsie Ao Ieong said the government is developing a plan to allow non-resident foreigners into the isolated region. Ao Ieong explained that as the COVID-19 situation improves throughout Asia and the rest of the world, Macau is arranging protocols to allow foreigners entry into the Chinese Special Administrative Region (SAR).

Macau has been closed off to the entire world for much of the pandemic’s duration. Limited travel for those arriving from mainland China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan has been allowed. But visitor numbers into the casino city remain severely below 2019.

Ao Ieong revealed that Portugal will likely be the first country in the entry queue. Macau was a Portugal territory dating back to the 16th Century when the Ming dynasty agreed to allow the Southwestern European country to lease the SAR from China.

Portugal ended its agreement with the People’s Republic in 1999 and handed back control of Macau to China that year. Two years later, the new sovereign region decided to end Stanley Ho’s monopoly on gambling and welcome five additional commercial casino companies.

Border Opening Tentative

Macau and China maintain their adherence to the People’s Republic’s “zero COVID” policy. Since only a small bundle of new coronavirus cases results in a draconian response, Ao Ieong cautioned the media that the pending opening of Macau’s borders to Portugal will only occur if current pandemic conditions continue.

Even if Portugal residents are welcomed back to visit Macau, there won’t be an immediate surge in visitation. Though many families in Portugal continue to have ties with the Macau people, Portugal accounted for only 16,000 visitors to the Chinese SAR in 2019.

More meaningful travel will begin when Macau allows travel from larger and closer countries in Asia like the Philippines, South Korea, Malaysia, and Japan. Ao Ieong added that foreigners permitted entry in the coming months will be required to undergo medical observation at a designated quarantine hotel.

The quarantine obligation additionally applies to those who apply for and receive special entry permits. Last week, Macau unveiled a special entry program for foreigners seeking to travel to the region to work in ways that benefit the collective region.

Gaming Operators Suffering

The pandemic has greatly hurt Macau’s gaming industry, and there appears no relief on the horizon. While other major gaming markets like Las Vegas have already returned to pre-pandemic levels or better, Macau casino operators continue to see their fortunes shrink.

Shares of five of the six casino concessionaires in Macau remain significantly below their 2020 values. Investors in Macau casino stocks have lost billions of dollars in their positions since early 2020.

Las Vegas Sands is down almost 50% from February 2020. Wynn Resorts has lost 37%, Melco Resorts more than 70%, Galaxy Entertainment 25%, and SJM Resorts almost 70%.

MGM Resorts, which relies more heavily on its US operations than Macau, is the lone gaming firm invested in China that has seen its share price rise. The Las Vegas Strip power player has gained approximately 60% in valuation since early 2020.