New mainland visitors invigorate Macau

Macau’s gaming revenue topped $45 billion last year, about seven times the house take in Las Vegas. But the real excitement is about where visitors are coming from.

The majority of mainland visitors to Macau, 18.6 million last year, no longer come from immediately neighboring Guangdong province. Travelers from more distant parts of China are arriving in greater numbers. As I wrote in Journey to the South (page 68, payment required), that’s a very welcome development.

Sources interviewed for the article in the January issue of Macau Business pointed out that these guests, mainly from northern and central China, tend to stay longer and spend more. They’re more likely to treat their trip to Macau as a vacation, or at least an occasion, rather than a surgical strike on baccarat tables.

Half of the visitors to Macau don’t even stay a night, walking back across the border into Guangdong or taking a ferry back to Hong Kong. Visitors traveling from greater distances are more likely not only to stay in hotels, but take in Macau’s sights, eat in its restaurants, and maybe even sample its small but growing roster of entertainment options beyond the casino floor.

Even more mainlanders will be heading south with the arrival of Chimelong, a popular mainland theme park operator, on Guangdong’s Hengqin Island, within spitting distance of Macau’s Cotai casino cluster, its version of the Las Vegas Strip. Chimelong’s International Ocean Kingdom, phase one of five resort development plan, opened last week, just in time for the Chinese new year holiday. Analysts at Union Gaming Group estimate Chimelong will attract up to 2 million visitors this year, and Chimelong officials have targeted 20 million annually when it’s complete. China’s official news agency acknowledged many Chimelong guests will cross the bridge to Macau as part of the trip.

Macau and mainland authorities have long urged Macau to diversify its revenue beyond gaming, hoping that it can someday mirror Las Vegas, where casino resorts record most of their revenue from non-gaming sources, including hotels, shows clubs and restaurants. Visitors from northern and central China nudge Macau’s needle in that direction.

But it’s a faint shadow of what the authorities wanted when they brought the creators of modern Las Vegas, Wynn Resorts founder Steve Wynn and Las Vegas Sands founder Sheldon Adelson, to Macau. Officials expected they’d transform Macau into an international travel and convention destination. Instead, ten years after Adelson opened Sands Macao to begin Macau’s boom, getting mainland visitors to travel a few hundred miles to get there constitutes cause for celebration.

Totally globalized native New Yorker and former broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen is author of Hong Kong On Air, a novel set in his adopted hometown during the 1997 handover about television news, love, betrayal, high finance, and cheap lingerie. See his bio, online archive and more at; follow him on Facebook and Twitter @MuhammadCohen.