A ‘LIFELINE’ thrown to venue operators in Macau in the form of a visa scheme fully returning next month for mainland China visitors comes as resort operators face the latest fallout in US-China relations: President Donald Trump’s impending ban on American businesses using WeChat.
News about the expected return of Chinese visitors to US-owned integrated resorts in Macau has been dampened by Trump’s executive order outlawing American-owned business from using the WeChat social-messaging platform to conduct transactions.
Macau officials resumed the individual visa scheme (IVS) this week for residents from the neighbouring city of Zhuhai. It is due to be extended to the rest of Guangdong province on August 26 and the whole of China from September 23.
The IVS move follows a number of smaller measures to ease travel restrictions between Macau and Zhuhai primarily for people working in both cities.
The announcement on visas also comes after concerns were expressed by Sands China president Wilfred Wong that the opening of the latest property on Cotai Strip, The Londoner Macao, would be hampered by the visa scheme not being in place.
Operators such as Galaxy Macau, which is due to open Galaxy International Convention Centre in the first half of next year, are also likely to be relieved at the easing of visitor restrictions. Galaxy is also one of the resorts, along with SJM and Melco, that analysts say will likely benefit if Sands, Wynn and MGM have to comply with a US ban on WeChat.
While casino operators, retail outlets and restaurants have been anticipating the IVS move as vital to business recovery, one Macau-based event planner told MIX it was not expected to have a significant impact on the MICE scene.
“For business events, it might have a marginal effect – but the good news is more for leisure and unfortunately not for us,” the planner said, adding that operators were still struggling with cancellations despite transitioning some events to digital formats.
Another source, a consultant for F&B standards, advised businesses to examine details of the IVS, such as Covid-testing and contact tracing requirements, but it was nonetheless seen as a “lifeline” before visitor access from Hong Kong, where there has been a third wave of Covid outbreaks, was considered.
Of mounting concern is how resort operators can contend with fallout from diplomatic and trading spats between the US and China, notably Trump’s ban on companies using messaging platform WeChat for transactions.
WeChat is widely used by mainland Chinese visitors to outlets in Macau, including resorts and hotels, who consider the platform standard for payments ranging from F&B and retail purchases to booking travel.
The platform is also used by staff and management at US-owned resorts in Macau and the rest of China to communicate.
Carlos Lobo, a Macau lawyer at Weir and Associates, told Gambling Insider that Trump’s ban – due to take effect in October – would have a “negative impact” on US businesses across China.
“This problem applies across the board to any US company in China: How can their local Chinese teams communicate with their bosses without WeChat? The mainland Chinese tourists will prefer to go to Melco, Studio City, SJM or Galaxy rather than Sands, MGM, or Wynn,” Gambling Insider quoted Lobo as saying.
“This has a toxic effect on competition that ultimately has a negative impact on the US casino operators,” he said.