Chinese Tourists Flock to Gambling Hub Macau

Visitors walk past the Casino Lisboa, operated by SJM Holdings, during Labour Day holiday in Macau, China, April 30, 2023.

MACAU (Reuters) — Hundreds of thousands of mainland Chinese visitors have descended on the world’s biggest gambling hub of Macau for the Labor Day holiday, packing tightly into its narrow cobblestone streets and placing bets in its glitzy casinos.

The surge in visitors comes after China and its special administrative region Macau lifted strict COVID-19 restrictions in January, allowing visitors to stream into Macau for the first time in more than three years.

More than 100,000 visitors arrived in the former Portuguese enclave each day on Saturday and Sunday, local media reported citing government statistics, up from 60,000 a day recorded in previous days.

On the pastel-colored streets surrounding the historical sites of Senado Square and the Ruins of St. Paul’s, hundreds of visitors thronged cheek by jowl to snap photographs and try Macanese delicacies including egg tarts and dried meat.

Macau is the top destination for Chinese travelers within Asia from April 17 to May 7, according to travel data firm ForwardKeys, with bookings up 11% from pre-pandemic levels in 2019 versus a 32% fall in nearby Hong Kong.

Coco Li, a 42-year-old woman from Hubei Province who was visiting with her husband, said they chose to come to Macau because travel rules had relaxed.

Li said she was planning to buy cosmetics, handbags and clothes and “definitely go to the casino and gamble for fun, as we still need to control ourselves.”

Macau’s government has promoted its cultural heritage, food and entertainment to mainland visitors over the past year.

Authorities are keen to diversify Macau, which depends on casinos for more than 80% of its government revenues and has imposed strict new regulations on its six casino operators.

The rush of visitors comes as the densely populated territory grapples with an acute labor shortage.

Hotel occupancy is expected to reach around 90%, with some fully booked for the holiday period, industry analysts said.