Macau International Flights Resume to Casino Hub, But Entry Remains Limited

Posted on: January 23, 2022, 02:24h. 

Last updated on: January 23, 2022, 03:17h.

Macau International Airport began welcoming back international flights to the Chinese Special Administrative Region (SAR) effective Monday, January 24. But there won’t be a major influx of passenger traffic.

Macau airport casino China COVID-19
Commercial airplanes taxi at Macau International Airport in 2018, with some of the region’s integrated casino resorts in the near background. International flights are again permitted to land in the Chinese gaming and leisure town. But only residents can enter the isolated region. (Image: Flickr)

Following a 14-day embargo on arriving international flights, Macau welcomed its first foreign-originating flight early Monday morning China Standard Time. Macau, one of two SARs in China, Hong Kong being the other, banned all international arriving flights earlier this month because of potential COVID-19 omicron spread. Only flights from mainland China have been permitted to land in Macau.

While international flights to Macau have resumed, there will be few flights carrying any meaningful number of passengers. That’s because only Macau residents who were overseas when the SAR government ordered the international flight stoppage are permitted to return to the casino destination.

In 2019, Macau International airport accommodated a record 9.6 million passengers. That number fell to 1.17 million passengers in 2020, and was down to 1.14 million last year.

Macau casinos are patiently waiting for visitation from the mainland and foreign markets to return to pre-pandemic levels.

The six casino operators in Macau have lost tens of billions of dollars in gaming revenue since the emergence of the coronavirus. 2021 gross gaming revenue (GGR) was $10.8 billion — $25.6 billion less than the $36.4 billion haul the six casinos won in 2019.

Strict Regulations

Macau residents who opt to travel home must isolate for a minimum of 21 days upon return.

To board an international flight to Macau, residents must test negative for COVID-19 within 48 hours of departure. For those returning from areas deemed high-risk, which includes the United States, Philippines, Russia, and India, the person must test negative three times within a span of five days. Each test must be spaced out at least 24 hours apart.

Macau’s strict entry procedures should come as little surprise. Like the mainland, Macau is combatting the pandemic with China’s “zero-COVID” policy that requires severe responses to new outbreaks.

While “zero-COVID” has been effective in maintaining relatively low case counts in China, compared with other similarly sized countries, the draconian response has come with steep personal and societal costs.

China has confirmed only 119,000 COVID-19 cases throughout the entire pandemic. The United States has confirmed more than 70 million infections.

2021 Visitor Volume

Macau released its official 2021 visitor volume tally over the weekend. The SAR’s Government Tourism Office says 7,705,943 people traveled into the enclave last year, a nearly 31 percent year-over-year gain.

But the 2021 visitor traffic remained deeply suppressed from 2019, when Macau welcomed 39.4 million people — or 80 percent more than last year.

With Macau’s borders closed to most of the world throughout 2021, nearly all of the visitor volume came from mainland China. More than 91 percent — or seven million mainlanders — ventured to Macau last year.

Only 171 people from the United States visited Macau in 2021. Only 72 people came from Australia, 64 from Japan, 23 from South Korea, and 12 from Russia.