Macau Welcomes Record 35.8M Tourists in 2018, Optimistic to Hit New High in 2019

Posted on: January 24, 2019, 12:47h. 

Last updated on: January 24, 2019, 12:47h.

Macau visitor arrivals grew nearly 10 percent last year to a record 35.8 million tourists. Government officials believe the 12 months ahead could be even busier in the Chinese Special Administrative Region (SAR).

Macau casino tourism visitor arrivals
Macau casinos were crowded in 2018, as the enclave experienced record tourism. (Image: Melco Resorts)

The 9.8 percent visitation increase was a result of the gaming industry transitioning its focus from the VIP high roller to the mass market.

China President Xi Jinping included junket groups – companies that organize travel to Macau for the mainland’s wealthiest citizens – in his anti-corruption campaign several years back. The result was casino resorts diversifying their properties in an effort to appeal to a wider customer base and keep their hotel rooms occupied.

Nearly 52 percent of all 2018 visitors stayed overnight, a 7.2 percent gain. Same-day visitor arrivals jumped 12.7 percent, a result of the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge (HKZM) that opened in October. The 34-mile expanse across the Pearl River Delta slashes travel time from four hours to just 40 minutes between Hong Kong and Macau.

Mainland China accounted for the bulk of travelers (25 million). Hong Kong and Taiwan were second and third.

Arrivals by land surged nearly 19 percent to 22.1 million. More than one million came via the HKZM bridge.

2019 Outlook

The Macau Government Tourism Office (MGTO) believes the year ahead will be even better than 2018. Officials at the tourism agency say the goal is to hit 38 million visitor arrivals in 2019.

MGTO Director Senna Fernandes says next month’s Lunar New Year holiday has quickly booked up rooms. She expects hotels to be at near capacity, and overall visitation to the enclave during the week-long holiday up roughly eight or nine percent.

Melco Resorts CEO Lawrence Ho said this week the company’s properties are sold out. “It’s better than last year for us,” the billionaire explained.

Margins are typically four times higher on the mass market compared to the VIP. Macau casinos won $37.5 billion last year, the highest haul since 2014.

International Appeal

Fernandes says a goal of her office in 2019 is to grow international visitor arrivals and bring more quality tourists to the enclave.

The United States, for instance, was responsible for just 201,000 visitors last year. Some 90,000 arrived from Australia, 58,000 from the UK, and 74,000 from Canada.

It’s no coincidence that Macau International Airport (MIA) is also coming off a record year where the hub handled more than 8.2 million passengers, a 15.3 percent surge. MIA has grown rapidly since commercial gaming was expanded in 2002 and new casino resorts opened in the following years.

Total passenger traffic totaled just five million a decade ago. Airport officials plan to handle 8.7 million passengers in 2019, and around 3,400 takeoffs and landings.

Construction of the south terminal expansion project is expected to begin in the first quarter of 2019. Once finished, MIA will be able to handle as many as 10 million travelers annually.