MACAU — Hundreds of thousands of mainland Chinese visitors have descended on the world’s biggest gambling hub of Macau for the Labour 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 city 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.
Galaxy Entertainment Group Ltd said its Raffles hotel would open in the second half of 2023, a delay from earlier plans to open in the first half.
“We’ve been actively working with the Macau government on our labor requirements,” the company said. “For our existing resorts we’re effectively fully staffed for the upcoming May holiday.”
Sands China Ltd said staff constraints had impacted the number of available rooms in the first quarter, but the situation had improved somewhat in March.
“The company expects that to improve further during the current quarter, so the current outlook is optimistic,” it said.
In the meantime, some travelers have been struggling to find accommodation.
Outside Sands’ Venetian resort, a 40-year-old man surnamed Wang from Shanxi province who traveled to Macau frequently before the pandemic, was shocked by the crowds.
“I couldn’t even book a room so I just have to wait and see if the casino can give me a room as a gift,” he said. (Reporting by Joyce Zhou in Macau; Writing by Farah Master; Editing by Jamie Freed)
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