Sourse: South China Morning Post HONG KONG

Macau increases stay for mainland passport holders to seven days, but observers doubt this will have much impact on the problems affecting the city’s casinos

Macau’s move last week to increase the maximum stay for holders of Chinese passports and transit visas from five days to seven is expected to have limited impact on problems affecting the local casino industry, gaming observers say.

The new policy, which took effect on Wednesday, was greeted by a sharp rise in casino shares.

The tourism-boosting measure comes in the wake of 13 consecutive months of declines in gaming revenue.

“Beijing has probably decided the downturn in Macau has cut deep enough and that it is time to stabilise the economy,” said Ben Lee, managing partner at Macau-based IGamiX Management and Consulting.

Glenn McCartney, assistant professor of hospitality and gaming management at the University of Macau, said the relaxed rule showed a “level of positive sentiment towards Macau”.

However, he noted the visa policy adjustment “doesn’t fix some of the main issues caused by the incremental downturn”.

Gaming revenues dropped 36 per cent last month compared with the same period last year.

“The core issues have to be addressed in order to move forward and diversify the economy,” McCartney said.

In his view, the government had to figure out how public and private policy worked together. “We are currently very fragmented. We can’t simply say we are a world-class destination,” he noted. “We need to build a brand that is believable.”

After the news was announced, the share price of four out of five Hong Kong-listed casino operators climbed by margins not seen since October 2011. Wynn Macau, the Galaxy Entertainment Group and Sands China increased between 12 and 14 per cent and MGM China rose 16 per cent.

Before the latest announcement, Macau had reduced the maximum stay for mainland visitors twice over the past seven years.

The permitted stay was cut from 14 days to seven in 2008, and then to five last year – when authorities said the measure was meant to avoid mainland passport holders making use of their transit visas to effectively remain in Macau and not move on to other destinations.

The number of cases of abuse of transit visa rules has dropped since July last year. Secretary for Security Wong Sio-chak said authorities had taken that into consideration in deciding on the new policy.

Secretary for Economy and Finance Lionel Leong Vai-tac said the measure was part of the central government’s strategy. “We are satisfied with the policy,” he said, but added it was not yet possible to predict the policy’s effects.

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as Effect of visa rule change ‘to be small’