Macau’s government and casinos would have likely preferred that this happen two weeks ago, but there’s no turning back the clock. The gambling city is actively talking with China about getting the Individual Visit Scheme (IVS) e-visa program back in place, which would allow Chinese residents from the mainland find it easier to visit the city. The program has been on hold since January of last year because of the coronavirus pandemic, and previous attempts to relaunch the system haven’t been successful.
The e-visa is essentially an electronic method of filing for an IVS, but anyone from the Chinese mainland who wants to visit Macau now has to apply in person because of coronavirus restrictions. As a result, in many cases, it can take up to two weeks for an application to be approved, but the e-visa option provides approval for same-day travel. Maria Helena de Senna Fernandes, the director of the Macau Government Tourism Office (MGTO), asserts, “Mainland visitors have to apply for IVS in person, so we keep fighting for the resumption of IVS e-visa with the mainland government.”
Macau has wrapped up the Chinese New Year (CNY) holiday period, typically a great opportunity for the city’s commercial enterprises to enjoy an extra boost. However, the global pandemic suppressed activity last year and has done it once again this year. If the e-visa system had been in place prior to the CNY holiday week, it would have meant that the COVID-19 debacle was better under control and that Macau’s businesses could have enjoyed greater success.
Any recovery for Macau is dependent upon the relaunch of the e-visa program. Sanford C. Bernstein analysts concur with this assessment, explaining in a weekly Macau update, “We expect visitation to increase only slowly over the next months (assuming travel restrictions due to COVID are not increased). The key jump in visitors will come when visa processing switches back to digital and same day, which may take some time. We are not likely to see material alleviation of bottlenecks in the near term.”
The director of the MGTO is remaining positive that Macau can get back on track, but acknowledges that diversification in its activities will be the key to its success going forward. This echoes plans that have been in the works recently for Macau to become a global tourism hotspot for everyone, not just gamblers, and Senna Fernandes adds, “What we should do in the future is to attract visitors to stay longer in Macau rather than chasing the numbers. We should increase attractions in Macau, and we hope that package tours from the mainland will be resumed soon.”