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China expands Individual Travel Scheme visa for HK/Macau to 8 mainland cities

The Chinese government has announced the inclusion of eight mainland cities into the facilitated individual travel (FIT) scheme for visits to Hong Kong and Macau, with the new measures set to take effect from May 27, 2024.

The National Immigration Administration disclosed the expansion on Friday, following approval from the State Council.

The additional cities encompass various provincial capitals, including Taiyuan in Shanxi Province, Hohhot in Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, Harbin in Heilongjiang Province, Lhasa in Tibet Autonomous Region, Lanzhou in Gansu Province, Xining in Qinghai Province, Yinchuan in Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, and Urumqi in Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region.

Introduced in 2003 shortly after the SARS outbreak, the FIT scheme facilitates independent travel for mainland residents to Hong Kong and Macau.

In a statement shortly after the announcement the Macau Chief Executive considered that the expansion of the FIT scheme is anticipated to further amplify the influx of mainland tourists into Macau and ‘yield substantial economic benefits’ to the city.

Some 8.8 million visitor arrivals were reported in the Macau SAR in the first quarter of this year, an almost 80 percent year-on-year increase from the same period of last year, and with 70 percent hailing from mainland China.

Macau_Visitor-Arrivals-March-2024

Between January and April of 2024, the SAR gaming industry registered some MOP75.8 billion ($9.4 billion) in gross gaming revenue, a 53.7 percent year-on-year jump.

Macau, April GGR reaches $2.29B, down 4.9% m-o-m

Even as the rest of Asian gaming jurisdictions have rankled at the slow increase in Chinese outbound tourism – largely expected to start in the second half of this year – Macau has been absorbing the pent-up demand, seeing over 600,000 tourists during the Golden Week Labor Day period.

During the first quarter of the year, Macau received some 8.87 million tourists, with tourists from mainland China totaling 6.29 million and those traveling under the Individual Visit Scheme rising by 68.3 percent yearly, to 3.47 million.

This compares to international visitation of 584,000, mostly from the Philippines (114,000).

Mass market vs. international visitors

The introduction of more cities to the IVS list (which the Macau government labels as the Facilitated Individual Travel scheme) will apply to both Macau and Hong Kong and comes into effect on May 27th.

Macau’s Chief Executive noted that the addition ‘presented an exciting opportunity in terms of population size’ and that the move ‘would undoubtedly mean stronger economic benefits for Macau’s retail and tourism industries’.

In line with the government’s policy to focus its marketing and promotional efforts on the +4 aspect of the 1+4 (one being gaming and the rest being non-gaming), the Chief Executive did not indicate whether the expansion would be beneficial to the gaming industry.

However, a Seaport analyst had previously indicated – when two more cities (Xi’an and Qingdao) were recently added to the IVS list – that the move, coupled with other new visa-related measures (such as a multi-entry visa between Hengqin and Macau for Chinese nationals on tour groups) could be ‘marginally beneficial in the short-term’.

Macau authorities also indicated that they aim to continue dialogue with authorities in mainland China in order to ‘create more favorable conditions for residents from the mainland to travel to Macau’.

But Macau’s government has also pushed the six gaming operators to expand their operations to include more international clients, as well as promote non-gaming activities and investment.

This has gotten off to a slow start, with the introduction of foreigner-only gaming rooms to lackluster feedback.

However, international arrivals are ticking up, with a South Korean high-roller seen as the biggest player during the Golden Week holiday, according to Citigroup.

AGBrief Editorial
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The AGBrief Editorial Team is a group of contributors living around the world that are connected to Asia Gaming Brief. They are active members in pursuing the sources of our news, making them reliable and accurate for our readers.

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