The gaming industry in Europe and the U.S. is gearing up for a busy schedule of live events in the next couple of months, although unfortunately Asia’s participation is likely to be limited.
While these regions begin to open up, Asia has gone backwards, with many countries seeing their worst spikes in Covid to date, prompting a new wave of lockdowns. Early success in handling the virus led to vaccine complacency in jurisdictions, such as Macau, Australia and New Zealand, which had availability but failed to mobilize their citizens. As a result, they lost a valuable window of opportunity to avoid further disruptions to lives and businesses before the Delta wave took hold.
Other developing nations, with large populations and sprawling geographies, have not yet been fortunate enough to procure enough supply to provide mass protection.
Most observers now don’t expect any significant resumption in international travel until next year, with forecasts for recovery for the casino industry pushed back again. The scenario is very different from the VIP-led V-shaped recovery that had been expected at the onset of the crisis.
Despite this, there are glimmers of hope, some of which may be surprising.
Singapore, which started with a zero tolerance policy for Covid, looks set to be the jurisdiction leading the way when it comes to opening its international borders. After driving vaccination rates to more than 80 percent of its population, it is now focusing more on living with the virus and monitoring the impact on the healthcare system, than on individual case counts.
As a result, it plans to begin opening borders to low-risk countries from Sept. 8th for fully vaccinated travellers. It has split countries into four tiers, with arrivals from those in Tier 1 only required to present a negative nucleic acid test on arrival. These jurisdictions include most of Mainland China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Macau and New Zealand.
While no one is expecting the floodgates to open, any return of international visitors will be a major plus for Marina Bay Sands and Resorts World Sentosa. Both properties have had success in driving revenue from locals, embarking on staycation and other types of promotions.
However, management concedes that revenue has plateaued and further growth will need the tourists to come back.
Another outlier is Cambodia. The country expects to have reached herd immunity by the end of the year. However, even now it’s faring better than many of its more developed peers. As of the end of August, half of the population was fully vaccinated, with about 64 percent having received one dose, putting it second only to Singapore in the region.
According to local operator NagaCorp, the situation is even more impressive in the capital Phnom Penh. There the entire population is fully vaccinated, with the government beginning to provide booster shots for frontline workers. Phnom Penh is said to be the most vaccinated capital in the world, according to advisory firm Mekong Strategic Partners.
So far, that hasn’t helped NagaCorp, as it’s NagaWorld property has been shut down since the beginning of March. It is confident though that international tourism to Cambodia will resume from the fourth quarter and that there will be pent-up demand to drive growth once the doors reopen.
The Philippines, which has a much more challenging task in rolling out vaccines to its more than 100 million people, is also stepping up its efforts. The government predicts it will reach herd immunity by February of next year. As a result, the gaming business will return to pre-pandemic levels in 2022, says Andrea Domingo, chair of regulator, the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp.
There is only one event on the calendar for Asia this year and that’s G2E Asia in Macau in November. Although they have the ability to hold live events, with zero cases in the territory, it seems highly unlikely that international travellers would be able to attend.