China’s National People’s Congress has voiced its support for the resumption of e-visa applications for the Individual Visit Scheme (IVS). Macau’s near-term economic recovery greatly relies on the travel program’s restart.
Macau’s multibillion-dollar casino resorts are responsible for the Chinese Special Administrative Region (SAR) having one of the highest per capita incomes in the world. But those casinos need visitors, and without IVS e-visas, travel remains scant.
IVS allows mainlanders to venture in and out of Macau and Hong Kong on an individual basis. China suspended the program in early 2020 to prevent cross-border travel in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19.
The IVS program has since been restarted, but slowly and in phases. Electronic visa applications — or e-visas — remain on hold. Currently, mainlanders interested in traveling to Macau must apply by paper. The process can take weeks to receive the IVS permit.
This week, the National People’s Congress (NPC) issued its support for IVS e-visas being resumed soon than later. The NPC, with nearly 3,000 delegates, is the legislative unit of the Chinese government. It meets each spring for one to two weeks to vote on key issues made by the ruling Chinese Communist Party.
The 2021 session lasted only seven days, but during that time the NPC voiced its support for China to quickly reinstate IVS e-visa processing. China’s Ministry of Health will work with President Xi Jinping’s administration to determine when it is safe to allow IVS e-visas once again.
IVS Needed for Visitor Return
The NPC’s stance on e-visas was shared by the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, which met with the legislative body earlier this week. Gaming analysts say until e-visas restart, there will not be a meaningful increase in travel to Macau.
The key jump in visitors will come when IVS visa processing switches back to e-visa,” said Bernstein gaming analysts Vitaly Umansky, Kelsey Zhu and Louis Li. “We are not likely to see material alleviation of bottlenecks in the near term.
“Group visa travel from China will also need to resume to drive recovery,” the Bernstein note concluded.
Gross gaming revenue (GGR) is estimated to be on a positive track in early March. Bernstein’s weekly GGR report for March 1-7 forecasted that Macau’s six licensed commercial casino operators won $225 million. While that’s 70 percent lower than in the first week of March 2019, which was of course prior to the pandemic, it’s 19 percent higher than the first seven days of March 2020.
Travel Restrictions Easing
Macau has taken baby steps in allowing mainlanders to travel into the SAR.
People arriving from the mainland, Hong Kong, or Taiwan who provide a recent negative COVID-19 test no longer need to quarantine upon entry. The region’s government has also lifted a requirement on casinos to obtain proof from gamblers that they have tested negative within the past week.
China’s announcement of an “international travel health certificate” has also been welcomed by Macau officials. Chinese people can apply for the health passport on the WeChat app, and upload their relevant test and vaccination certificates.
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