Tourism vs POGOS

Chinese nationals heading towards the Philippines in recent months are more likely workers and definitely not tourists.

That’s the pressing problem of Chinese authorities and they want to convey their problem to our government officials.

But on our end, officials aren’t yet dispensing with the pretense that Chinese nationals who arrived recently are all legitimate tourists, even if they aren’t.

We can state such categorical facts since with Southeast Asia recently opening up to tourism one tourist group is still conspicuously absent: Chinese tourists.

Not entirely surprising. Chinese President Xi Jinping’s hardline zero-Covid policies have largely shut down Chinese tourism.

In most of 2022, in fact, Chinese citizens are forbidden from traveling overseas except for essential reasons.

Many experts predict the dried-up business with Chinese tourism will stay that way until at least the second quarter of next year.

In that time China is expected to gradually lift some of its stringent measures like the three-week quarantine for those returning home.

Still, even if it does looks like Chinese tourism is momentary and of no consequence to our present economic well-being, this doesn’t mean China won’t use the tourism card as leverage.

Arguably, this is the political context wherein we can situate the tiff between Chinese ambassador Huang Xilian and Senate President Miguel Zubiri on whether or not the country is being blacklisted by China as an acceptable travel destination for stubbornly playing host to Philippine offshore gaming operators.

Thrown up by Xilian and Zubiri chitchat then is the complicated issue that the country can risk future lucrative revenues from Chinese tourism while many Filipino sectors currently enjoy the proven bonanza of POGOs.

Undoubtedly, Chinese tourism is the latest spammer thrown into the acrimonious POGO debate.

As yet, no one has categorically calculated the losses should the country end up without its fair share of Chinese tourists.

But should it be proven as substantial enough, will this lead to the outright ban of POGOs? Remains to be seen.

Still, for its worth, the debate on potential losses of Chinese tourism revenues shows some sort of informal deadline has been set for the government to decide what to do with POGOs.

We can’t, of course, abide by any Chinese-imposed informal deadline. But the threat, though subtly made, is there.

This only means the government must now put in motion preparations to counter whatever invaluable income is lost should it decide to let go of POGOs.

If we are to believe advocates for the continued operations of Pogos the losses are considerable.

Consultancy firm Leechiu Property Consultants, for instance, estimates the exit of POGOs will lead to P18.9 billion in office property rental losses, in addition to P52.5 billion lost annually in terms of contracts for fitting out offices.

The government also stands to lose P5.25 billion in regulatory fees and another P5.8 billion in lost taxes from Pogo operators and another P54-57 billion in taxes from POGO employees.

POGO advocates hope such projected losses ease somewhat pressures on the government to crack down further on the shadowy online gaming sector.

But, as we see from the Zubiri-Xilian tiff, China isn’t about to let things go in its desire for all Southeast Asian governments to play ball in wiping out online gaming operations targeting their citizens.

In our case, the previous government did go as far as Beijing had hoped. The Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation announced in August last year that it would stop issuing licenses to new online gambling operators at least until the end of 2021.

Pagcor, however, rejected an outright ban.

From all indications, the present government is similarly resisting an outright ban on “legal” Pogo operations.

Instead of an outright ban are plans to shut down 175 “illegal” online gambling firms and deport about 40,000 Chinese nationals working for these.

The move is clearly designed to buy time for the government to put into better order the Pogo problem.

But the question remains — will China go along?



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