Lawmakers reject move to replace tourism watchdog

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 10 May, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 10 May, 2007, 12:00am

Lawmakers were united yesterday in the fight against rogue retailers targeting mainland tourists, but they stopped short of calling for a new statutory body to replace the Travel Industry Council as the industry regulator.

They passed a motion calling on the government to 'adopt active measures to rigorously combat unscrupulous shops ripping off customers' and to strengthen the regulation of the tourism industry.

But they voted down an amendment that sought to replace self-regulation of the industry with a statutory body.

Secretary for Economic Development and Labour Stephen Ip Shu-kwan said the government would continue to keep a close watch on the council's operation but dismissed the need for another body.

He said work on legislation targeting misleading product descriptions and undesirable sales tactics was already underway and would be ready for public consultation later this year. The government will also look at reviewing consumer rights.

Responding to a motion by Lau Kong-wah of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, Democratic Party legislator Fred Li Wah-ming said a new body was needed to avoid 'the industry regulating its own members'.

'I'm asking the government to consider a statutory body that is not industry-led. I'm not calling for the Travel Industry Council to be disbanded,' Mr Li said.

Criticism of the 29-year-old council is not new but has intensified with recent news highlighting local shops swindling mainland tour groups.

Critics point to the apparent lack of independent oversight at the council, where only eight of the 25 members of the board of directors are non-trade members and appointed by the government. Mr Li said four of those eight were appointed only after consulting the council.

The other 17 are all involved in the travel industry, including chairman Ronnie Ho Pak-ting, who is managing director of Jetour Holiday. He was recently elected to another three-year term as the council's chairman.

Membership is the council's primary way of regulating the industry, since travel agents must be licensed with the council to operate. Shops doing tour group business also must be registered. There are 57 shops under the scheme.

Affiliation with the business-friendly Liberal Party within the industry is also a sticking point with critics.

High-profile members include Mr Ho, tourism sector legislator Howard Young, Tourism Board chairman James Tien Pei-chun and board member Vincent Fang Kang.

Both Mr Li and Mr Lau conceded that a new statutory body would not be a panacea for the problems plaguing Hong Kong's tourism trade.

The motion comes six weeks after a report by broadcaster China Central Television reported a mainland visitor bought a fake watch from a company in To Kwa Wan.