Going abroad? New alert plan may cost you

PUBLISHED : Monday, 19 October, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 19 October, 2009, 12:00am

Travellers will have new decisions to make from tomorrow, when a colour-coded outbound travel alert system comes into force.

Three alert signals - amber, red and black - will be issued according to the degree of risk associated with the 60 destinations listed. Several prominent travel agents have set refund guidelines in light of the new system.

The general manager of Hong Thai Travel Services, Susanna Lau Mei-sze, said tours would be cancelled when black alerts are issued. Customers would get full refunds after paying an administration fee of HK$150 to HK$300, or they could choose another tour.

But they would not get a refund if they backed out of a red-alert tour if agents decided it was safe to proceed.

The executive director of EGL Tours, Steven Huen Kwok-cheun, said a red alert could be ambiguous. 'It depends on the affected area,' Huen said. 'For example, there might be a red alert in Thailand because of a threat in Phuket, but it could be safe to visit Bangkok.

Tourism sector legislator Paul Tse Wai-chun said travellers should be aware of the risks involved with the different alert signals. 'Customers should ask agents to make clear any refund arrangement in relation to different signals,' he said.

Agencies said they believed the system would help travellers assess risks and make arrangements accordingly. 'This is an improvement since more guidelines are provided,' Lau said. Travel agents will help promote the system by putting up posters and providing brochures.

Meanwhile, Blue Cross and HSBC Insurance have adapted their policies to the system, and will cover travellers' losses caused by a black alert. They will not cover cancellation losses for red-alert destinations, although premiums will be refunded for cancelled black- and red-alert trips.

Federation of Insurers chief executive Peter Tam Chung-ho said insurers had not increased premiums in light of the system. He believed more insurers would come forward with packages adapted to the scheme.

About 80 per cent of people in Hong Kong now buy travel insurance, compared with 20 per cent in 2006.

Travellers had become more concerned about risks since a tour bus accident in Egypt left 14 Hong Kong tourists dead in 2006, Tam said.

Journey trip-ups

Travellers will have to be on the alert when it comes to booking their next trip.

An amber alert indicates signs of threat in an area, with travellers told to monitor the situation closely and exercise caution.

A red alert means people should change their travel plans and avoid all non-essential travel to the region.

A black alert means travellers should avoid all travel to the affected areas.