Four held as visitors, guide clash on shopping
So did the tough new rules make Lunar New Year tours to Hong Kong trouble-free? That would have been too good to be true.
Five days after requirements came in to minimise conflict between visitors and guides over how much they spend in stores, a guide and two tourists from Anhui came to blows - over shopping.
The guide, a Hongkonger, was accused of insulting the visitors.
Police arrested the tourists, the guide and a colleague.
The incident prompted fresh questions about the regulation of guides and travel agencies.
The clash occurred when the guide took a group of 30 visitors from the eastern province to shop in a Hung Hom jewellery store. A row broke out between the guide and a husband and wife in the group when some of the visitors had still bought nothing after two hours in the store.
The squabble soon turned into a brawl. The guide and a mainland colleague scuffled with the pair.
The wife's sister, who was on the tour, said the guide called them dogs after they refused to buy from the shop. 'She laughed at us and said we were so poor that some of us even carried instant noodles to Hong Kong and ate them every day,' the sister said. 'She said we will be unhappy for the rest of the year because we had a lousy tour over the past few days. What she said to us was very mean and vicious.' She said her sister and the husband argued with the tour guide after hearing the abuse.
The couple and both guides claimed to have suffered injuries in the scuffle. The guides were sent to Queen Elizabeth Hospital, in Yau Ma Tei, for a check-up before being arrested. The tourists were arrested on the spot.
The arrested couple, in their 40s, said the local guide had verbally abused them and started the fight. 'She used discriminatory language against us, insulted us and even physically attacked me,' the husband said, showing a scratch on his neck.
The tourists paid between 1,700 yuan (HK$2,015) and 2,000 yuan for three- to five-day tours.
The couple and the guide were charged with fighting in a public area and granted bail. They will appear in Kowloon City Court tomorrow. The guide's colleague was released.
The local guide is employed by tour agency Good Friendship.
Joseph Tung Yao-chung, Travel Industry Council executive director, said the agency had breached regulations in the past, but could not provide details of those breaches.
Good Friendship replaced the guide after the incident, and the tour group went on with their visit.
Tung said the council had asked Good Friendship for a report on the incident. He said it would take action if the company was found to have breached the guidelines.
These require a single tour guide to accompany a party throughout their visit. This is meant to ensure that if there are complaints about the shopping visitors are asked to undertake, they go to the guide who led the party to the shops. In the past, different guides handled different stages.
Hong Kong's tourist industry came under fire last year after local tour guide Li Hau-chun - dubbed 'Bus Auntie' - was caught in a video clip verbally abusing mainland tourists for not spending enough. The story was widely reported on the mainland and tarnished Hong Kong's image. Li's licence was suspended for six months.
Last month, Guangdong authorities said that to crack down on rogue guides, more than 100 undercover agents would pose as tourists to Hong Kong in the next three months.
Tung yesterday defended the new guidelines and said it would take time for things to change. He said the measures were sufficient to ensure members provided professional services. 'All the rules have been clearly spelt out,' Tung said. 'It's easier now for us to check the conduct of tour guides after we receive complaints.'
The council has received two other complaints since the new guidelines came into effect - one about a tour itinerary and another one about breakfast arrangements.
Dicky Tong Kim-hang, chairman of a tour guides' union, said cutthroat competition was the problem. Some tours were so cheap the only way for guides to make money was to take shop commissions, he said.