Calls for a new body to monitor tour firms

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 09 February, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 09 February, 2011, 12:00am

A thorough review of tourism industry operations is under way after more complaints surfaced about forced shopping.

It follows a brawl between two mainland tourists and their guide on Saturday, which broke out after the couple, and other members of the tour party, refused to buy anything at a jewellery store.

The incident was widely reported on the mainland, tarnishing the city's image as a shoppers' paradise.

A key issue the government will look into is whether a statutory body should be set up to oversee the industry. It is currently monitored by the self-regulating Travel Industry Council, which is made up mainly of travel agency executives.

Yesterday, a caller to an RTHK programme said a relative visiting Hong Kong in a tour group was stopped from seeing him because he hadn't bought anything. He said the relative was refused permission to leave the group and was lied to by a guide when he tried to contact him.

'The guide lied to my relative, telling him phone cards in Hong Kong did not work,' the caller said.

'As a result, he spent more than HK$6,000 and was eventually freed to see me that night.'

Commissioner for Tourism Philip Yung Wai-hung said the government would carry out a complete review of the tourism industry and would also explore the option of setting up an independent organisation to monitor tour operators.

He said the Travel Industry Council spent between HK$10 million and HK$20 million every year.

Whether an independent, statutory body would be financially viable was an area of concern, he said. Outlines of the review's initial findings would be sent to legislators for discussion at the end of the month.

Representatives from several political parties met Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development Rita Lau Ng Wai-lan yesterday to discuss how to regulate the industry and the role of the council.

Lawmaker Li Wah-ming, of the Democratic Party, suggested the body should be given the job of licensing of travel agencies and guides, and the council should work as a chamber of commerce.

He said: 'Although the council has enough power to punish rogue travel agencies, the fact that it also works as a chamber of commerce, fighting for the industry players, weakens its effectiveness of regulating them.'

He said the task of regulation should be taken up by a government department or a statutory body.

Another lawmaker, Miriam Lau Kin-yee, of the Liberal Party, said she believed an independent body would usefully solve the current problems.

Joseph Tung Yao-chung, the council's executive director, welcomed suggestions to improve the industry.

About half of the leaders of the council, which was formed in 1978, are travel agency bosses.

Chairman Michael Wu Siu-ieng, is managing director of Gray Line Tours and Gianna Wong Mei-lung, the council's deputy chairman, is general manager of Towa Tours.