Travel warnings 'not for refunds'

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 17 March, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 17 March, 2011, 12:00am

The government's travel warning system is not designed for would-be travellers to get refunds from tour operators, the security chief said yesterday.

Ambrose Lee Siu-kwong said in a special Legislative Council session the system only offered advice for those planning to travel.

Lee was responding to criticisms, including from some lawmakers, that the government was encouraging people to risk personal safety for refusing to extend the black alert signal to the whole of Japan.

Travellers who pull out of tours will only get their money back under a black alert.

'I understand some people are unhappy because they are refused a refund as the black travel warning is not issued,' Lee said.

'Some may want to blame us for it, especially those who had applied for leave and paid their fares. But the black travel warning is only a reference for those travelling and not a mechanism for refund.'

In view of the crisis at the Japanese nuclear plants, the government has issued a black alert - the highest warning - on travel to Miyagi, Ibaraki, Iwate and Fukushima. This means all travel to these places should be avoided.

A red warning - for non-essential travel - is in force for the rest of Japan.

Tourism lawmaker Paul Tse Wai-chun asked why the government failed to issue the highest travel warning on Japan. He said many people who had bought package tours were forced to go because they could not get a refund.

Lee said the warning system was to alert travellers of the risks of the places they were visiting. A red warning already meant people should avoid non-essential travel. 'If you are only going for a visit, is it an essential trip?' he asked. He added that there were no indicators that the radiation leak had badly affected Tokyo and other parts of Japan.

James To Kun-sun questioned the government's rationale over the grading of its travel warning.

Citing the Philippines as an example for which the black travel warning is still in force, To asked why the government only issued the red travel warning to Tokyo and Japan as a whole despite the many unclear factors.

'Many people died in the [Manila bus hostage] incident, which has cast a shadow in the minds of many Hong Kong people,' Lee said.

He added that the government was discussing with the Philippines on how to enhance protection to travellers.

Undersecretary for Security Lai Tung-kwok said there were still 22 Hong Kong people in Japan who had not been reached. 'Most of them are in the surrounding area of Tokyo and only two are in areas near Sendai, according to their mobile-phone signals,' he said.

Lai said a radiation scan counter had been set up at the airport restricted area yesterday. Travellers from Japan could be checked there.

'It is a voluntary exercise,' he said.

He said this was because there was no sign that people staying 20 kilometres away from the troubled Japanese nuclear plant would be contaminated.

Meanwhile, the government yesterday issued a black warning against travels to Bahrain, citing widespread demonstrations and 'outbreaks of violence'. The king of Bahrain declared a three-month state of emergency on Tuesday.