Tourism sector to get new watchdog

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 21 December, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 21 December, 2011, 12:00am


Proposals for a statutory body to regulate the tourism industry and assume the regulatory functions of the Travel Industry Council were unveiled yesterday.

A new Travel Industry Authority would oversee travel agents, tour guides and tour escorts, Tourism Commissioner Philip Yung Wai-hung said.

The move comes as the government seeks to increase confidence in the regulatory regime.

There have been several high-profile complaints of misconduct by tour guides who tried to coerce mainland visitors into shopping. One scolded the mainland tourists, while another came to blows with a visitor.

The council has been accused of bias in dealing with complaints and punishing offending tour agencies, as its chairman works in the tourism sector and tourism trade associations form the majority of its board.

Yeung said the proposed authority, whose members would be appointed by the government and whose powers would be backed by legislation, would end such concerns.

'A statutory body is independent and credible, so I'm sure the public will have confident in it,' he said.

The government aims to submit legislation within 2 1/2 years and says it will take a minimum of three years to set up the authority.

According to initial proposals, the authority's chairman would not be a member of the tourism industry, nor would most board members. Appointment of its executive head would be subject to government approval.

The government's consultation on reforming the tourism industry received 1,249 written submissions, more than 90 per cent of which came from within the sector.

Most of these wanted only moderate reform of the council. But the option of establishing a statutory body was preferred by the government and supported by academics, political parties and independent bodies.

Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development Gregory So Kam-leung said it was estimated it would cost HK$55 million a year to run the authority, almost double the council's HK$30 million.

It would be partly funded by levies imposed on outbound tourists and licence fees, but it might be necessary to raise more from inbound mainland tourists if it was to be self-financing, Yung said.

Council chairman Michael Wu Siu-ieng said he respected the government's decision. He believed the council could retain some of its roles, such as handling tourist complaints and co-ordinating tour agencies in emergency situations, but further discussions would be needed to define its responsibilities.

HK Tourism Coalition chairman Tse Yun-sang said three years was too long to set up the authority. He also called on the government to inject funding into the new watchdog instead of imposing more fees.