Tourism reform: money well spent
Hong Kong prides itself as a wonderful travel destination that offers world-class tourist attractions, a wide range of international cuisine and value-for-money shopping. But this fine reputation is under threat from bad publicity over the frequent abuse of mainland tour groups. Despite the tourism industry's repeated reforms the quality of its services still leaves a lot to be desired. The industry's inability to put its house in order has left the government with no alternative but to strengthen monitoring and regulation.
The government's review of the industry has finally come to a conclusion. An independent statutory body with non-trade members making up the majority of its governing board members has been offered as the way forward. In addition to taking over the regulatory and licensing functions of the Trade Industry Council and the Travel Agents Registry, the body will also oversee the licensing of tour guides. These proposals are sensible and in line with the public consensus for independent monitoring rather than self-regulation. Credibility and service standards can be enhanced if the new regime is put in place carefully.
Inevitably, an independent watchdog with legal backing will cost more and take longer to implement than its predecessor. As the new body is estimated to cost HK$55 million a year, tourists may have to pay more if it is to become self-financing in the long run. If it is the price to pay for getting the right system, due consideration should be given. But the target to get it done within three years is too slow. A quicker timetable is definitely needed. Meanwhile, the industry has to shape up and avoid abusive practices like forced shopping. Tourism is one of Hong Kong's economic lifelines. It is in the industry's own interest to uphold the city's good reputation as a worthy travel destination. With improved regulation and self-discipline, the industry, hopefully, can start afresh for healthier development.