Shoppers hit Hong Kong early before tour prices rise
Mainlanders arrive in city well before start of golden week, with regulations set to double the cost of organised visits from tomorrow
Golden week has come early for favoured haunts of mainland shoppers as some of the more price-conscious visitors have been taking to their tour buses to get in before a jump in prices for organised trips to Hong Kong.
The higher prices for Hong Kong tours, to take effect tomorrow, flow on from a regulation on the mainland forbidding tour agencies from collecting commissions from shopping tours.
Timed to coincide with the National Day holiday, the ban - imposed by the China National Tourism Administration - comes in response to a growing number of complaints from mainlanders taking tours to the city.
The measure applies to all mainland outbound tours. For Hong Kong and Macau, the prices of some tours will triple. For example, today is the last day Wing On will offer a three-day tour of Hong Kong from Hangzhou for 1,399 yuan (HK$1,770). The same trip will cost 4,020 yuan after that. China Comfort Travel, which offers a one-day tour of Hong Kong from Shenzhen for 38 yuan, said it would halt that promotion from next month.
The price rises have given a nudge to more than a few mainland shoppers, it seems, to seize on the last two weeks of September and beat the tour group price rises.
At DFS Galleria in Tsim Sha Tsui East, which caters almost exclusively to mainland tour groups brought in by buses, a saleswoman at the Ralph Lauren store said the week leading up to the Mid-Autumn Festival was abnormally busy and last week was "overwhelming".
"We just didn't expect it," she said.
Travel agencies' cut-rate tour prices typically count on commissions earned from the tour group's shopping at partner merchants to supplement their income, industry insiders say.
"The main concern is that of course. With the new regulation banning commissions, tour fares will definitely increase," said Travel Industry Council director Joseph Tung Yao-chung. "For example, travelling from the main cities, before it was about HK$2,000 to come to Hong Kong but after the ban, it's about HK$5,000. Tour fares to Bangkok from Shanghai or Beijing will be HK$2,000 to HK$7,000."
Despite the higher cost, Tung said the new regulation was positive overall in that it would help protect consumers. Travel agents have resorted to tactics such as locking tourists in shops, and last year a video of an agent berating tourists for not spending enough went viral on the internet.
"The new purpose is to really look at the outbound market and make sure the growth is a healthier arrangement," Tung said. "They have to realise that this is not the way of arranging tours when the cost itself [for the tour] is about HK$5,000 and you are selling it at HK$2,000. They cannot depend on shopping commissions."
Tung estimates that 80 per cent of all outbound mainland tours are shopping tours. "When the new law comes into effect, there will be definitely a great impact," he said. An average of 420 tour groups visit Hong Kong each day.
"As the new tourism law comes into force, the HKTB expects an initial increase in tour fares by mainland operators, which will deter tourists wanting to come to Hong Kong in tour groups," a spokeswoman for the Hong Kong Tourism Board said, predicting a 5 per cent drop in tourist numbers.