New independent tourism authority needed now

PUBLISHED : Monday, 05 November, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 05 November, 2012, 2:32am

Despite the billions invested in attractions such as Ocean Park, Disneyland and the Ngong Ping cable car, tourism in Hong Kong remains indelibly associated with shopping. As a result, we have a reputation to defend for authenticity, value for money and fair dealing. It has been established through generations of tourists from Europe, America and Japan, and now the biggest market of all - mainland tourists. It is, therefore, disappointing that "forced shopping" has re-emerged as a stain on our cross-border tourism image.

Mainland authorities have received fresh complaints, corroborated by internet users and police in several provinces, about mainland tourists being locked inside assigned stores and forced to buy dubious or fake goods during ridiculously low-priced trips to Hong Kong. This raises questions of unlawful detention and fire traps that ought to concern our own authorities. Thankfully, there have been no reports of repeats of more serious incidents in the past, such as violent clashes between visitors and tour guides, abuse of tourists for not spending enough money by guides who rely on commissions, threats to lock them out of their hotel rooms and tourists being forced to pay their own air fares home.

Nonetheless, the threat to Hong Kong's reputation is real enough. It is nearly two years since a government review of the tourist industry - aimed at restoring confidence - resulted in proposals for an independent statutory body, the travel industry authority, to oversee travel agents, tour guides and escorts. It would replace the Travel Industry Council, which stood accused of bias in dealing with complaints because dominant industry representation created a conflict of interest. The industry was generally opposed to the reform but, rightly, the views of the government, academics, political parties and independent bodies prevailed. The government said it would take three years to submit legislation and set up the new authority. For the sake of Hong Kong's reputation, it should lose no more time in putting the industry's house in order.