Hong Kong must banish tourism rogues

PUBLISHED : Monday, 07 April, 2014, 2:40am
UPDATED : Monday, 07 April, 2014, 2:40am

Reputation is everything when it comes to tourism. The local industry learned a painful lesson when it struggled to clear its name as a tourist trap for mainlanders some years ago. Thanks to a vigorous revamp on both sides of the border, better rules and practices have been in place. It is in the interests of the industry to consolidate its image by offering visitors the highest standard of service.

Sadly, the notorious "forced shopping" - compelling tourists to shop to make up for cheap package tours - has made a comeback. Despite a ban on such tours by a law introduced on the mainland in October, some people were given "vouchers" to join a four-day Hong Kong and Macau tour at a bargain price of just 200 yuan (HK$251). But there is a catch. Those who did not shop enough were insulted and liable to be dumped by the tour guide midway.

What's more disturbing is that the industry has been aware of the phenomenon since last year. The number of complaints received by the local travel watchdog has also risen over the past few months. But the problems have only come to light after a recent undercover report by state media.

That the tour cost cannot be covered by such a low price is just common sense. Those who signed up could only be assumed to be prepared for what they would get. Since the tourism law only targets compulsory shopping without prior agreement, such "subsidised-cum-shopping" tours may fall into a legal grey area. The revelation underlines the need for better law enforcement and education on the mainland. Local travel agencies should also refrain from collaborating with such tour operators.

It takes more than rules and reforms to keep our tourism thriving. It requires those in the industry to act in good faith. With mainland arrivals due for another surge in a few weeks, better cross-border efforts are needed to identify the bad apples. The city cannot afford another blow to its reputation as a top destination for shopping and vacations.