Hong Kong must boost efforts to weed out malpractices that hurt city’s tourism industry

The mainland has already played its part by banning practices like ‘zero-fee’ tours; now, we have to crack down on unscrupulous operators here

PUBLISHED : Monday, 04 January, 2016, 1:10am
UPDATED : Monday, 04 January, 2016, 1:10am

Blacklisting unscrupulous operators in an industry is a common practice. But convenience and inadequate supervision mean the bad apples can easily reinvent themselves by re-registering under a different company name. Amid growing concerns over mainlanders tricked into signing up for compulsory shopping trips to Hong Kong, the Guangdong authorities have rightly introduced an unprecedented measure – honouring good travel agencies by putting them on a “red list”. This has also prompted the local travel industry to put its own house in order. Starting from last Friday, tour guides are required to wear identify badges at work. More spot checks at tourism and shopping outlets will also be carried out, followed by warnings or points deduction under the existing licensing regime.

Against the backdrop of a deepening decline in tourist arrivals from across the border, the measures are essential. But they are not a panacea. The so-called “forced shopping” and “zero-fee” tours are supposed to be banned under regulations adopted by the national tourism authority in 2103. But lucrative returns means some are willing to risk acting outside the law. The use of “coupons” to attract customers to sign up for low-cost tours is just one of the many tricks to get around the ban.

The red list scheme is a first on the mainland. To succeed, accreditation needs to be stringent. It would be meaningless if every travel agency made it to the list.

Forced shopping would not be possible without the help of tour operators and stores in Hong Kong. The local retail and tourism industries should also do their part to help weed out such malpractices. But this is easier said than done because the financial and business interests of so many are at stake.

But what is most at stake is the lifeline of the city’s tourism industry. Growth in arrival numbers has already slowed as mainland tourists venture into more exotic foreign destinations. The red list will not necessarily boost our tourism industry. But transparency can help consumers make informed choices and malpractices can hopefully be confined to the dustbin of history.