Forced shopping in Hong Kong makes a return on cheap tour packages

Mainland authorities receive complaints of tourists on cheap packages being locked in Hong Kong shops until they agree to spend

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 30 October, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 30 October, 2012, 11:11am

"Forced shopping" has made an unwelcome return to Hong Kong, mainland tourists complain, as travel agencies sell group-tour vouchers on websites at rock-bottom prices.

This year, mainland authorities have again received complaints of tourists being forced to buy goods in assigned stores - with them locked inside - during their trips to Hong Kong.

Internet users in Shanghai, Shenzhen, Hubei and Jiangsu provinces have described their disappointment and anger, and police in Hunan and Shenzhen have warned such practices were still found in Hong Kong.

A tourist from Hebei told the Post she was trapped in two shops during a group tour this month.

"We have received dozens of complaints from mainland tourists this year and most of them involved forced shopping," said Qiu Gan, director of the supervision and management department of Shenzhen's tourism administration. He said most complaints could not be followed up because of a lack of evidence. "In the past months we have launched two campaigns against shopping fraud, especially focusing on online sales of Hong Kong-Macau tour vouchers. But complaints keep rising."

While it is illegal for agencies to organise tours at prices that cannot cover costs - a red light that the agencies earn their income from forced shopping - it is easy to buy tourist coupons online through various mainland websites at ultra-low prices of between 200 yuan and 500 yuan.

At a mainland group-buying website, Xinyour travel agency offers coupons for four-day, three-night tours to Hong Kong and Macau for just 480 yuan, including travel, accommodation and a ticket to Ocean Park.

According to the website, residents of Guangdong, Guangxi , Fujian and Hainan are banned from joining these tours, which include compulsory visits to three assigned shops.

When the Post called the number on the website, a man who said he was a director said people from those four provinces were not welcome as they could easily visit Hong Kong independently and were stingy shoppers.

But Xinyour in Shenzhen said it did not sell such coupons online, and would not be responsible for them.

"It's impossible to enjoy a decent tour of Hong Kong paying 1,000 yuan, let alone only 500 yuan," a woman at Xinyour said.

According to Hong Kong's Travel Industry Council, complaints from mainland tourists dropped 4.4 per cent to 196 in the first nine months this year.

There were no complaints about forced shopping during October's week-long National Day "golden week" holiday, council chairman Michael Wu Siu-ieng said.

Locking tourists inside shops was a clear violation of rules, Wu said. If caught, tour guides or agencies would have points deducted; if they racked up 30 points their licences would be suspended.

Proper agencies should register all planned shopping stops with the council before tours started, he said, and tour members should be provided with itineraries including the council's hotline so tourists could complain if they had problems.

"We have been in touch with the National Tourism Administration about the extremely cheap group tours offered online. Regulators can trace the travel agencies named in the internet offers," Wu said.

There was a list of agencies authorised to operate outbound tours to the city, so it should be possible to track offenders.