Tourism industry warns about unscrupulous operators

PUBLISHED : Friday, 15 February, 2013, 2:11pm
UPDATED : Friday, 15 February, 2013, 2:40pm

Unscrupulous tour operators may have broken laws, used improper documents and even impersonated legitimate companies to rake in cash from the boom in tourism from the mainland, players in the sector said on Friday morning.

The comments were made in reaction to Tuesday’s incident in which a group of mainland tourists chose to sleep on a tour coach, after tour company 3A Holidays failed to secure proper accommodation for them. Other groups have faced similar glitches.

On Friday morning, the proprietor of 3A Holidays, Wong Wing-kin, told police he suspected phoney tour leaders had pretended to be from his agency and falsely led some of the recent tours that have generated complaints.

Wong admitted that three of the bungled tours - two that returned to Shenzhen for lack of hotel rooms and one that slept on the coach on Tuesday night - were the responsibility of his agency, but other recent mismanaged tours had nothing to do with 3A Holidays.

In one of those tours, tourists had to sleep on a cruise ship for lack of the hotel rooms they were expecting.

Meanwhile, the Travel Industry Council has asked 3A Holidays to give an account of the incident at the TIC office on Friday afternoon, council executive director Joseph Tung Yao-chung said on Friday morning.

That is sooner than required under the watchdog’s rules, which allow tour companies seven days report on an incident like Tuesday’s botched hotel arrangements.

Ricky Tse, chairman of the Hong Kong Inbound Tours Association, said questions remained to be answered about the incidents involving 3A Holidays. They include which agent is registered for the tour in the official contract.

Varying accounts are circulating about illicit practices that may be linked to Tuesday’s incident. One theory is that a state-owned company was responsible for putting the group tours together on the mainland, although the company has denied having any record of the tourists involved.

Another account says an illegal mainland tour operator may have used the licence of a Hong Kong tour guide to organise the tour while bypassing travel agents in Hong Kong.

Tung said on Thursday said some of the details in the tour registration may have been fabricated.

For his part, Tse said the high demand from mainland tourists and the costs involved have prompted some tour operators from both the mainland and Hong Kong to conduct tours without proper procedures.

“Normally, a tour must be registered through a local travel agency, but there have been reports where some tour guides will take tours themselves without going through an agency,” Tse told local radio.

He called for such bad practices to be stopped, to avoid damage to Hong Kong’s reputation as a tourist hub. There are more than 1,600 travel agencies in the city, and tens of millions of mainland tourists visit every year.

Acting Tourism Commissioner Rosanna Law Shuk-pui condemned “bad blood” in the sector and apologised to tourists who have been affected.

A government study to assess the capacity of the city’s tourism sector will be made available to the public once it is completed, she said, giving no time frame for when that will happen.