Tougher tour agency checks urged after hotel bookings fiasco

Tougher checks on tour agencies urged after mainlanders arrive over Lunar New Year to find rooms were not allocated

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 16 February, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 16 February, 2013, 3:47am

The government is pressing the Travel Industry Council to review its scrutiny of travel agencies after recent incidents in which mainland visitors arrived in the city on tours to find they had not been booked into hotels.

The proprietor of the company at the centre of several scandals, 3A Holidays, failed to show up at a meeting yesterday to answer questions from the watchdog.

Wong Wing-kin was summoned by the council to explain the incidents. But he failed to appear after earlier telling police he suspected phoney tour leaders had pretended to be from his agency and falsely led some of the tours that generated complaints.

Despite Wong's claims, the council said his agency was linked to at least four incidents during the Lunar New Year holiday. In two of them, tour members were sent back to the mainland prematurely.

One involved tourists having to sleep on a tour bus, and in the other, seven tourists were told they had to spend the night in a room intended for four people.

3A had told the watchdog it had nothing to do with the complaint by the seven tourists, but information on their itineraries matched the tour registration record filed to the council by 3A.

"The code of the tour, the name of the guide, the code of the guide's licence and the name of the contact person are all the same as our registration," said Michael Wu Siu-ieng, the council's chairman. Acting commissioner of tourism Rosanna Law Shuk-pui said 3A's failure to provide accommodation for tour members was unacceptable and asked the council to take a firm line in handling the case.

She said it was necessary to step up implementation of rules the council rolled out two years ago to tighten control of the trade.

The regulations, usually referred as the "10 rules", require agencies to file information including names and registration numbers of agencies and tour guides to the council. A demerit system was also created, which allows the council to revoke an agency's licence after the deduction of points. "We have asked the council to think about how it can ensure such information is properly validated," Law said.

Wu said several proposals were being considered. "We may ask them to clearly state the name of the hotel when the agencies register the tours with us," he said. "We may also require them to produce confirmation letters to prove they have booked accommodation for the tourists."

Under the existing regulations, agencies are required to report to the council only which districts the hotels are located in and how many stars they have.

Wu said it was difficult for the council to check every registered tour for hotel bookings during peak seasons, such as the Lunar New Year, when there were more than 400 tours a day coming to the city from the mainland. "Random checks may be done with hotels in the future to check whether the agencies have booked accommodation for the tourists before registering the tour with us," Wu said.

Yiu Si-wing, lawmaker for the tourism sector, said one problem was the low threshold required for opening a tour agency. "There are more than 1,600 agencies and their quality varies," he said.

Some agencies may risk not booking hotels in advance knowing the council would not verify every record beforehand.

It was important to impose harsh punishments as a deterrent, he added.