Trade law to protect tourists from crooked travel agencies

Proposed revisions to trade ordinance pushes for harsher penalties, including jail for offenders

PUBLISHED : Monday, 18 February, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 18 February, 2013, 4:34am

There will be fewer tourism scandals in the city, after the revision of a law against unscrupulous and misleading sales practices is passed, the Consumer Council says.

The revised Trade Descriptions Ordinance, which is expected to be passed before June, will include the tourism industry, the council's chief executive Gilly Wong Fung-han said yesterday.

The news comes after recent incidents of mainland visitors arriving in the city on pre-booked tour packages only to find out that their hotel accommodations had not been secured beforehand.

"If a travel agency receives a tour group during the Lunar New Year, knowing that it cannot book any hotel or provide the service … it is a breach of the ordinance [as it is regarded as wrongly accepting payment]," said Wong.

"If the customs have enough evidence, it can intervene and investigate the incident."

Coerced shopping, in which tourists are forced into buying goods through intimidation, is considered an aggressive commercial practice and is also against the revised ordinance, she said.

"Under the present mechanism, the ultimate [penalty] may be delisting, but it is not a criminal offence and the board of directors does not need to take responsibility," Wong said. But under the proposed amendment to the law, a person who breaches the ordinance is considered to have committed a crime, and can be jailed up to five years and fined up to HK$500,000.

The harsher penalties would further deter tour agencies from violating the rules, she said.

The government had last year passed an amendment to the Trade Descriptions Ordinance in a bid to curb unscrupulous and misleading sales practices.

Now, the Customs and Excise Department is holding a public consultation on its draft guidelines to enforce that law.

The guidelines could be put into practice in the second quarter of the year, Wong said.

She called for a supervisory body to be set up in the tourism industry, for the Tourism Board to employ more staff to check on cross-border tours, and for the Tourism Commission to set up an encrypted e-platform with its mainland counterparts to improve exchange of information so as to better monitor service quality.