A tour agency has been given until tomorrow to explain why mainland visitors were left stranded without hotel rooms over the Lunar New Year holiday or be suspended by the Travel Industry Council.
It is the first time the watchdog has issued such an ultimatum and follows a call by Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying on Tuesday that the council be strict when handling at least four incidents linked to 3A Holidays.
The agency sent a letter to the council on Monday but it failed to answer crucial questions, the council's chairman, Michael Wu Siu-ieng, said after a board meeting yesterday.
"There are several points it must explain. What was the [mainland] tour agency it partnered with, which hotel were the tour members supposed to stay in, and who booked the hotels?" he said.
The company's proprietor, Wong Wing-kin, again failed to appear on Tuesday. He was summoned to a meeting by the council last Friday but did not show up after earlier telling police he suspected phoney tour leaders had pretended to be from his agency and had falsely led tours that generated complaints.
In one incident involving 3A Holidays, tourists had to sleep on a tour bus after their promised hotel rooms did not materialise. In another, seven tourists were told they had to spend the night in a room intended for four people. Two other cases involved tour members being sent back to the mainland prematurely.
Under the watchdog's rules, a member is required to appear at council meetings and provide necessary information in the face of an investigation.
An agency that fails to comply risks having its membership suspended. No one can operate a tour agency without such membership.
A panel consisting of five council directors - three of them non-trade professionals and two trade members - will listen to 3A's explanation tomorrow. If the agency failed to send a legitimate representative or a detailed written report, the panel would immediately suspend its licence.
The council's disciplinary committee would then decide on whether its membership should be revoked permanently.
The Travel Agents Registry, the government body that issues licences to travel agencies, said it respected the council's action and would use its power to summon 3A Holidays' executives if necessary.
Joseph Tung Yao-chung, the council's executive director, said not booking accommodation for tour members was a serious offence. The agency involved could have its membership revoked.
Tourism veterans had pointed out the possibility that 3A could have "lent" its name to people other than its staff to receive mainland tour groups in return for a fee.
In response, the council said such an arrangement was not acceptable.
Any agency that lent its name in such a way would be held liable for civil and criminal liabilities arising from the borrower's activities.