The Hong Kong travel agency accused of leaving mainland tourists to sleep in their coach overnight had its licence revoked yesterday. But it could be operating again in nine months.
Emerging after a 6 ½ hour meeting with the Travel Agents Registry, Wong Wing-kin, the owner of 3A Holidays, said the registry had made the decision due to public interest.
He apologised for the tourists' ordeal but said their accommodation had been the responsibility of the two Shenzhen tour companies they signed up with.
Wong's lawyer, Andrew Lam Ping-cheung, said the travel agency was entitled to re-apply for a licence after its existing licence would have been due to expire in November.
Meanwhile, the registry's investigation into the Lunar New Year holiday scandal is continuing.
Lam said that 3A Holidays admitted failing to observe a code of conduct set out by the Travel Industry Council which said members must "confirm" accommodation.
He added that 3A had been informed that the accommodation was confirmed but Wong admitted that his company should have checked the hotel bookings itself.
Wong said 3A Holidays was responsible for food, transport and activities.
When questioned whether the tour operator felt any moral responsibility for failing to arrange accommodation, Wong replied: "We are not shirking any moral responsibilities."
Lam said Wong "accepts that he was negligent" and that there seems to be "structural problems" that needed to be addressed.
He added that he had advised Wong not to appeal against the decision of the registry because the travel company had been negligent.
The Travel Industry Council suspended the agency's membership on February 21 after Wong repeatedly defied its calls to appear before it.
The council had sent for Wong three times in a little over a week. He responded by sending two letters which the council said lacked crucial details.
Joseph Tung Yao-chung, executive director of the council, said at the time: "Wong's daughter told me on the phone that her father was unwell and could not stand the pressure of appearing in public. "
The agency has until next week to appeal the decision.
Membership is a necessary condition for running a travel agency in the city.
The government had said earlier in the month that the incident had "adversely affected the reputation of the Hong Kong tourism industry".