Crackdown launched on travel agents offering 'forced shopping' trips
Unscrupulous mainland travel firms now using fake tourists to bully tour groups into spending in shops after receiving cheap or free accommodation and transport
Regulators on both sides of the border are collaborating to crack down on unscrupulous travel agents to combat a reported resurgence of infamous "forced shopping" trips.
This comes as the agents find ways to get around mainland rules banning the tours in which travellers pay little or nothing for transport and hotels but spend most of their time being shuttled between shops and pressured to make purchases.
The Hong Kong Travel Industry Council has issued guidelines to tour agencies and licensed guides reminding them that they are forbidden from forcing tourists to spend money in shops and from verbally or physically abusing them. The rules were introduced after a string of highly publicised complaints about abuse and ill-treatment of tourists by guides, with some incidents caught on video.
But the council's executive director, Joseph Tung Yao-chung, said yesterday that unscrupulous and often unlicensed mainland agencies were increasingly using a new tactic to get around the law.
"It's no longer the tour guide who forces [tourists] to shop. Now it is often someone who joins the tour group as a tourist who exerts pressure on others to shop," he said.
The unlicensed agencies have little concern for the mainland law against the practice, he said.
"Such cases have to be referred to the mainland police, but they often have other priorities."
Tour firms are not allowed to bring groups to designated shops, where agencies often receive commissions on purchases made, "unless prior consensus is reached" with group members.
The council is now working with the Shenzhen Tourism Bureau on details of a new verification procedure, Tung said.
This would require all Shenzhen tour firms organising tour groups to Hong Kong to register their company e-mail addresses for liaison with authorities on both sides of the border.
Their partners in Hong Kong would then no longer be able to say that they were unaware that their partners were unlicensed as they often claimed when complaints from mainland tourists were investigated, Tung said.
"But in the long run, mainland tourists need to be educated on why they should not take petty advantages, thinking they can travel for free to Hong Kong only for the price of getting scolded when they don't shop," he added.