Solo travellers from the mainland are flooding Hong Kong's consumer watchdog with complaints of over-the-counter sharp practices.
While the Consumer Council has seen an overall drop in the number of gripes it received this year - down 7 per cent to 13,279 in the first six months - complaints from mainland individual travellers nearly doubled in the first half to 801.
The statistics were released yesterday, a day after a mainland tour leader allegedly assaulted a member of a mainland tour group in Tsim Sha Tsui.
Overall, mainland travellers' complaints were up by nearly a third to 847 in the period, compared with 652 cases at the same time last year. Those filed from tour members dropped to 46 from 168 over the same period.
'The number of complaints from mainland tourists increased because more of them are coming to Hong Kong. Shops also adopted problematic sales tactics,' council chairman Anthony Cheung Bing-leung said.
According to the Tourism Board, visitor arrivals from the mainland reached 10.8 million in the first five months, a fifth more than a year ago. Of the total mainland arrivals in May alone, 63 per cent, or 1.33 million, made their trips under the Individual Visit Scheme, one-third more year on year.
Due to a shift in travel patterns, more complaints are coming from solo travellers. While new guidelines adopted by the Travel Industry Council - the tourism sector's self-regulator - could have helped clampdown on complaints about group tours, it was the government's job to deal with improper sales practices in shops, Consumer Council chief executive Connie Lau Yin-hing said.
'The government should amend the Trade Descriptions Ordinance as soon as possible,' she said.
The amendment, already proposed by the government, would extend the law's coverage from goods to services. The bill was scheduled for tabling in the in the Legislative Council in the present legislative year, but will have to be delayed until the next session.
Meanwhile, there was a sharp increase in complaints related to infant formulas, following a shortage in the beginning of this year. The number of cases rose almost four-fold from 33 in the first half of 2010 to 157 in the first six months this year. However, the number dipped to about 10 in the past three months after manufacturers set up hotlines for local parents to order milk formula directly, Lau said.
Cheung said: 'The local market is increasingly [interwoven with] the mainland market.'
More than 20 million mainland tourists came to Hong Kong each year and they added to the demand for consumer products, he said. But, it was unacceptable for suppliers to retain stocks in the hope of selling them at higher prices.
Meanwhile, police believe the tour leader who allegedly inflicted face and neck injuries on a tourist from Heilongjiang province in a row over the shopping itinerary has returned to Shenzhen. The leader fled before police arrived.
An officer said police and travel agencies unsuccessfully tried to contact him on his mobile phone.
A 42-year-old local guide who took the injured tourist to hospital was arrested on suspicion of assaulting a reporter trying to photograph the victim. She was released on bail.