The call went out yesterday for stricter oversight of travel agencies after members of a mainland tour group spent a night on their coach and then were abandoned by their guides.
The demand for action, from a union representing workers in the tourism industry, came as tour members spoke of their ordeal, with one describing it "like falling from heaven to hell".
The sector's watchdog, the Travel Industry Council, promised an investigation, saying there seemed to have been "a serious violation of rules".
New policies were established by the council two years ago and the government promised a regulatory body after complaints of malpractice, such as forced shopping. But the regulator has yet to be established and the Hong Kong Tourism Coalition said the current mechanism had failed to prevent abuses.
Coalition chairman Tse Pak-kung said the involvement of mainland companies in marketing and booking the tours made scrutiny more difficult. Since mainland businesses must rely on Hong Kong partners, tightening licensing rules could improve oversight, he added.
In the latest incident, 3A Holidays, a Hong Kong company, was accused of taking over responsibility for the tourists at a low rate from its mainland partners and then ending the tour before it was supposed to finish.
Tour members slept in their coach on Tuesday night after their promised three-star hotel turned out to be a guest house in Sham Shui Po.
"I felt like I fell from heaven to hell when I arrived in Hong Kong. I wanted to shop here but now I don't feel like it any more," one said. The Hubei resident, who came with her family of five, said she was disappointed with her four-day trip. She said they did nothing for the first two days and then were left on their own, after the night on the coach.
Another member of the 30-strong group, which arrived on Tuesday, said she booked the tour online, paying 1,260 yuan (HK$1,568) for a five-day trip with accommodation at a three-star hotel or better.
The Travel Industry Council's executive director, Joseph Tung Yao-chung, said if the agency had not booked hotel rooms before its customers arrived, it would be a "serious violation of rules".
He said 3A Holidays had been the subject of previous complaints, including one in which tourists expecting to sleep in a hotel were asked to sleep on a cruise ship.
Last night 3A Holidays was at the centre of another incident. A group of seven mainland visitors who booked a trip through the firm called police to complain that they were all expected to spend the night in a room in a Mong Kok guesthouse intended for four people, not a three-star hotel they were promised. Their tour guide later settled them in a three-star hotel in Tai Kok Tsui.
The Companies Registry showed the agency's proprietor, Wong Wing-kin, owned more than 20 other firms that operate businesses aimed at mainland tourists. Wong has not been available since the row erupted.
The council's rules ban tour agencies from outsourcing group tours to third parties. One member of the group said they had been passed to different guides.