A tour agency that made mainland visitors sleep overnight on a coach during the Lunar New Year holiday had its membership in the industry regulator suspended yesterday, after its proprietor repeatedly defied summonses to clarify the dispute.
The Travel Industry Council took a tougher line on 3A Holidays after proprietor Wong Wing-kin missed his last chance to answer questions in person.
The council had sent for Wong three times in a little over a week. He had responded by sending two letters that the council said lacked crucial details.
Joseph Tung Yao-chung, executive director of the council, said: "Wong's daughter told me on the phone that her father was unwell and could not stand the pressure of appearing in public.
"A lawyer was appointed to represent the company, but he was overseas and could not attend the meeting [yesterday]."
It is the first time the council - a self-regulatory body of the tourism sector that oversees the performance of agencies and tour guides - has suspended an agency's membership over failure to co-operate in an investigation. Membership is a necessary condition for running a tour agency.
Because of the suspension, the Travel Agents Registry, a government body that issues agency licences, has summoned 3A's executives to appear next Thursday. The agency is not yet legally obliged to halt operations.
3A Holidays is believed to be linked to four incidents in which mainlanders stayed in the city without proper accommodation. The members of one tour group spent a night on a coach.
The agency's general manager, Rocky Wong, went before the council on Monday to testify on the fiasco.
The council sent an ultimatum to 3A the next day, warning Wong to appear before 10am yesterday or risk having his licence suspended. Yesterday, it received his second letter, which did not contain documents deemed necessary for the inquiry, such as confirmation of hotel bookings, agreements with tour guides and contracts with partnering travel agencies on the mainland.
A panel of five board members - two trade representatives and three non-trade professionals - decided unanimously to suspend 3A's membership. The agency has two weeks to appeal against the decision.
Providing accommodation to tourists was a basic responsibility of a travel agency, the council said. 3A's failure to do so damaged the reputations of Hong Kong and the industry.
Mainland tourism authorities have instructed agencies in Guangdong to stop doing business with 3A.
The company is currently not receiving any tours visiting Hong Kong, the council said.