It had all the volatile ingredients for a public-order catastrophe. More than 80 weary tourists, a long and uncomfortable coach journey, an unco-operative tour guide and a shockingly inappropriate place to spend the night. When a group of mainland tourists expecting to be taken to a three-star, downtown hotel were instead transported to a children's holiday camp in a far-flung, rural corner of Hong Kong, however, they reacted with calm dignity and guile. In a 15-hour stand-off, they turned the tables on the tour company, won an immediate compensation payout and set off an investigation that could lead to the tour company having its operating licence revoked if it is found to be to blame. In the process, they also sent a clear message to Hong Kong's hospitality industry: mainland visitors are increasingly aware of their rights and how to react when people treat them shoddily or unfairly. The showdown at the Po Lueng Kuk's Pak Tam Chung holiday camp began on November 11, when a group of visitors from Xian and Anhui who had paid 2,600 yuan each for a five-day, four-night stay in Hong Kong were taken to their accommodation at 9pm after a first day spent sightseeing around the city. It was dark as their coaches trundled up to the entrance of the holiday camp, and the visitors may not have seen the large cardboard figures of children in a toy car at the entrance to the camp that gave the first indication of the nature of the place they were booked into. There was no room for doubt once they stepped off the coaches and saw the hostel-style dining room and basic $80-a-night rooms that Golden Bauhinia Travel had booked them into. Rather than the three-star hotel they had been promised, they had been taken to a rural hostel in the far northeast of the territory. Instead of being close to the shops and the tourist spots, they were an hour's drive from Hong Kong Island and a 20-minute bus ride from the nearest shop. It was a scene unlike any that Stephen Mok Chung-ping, head of recreational services at the holiday camp, had seen in his 25 years working at the Jockey Club-funded facility - a non-profit making place aimed at giving youngsters the chance to escape the city on school trips and at weekends. 'Recently, we've started to make it more convenient for people to use our camp - we've made it a walk-in camp,' he said. 'We did it to try to make it more convenient for local people to use our facilities and resources here, so there is no longer any need to make an advance booking. They can just come to us on the day, like people do at places like Ocean Park.' The new policy of openness rebounded on the centre last week. 'We received a call from a tour company in the morning, asking to bring a party of people here in the evening. We had no idea they were bringing mainland tourists,' Mr Mok said. 'This group of people came here late in the evening, at about 9 o'clock. We talked to the tour guide in charge of the group and said, 'We can't accept a party of this kind'. But he told us, 'They have nowhere to go. If you don't let them in, they will have to sleep in the countryside'.' While the camp reluctantly admitted the tourists, the holidaymakers made it clear they were having none of it. After a brief inspection of the accommodation they refused to take the rooms, and instead camped-out in the coaches and on the grass alongside the entrance of the camp. Mr Mok said he was not surprised at their reaction: 'These people were expecting to be staying in a three-star hotel, not in a place like this,' he said. 'People who come to Hong Kong as tourists want to be in a downtown area, not a remote area. They want to be close to the shops.' By midnight, three hours into the stand-off, the tour guide deserted the scene, leaving the mainland visitors where they had settled. Police were called for fear tempers might boil over. That they didn't is credit to the mainland visitors, said Sai Kung police divisional commander Chief Inspector Mark Johnson. 'Throughout the whole incident, they behaved in an extremely dignified and calm manner, considering the extreme stress they were under,' he said. The situation was peacefully resolved the next morning when Alan Chan, assistant manager of inbound tourism for the Travel Industry Council (TIC), mediated between the mainlanders and Golden Bauhinia Travel. As the coaches took them away to a three-star hotel and some belated rest, the wheels had already begun turning for an official investigation into what Mr Chan describes as an unusual and rare incident. 'When I went to the holiday camp, I tried to persuade the visitors to rest inside the camp, but they preferred to stay outside until everything had been arranged, and that is what they did,' he said. Each of them was given $300 initial compensation and they can pursue further compensation from the mainland travel agency they booked their visit with. The TIC is investigating whether Golden Bauhinia Travel is to blame for what happened. Mr Chan said the company insisted the holidaymakers were misled, not by them but by the mainland booking agency. Golden Bauhinia Travel declined invitations to give its side of the story to the Post. 'We have already contacted our counterparts in Shenzhen and the incident is being investigated on both sides,' Mr Chan said. 'When we receive a report, if we find something has been done wrong, we will pass it to our committee, which will decide what action to take. The maximum penalty would be to revoke the tour company's licence.' The central issue, according to Bonnie Ngan Suet-fong, general manager of corporate communications for the Hong Kong Tourism Board, was whether the visitors got what they paid for when they booked their tours. 'We are really very concerned about this,' she said. 'If the tour company is going to put people in a camp site, they need to advertise it and communicate the full details of the package to the visitors beforehand. 'If the tour isn't as it was described beforehand, it is a big issue. I think the industry really needs to do something about things like this. They must not allow people to do things that damage the reputation of Hong Kong.' The incident proved mainland visitors were increasingly aware of their rights and intolerant of mistreatment. 'The Tourism Board has done a lot of education up there,' Ms Ngan said. 'We work with different tourism bodies and different provinces and trade shows ... to encourage visitors to understand their rights.' Kenneth So Wai-sang, of the Consumer Council, said mainland visitors were lodging complaints in increasing numbers. 'We certainly like to see this happening,' he said. 'Today, there are quite a lot of consumer bodies on the mainland and so people have a greater awareness of our existence and of their rights when they come to Hong Kong.' The most common complaints concern buying audio-visual equipment, jewellery and Chinese herbal medicines - the three top items on the shopping lists of mainland visitors. 'We have established links with our counterparts in China and they can refer complaints to us after the mainland tourists have returned home through their consumer organisations,' Mr So said. 'In most cases we are able to get redress for the consumer.' Mainlanders driven to raise complaints were not necessarily put off ever returning, Mr So said. 'I wouldn't say they think every retailer and shopkeeper in Hong Kong is a rogue,' he said. 'They are isolated incidents and visitors know that is the case. We have many more honest traders compared to the few rotten apples in the barrel.' The holiday camp at the centre of the controversy was this week returning to normal, with coach parties of happy schoolchildren arriving. Mr Mok said he was now reviewing the 'walk-in' policy after the shock of the events of November 11. 'We might introduce a rate or charge for visitors from outside Hong Kong, like hospitals do - or we may reject this kind of group altogether,' he said. Whatever the decision, Golden Bauhinia Travel will find itself unwelcome. 'We will not accept a booking from this company again,' Mr Mok said. 'I think they have been quite dishonest and these things have a bad effect on Hong Kong's reputation.'