The Travel Industry Council is to tighten rules on agents to offer better protection for tourists after a row in which retailers have been accused of selling fake goods. But it said reducing the problem would take some time. Council chairman Ronnie Ho Pak-ting said yesterday that mainland tourism to the city had boomed in recent years and with it occasional complaints from visitors. The quality of service could not be guaranteed, he added. The council launched a 14-day refund scheme in February 2002. Travel agents wishing to take tourists shopping had to register stores they planned to visit with the council. These shops had to comply with the refund scheme. If a shop failed to give a refund, it would receive 10 demerit points. The council would tell members not to take tour groups to the shops that had accumulated 30 demerits. The council will hold a board meeting on April 17 to discuss the matter. Mr Ho said it was considering tightening the scheme and had discussed publishing a list of the demerit points shops had received on the China National Tourism Administration's website. After discussions with customs officials, the council had also proposed that shops be asked to describe goods accurately to reduce any misunderstanding. Maisie Cheng Mei-sze, deputy commissioner for tourism, said there was a need to improve the consumer rights of visitors after mainlanders claimed they had been misled into buying fake goods. They thought they were buying brand names when this was not the case. 'If the shop sells fake goods, it is easier to prosecute,' she said. 'But sometimes shops just mislead consumers. It is difficult to get evidence.' Ms Cheng said the government was considering strengthening legislation to deter shops from cheating tourists. It had also asked the Consumer Council to investigate how to better protect visitors. She denied that the recent problems has shown the industry was poorly monitored. It was better to allow the industry to regulate itself as this would ensure greater flexibility in the free market, she said. Last week, China Central Television reported that two jewellery shops, the Majestic Watch & Jewellery Company in To Kwa Wan and Expo Global in Hung Hom, were accused of selling fake diamond goods to mainland tourists. Some customers later rushed to the stores to ask for a refund. Charles Ng Kwong-wai, president of the Inbound Tour Operators Association, said the number of tour groups visiting during the mainland's Labour Day 'golden week' next month could drop by at least 15 per cent compared with last year in the wake of the row. Michael Wu Siu-ieng, a Travel Industry Council board member, was worried that the industry would be severely damaged if the news spread to other countries, especially in Southeast Asia. Industry malpractice has aroused concern since last year. A group of Qinghai tourists, who joined a zero-fee tour in October, were abandoned by their tour guide after they refused to buy goods at shops. The China National Tourism Administration has said staying in a three-star hotel in Hong Kong during a four-day tour should cost no more than 1,500 yuan.