Even though the Travel Industry Compensation Fund Management Board suggested yesterday that travel agents' contributions to the fund be suspended, agents are unlikely to cut tour prices. In a public consultation document released yesterday, the board suggested that travel agents should stop paying the levy whenever the fund's balance exceeded HK$500 million. When the balance fell to HK$400 million or less, the board would decide whether, and at what level, the levy should be resumed. The board also suggested increasing the ceiling on ex gratia payments for funerals, cremations or the repatriation of the remains of a deceased outbound traveller and spending on compassionate visits by relatives from HK$40,000 to HK$100,000. A restriction limiting eligibility for compassionate visit claims to two relatives would be removed. EGL Tours executive director Steve Huen Kwok-chuen said cutting tour costs would be minimal if passed on. 'For tours that cost around HK$3,000, which is the majority of cases, the amount that a customer can save under the proposal would be HK$4.50,' he said. 'It may not be very meaningful to reduce the tour price by a few dollars. 'But if the proposal is to be implemented, we will use the amount saved for training tourism practitioners or to organise promotion tours. These would still benefit customers.' Hong Tai Travel Services said it would not consider adjusting outbound tour prices but might offer souvenirs to customers. The management board's chairman, Ignatius Chan Tze-ching, said yesterday that suspension of the levy would help reduce travel agents' operating costs, which could leave scope for reductions in fares for travellers on outbound tours. Mr Chan said the proposals were aimed at easing the financial burden on travel agents amid the current financial downturn and enhancing protection for travellers. Taking into account the time required for legislative changes, the proposals could be implemented by early next year. The Travel Industry Compensation Fund was set up in 1993. Money for the fund comes to travel agents via a 0.15 per cent levy on outbound fare receipts. Travellers joining an outbound package tour can receive money from the fund when a travel agent defaults, or if a traveller dies or is injured in an accident during a tour. At the end of February, the fund held a balance of HK$502 million. Mr Chan said that maintaining a pool of HK$500 million would be sufficient to meet the commitments in a worst-case scenario involving the default of two large agents and a number of smaller ones. He said that such a spate of business failures was unlikely, even in the current financial climate.