Malpractice on shopping tours to Hong Kong must be stopped

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 24 October, 2015, 1:47am
UPDATED : Saturday, 24 October, 2015, 1:47am

Nothing damages Hong Kong's image like the news of a mainland tourist's death following an alleged assault at a shopping outlet on Monday. The 54-year-old man from northeast China was allegedly beaten up by four people in what appeared to be a shopping dispute at a jewellery shop in Hung Hom. Whatever the circumstances, the city's reputation as a tourist destination has been tarnished. The case also renews concerns over some of the industry's long-standing institutional problems.

Investigations are still ongoing. So far two men have been jointly charged with manslaughter in connection with the assault. Police are still chasing another two suspects who are believed to have fled across the border. Two women, a mainland tour leader and the victim's companion in the tour, were also arrested for fighting in public. As with other criminal cases, the police need to handle the case seriously.

This is the first fatal attack on a mainland tourist. In 2010, a 65-year-old mainlander collapsed after quarrelling with a tour guide during a so-called forced shopping trip in Hung Hom. He later died following a heart attack. The national tourism authority has expressed concerns over the incident. Some commentaries carried by mainland state media hit out at the city's growing anti-mainland sentiments. The negative publicity has dealt another blow to cross-border relations.

Until a clearer picture emerges on the latest case, finger-pointing is premature. But it inevitably puts the spotlight on some questionable institutional practices, in particular the use of commissions from shopping at designated venues to make up for packaged tours at bargain prices. Although forced shopping and low-cost tours are banned, insiders say they now exist in different formats. That means tourists are still prone to rip-off and abuse, as reflected by occasional reports of disputes between tourists and their guides over shopping and itineraries.

Hong Kong cannot claim to be a shopping paradise unless tourist dollars are spent with satisfaction and value for money. The mainland authorities should also crack down on forced shopping tours and penalise agencies for organising such tours.

We trust the tourism authorities are well aware of the negative impact of the incident and will do their utmost to put the house in order. At stake are our reputation and the economic benefits. It is in the interest of both Hong Kong and the mainland to weed out irregularities and malpractices.