In wake of mainland visitor's death, Hong Kong must set up a statutory body to oversee tourism sector

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 29 October, 2015, 1:29am
UPDATED : Thursday, 29 October, 2015, 1:29am

The tourism industry can be so cut-throat that stamping out improper practices requires strenuous oversight. Laws, guidelines and rules have been put in place, but as the death last week of a mainland visitor caught up in a fight over strong-arm shopping tactics proved, more is needed.

The threats of action against agencies and guides is not enough; for each loophole plugged, there is a new trick. Fast-tracking a long-promised statutory authority is the obvious next step.

Reputation is everything in the tourism industry. Unbelievably cheap tours offered on the mainland that make up for the cost by forcing visitors to shop at retail outlets that give commissions to operators and guides have long been a problem.

They have inevitably led to underhand practices that have caused ill-feeling and disputes that have added to the tensions between locals and mainlanders.

Heilongjiang resident Miao Chunqi's death understandably sparked a mainland outcry and calls for boycotts of Hong Kong trips.

WHAT HAPPENED: Mainland Chinese visitor ‘beaten unconscious’ following brawl in Hong Kong jewellery shop

Mainland authorities have promptly added to laws banning unreasonably cheap tours by targeting visitors who knowingly sign under-the-table deals for discount holidays.

How effective that will be, or whether they can also stop the activities of "shadow tourists" - people hired to coerce fellow passengers to make purchases - is a significant unknown.

Greed can never be fully removed from any industry and it is especially prevalent when it comes to taking advantage of those in unfamiliar surroundings, be they visitors or residents.

Tourists looking for the best possible deal will knowingly, or unwittingly, sign up to that which is plainly too good to be true.

Hong Kong, long a tourism destination and receiving tens of millions of tourists a year, is only too well aware of the pitfalls and the repercussions.

READ MORE: Malpractice on shopping tours to Hong Kong must be stopped

Our city's Travel Industry Council oversees agencies, guides, attractions and shops with registration, accreditation, rules and codes of conduct. It metes out punishment to violators by delisting and suspending.

It has done a creditable job over its 37 years, but the occasional embarrassment points to the need for an independent organisation that is more encompassing.

An industry review five years ago recommended a tourism authority as the solution; by being removed from the council, there would be an end to perceived bias and conflict of interest.

Authorities promised it within three years, but it still does not exist.

Miao's death is cause to rejuvenate the idea so that an important facet of our economy can be better protected.