image image

Tourism

Hong Kong moves to tighten tour guide rules as visitors overwhelm Lantau after mega bridge opens

  • Tourism Commission to push for Travel Industry Bill to undergo second reading in the legislature to make it a criminal offence for a guide to operate without a licence
  • Visitors from mainland China have swamped Tung Chung following the opening of the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge last month
PUBLISHED : Monday, 12 November, 2018, 9:14pm
UPDATED : Monday, 12 November, 2018, 10:54pm

Hong Kong is moving ahead with a law to tighten requirements for tour guides after Tung Chung was inundated with holidaymakers led by agents from mainland China allegedly operating illegally.

The normally quiet town on Lantau Island has been swamped by tourists in recent days following the opening of a major new cross-border bridge to Macau and Zhuhai.

Some guides were accused of flouting employment laws which prevent mainlanders working in Hong Kong, but a bill currently making its way through the city’s legislature would specifically make it a criminal offence for a guide to operate without a licence.

The Hong Kong Tourism Commission, a government body tasked with promoting the industry, on Monday said it would push for the Travel Industry Bill to undergo a second reading by the end of the year.

Tempers flared over the past two weekends when tens of thousands of mainland travellers, many in tour groups, crossed the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge and flooded Tung Chung, rekindling memories of similar scenes in other border towns that have witnessed tensions between locals and visitors.

Under existing laws, any non-local who provides services related to arranging accommodation, transport or sightseeing without a licensed Hong Kong tour agent is violating their conditions of stay in the city, according to the commission.

Two arrested as Tung Chung protesters clash over influx of visitors from mainland China to Hong Kong

But the body clarified that any mainland tour agent only arranging cross-border transport and then letting travellers arrange their own itinerary was not required to apply for a licence.

The department of culture and tourism in Guangdong province, which borders Hong Kong, has said it is highly concerned about alleged illegal mainland tours. It has demanded operators follow Hong Kong law.

Some 96,500 visitors passed through the immigration facility on the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge on Sunday. The number was slightly down on the record 102,900 seen on the Sunday a week earlier.

Many made excursions to Tung Chung, which sparked queues at bus stops and restaurants and saw shops largely emptied of stock. The rush sparked a response from localist activists who on Sunday came out onto the streets to protest and “reclaim” the area.

Hong Kong’s Tung Chung packed again with mainland Chinese tourists as police keep a lookout for unlicensed tour operators

Alice Chan Cheung Lok-yee, executive director of the Travel Industry Council, which regulates Hong Kong tour agents, said on a Monday radio show that 100 mainland tour groups had registered with local agents to legitimately operate in Hong Kong after crossing the mega bridge on Sunday. The groups comprised an estimated 3,000 tourists, just 6 per cent of the total number crossing the bridge that day.

Hong Kong tour guides who receive mainland tours must be registered with the council and cannot guide multiple groups at the same time, Chan said. To date the organisation had seen no cases of local guides flouting these rules, she added.

The council has the power to issue warnings, suspend or revoke tourist guide permits.

Leung Fong-yuen, chairwoman of the Tourism Industry Employees General Union, which represents thousands of tour guides in Hong Kong, said on the same radio show that she had seen about 10 tour groups at the bridge immigration port on Sunday afternoon.

“Among them, about three groups did not seem to have local guides,” Leung said.

She took the same bus to Tung Chung as one mainland tour group led by a local guide, who on the bus took off her pass and told Leung: “I received them, bought bus tickets for them, and they will be dismissed soon. So my job is almost done.”

Memories of unrest in Sheung Shui as mainland Chinese tourists hop Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge to Tung Chung

Many local guides were simply tasked with buying bus tickets, introducing an artificial island supporting part of the bridge, and reminding tourists not to litter or spit, Leung said.

“This then creates a grey area when the tourists are asked to travel on their own afterwards,” she explained.

Chan said funnelling one group after another into Tung Chung could be problematic as when the local guides departed, some mainlanders in the group without the right credentials might lead the tourists illegitimately, she said.

Chan urged Hong Kong police to look into these types of cases. She also called on potential witnesses to come forward, as arrests would require plenty of evidence.