Author­ity to curb abuses in tourism in­dus­try pro­posed

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - TOP NEWS - By LUIS LIU in Hong Kong luis­liu@chi­nadai­lyhk.com

The gov­ern­ment has pro­posed set­ting up a stat­u­ary body to over­see the tourism in­dus­try, ac­cord­ing to the sub­mis­sion of a draft travel in­dus­try bill to the leg­is­la­ture on Wed­nes­day.

The estab­lish­ment of Travel In­dus­try Author­ity (TIA) is ex­pected to rem­edy the lack of gov­ern­ment reg­u­la­tion of the city’s tourism prac­tices by giv­ing real power to a su­per­vi­sory body.

Cur­rently, the gov­ern­ment has au­tho­rized the Travel In­dus­try Coun­cil of Hong Kong (TIC), formed by in­dus­try play­ers, to self-govern the tourism sec­tor.

In­stead of fines and li­cense sus­pen­sions is­sued pre­vi­ously, in­dus­try play­ers could face crim­i­nal pros­e­cu­tion if the new or­di­nance is en­forced, ac­cord­ing to the sub­mis­sion.

“If a case in­volves sus­pected breaches of the or­di­nance, the TIA will pass it to the Depart­ment of Jus­tice for con­sid­er­ing whether to ini­ti­ate crim­i­nal pros­e­cu­tions in the court,” the sub­mis­sion read.

The TIA will com­prise 30 mem­bers, 13 from in­side the tourism sec­tor and 17 with no re­la­tions with the in­dus­try. By do­ing this the gov­ern­ment hopes to es­tab­lish an in­de­pen­dent, im­par­tial im­age, it said.

Shady prac­tices, such as forced shop­ping or threat­en­ing tour mem­bers, are banned un­der the new rules.

Ac­cord­ing to the pro­posed law, a travel agent must not force any in­bound tour mem­bers to en­ter or stay in any shops, or co­erce any­one into shop­ping, com­mit any such act, or al­low any oth­ers to com­mit any such act.

Travel agents now face a twoyear im­pris­on­ment un­der the new rules. A tour guide who vi­o­lates the rules will be li­able to a one-year im­pris­on­ment.

Mean­while, new re­quire­ments, in­clud­ing a de­posit guar­an­tee of HK$500,000, will be im­posed. This is to raise the thresh­old for run­ning a busi­ness in the in­dus­try and en­sur­ing that travel agen­cies are com­mit­ted to their busi­nesses, ex­plained the gov­ern­ment.

The draft leg­is­la­tion, which will re­place the ex­ist­ing Travel Agents Or­di­nance, will be de­lib­er­ated by law­mak­ers next Tues­day.

If it goes well, the TIA can be es­tab­lished in three years, the gov­ern­ment es­ti­mated.

The tourism in­dus­try has wel­comed the move. It hopes tighter reg­u­la­tions will elim­i­nate mal­prac­tices and re­sume tourists’ con­fi­dence in trav­el­ing to Hong Kong.

TIC Ex­ec­u­tive Direc­tor Joseph Tung Yiu-chung hailed the move. He said it would end the era of hav­ing a “tooth­less tiger” ap­proach to tourism reg­u­la­tion.

Tung said the TIC in­spec­tors had long been ques­tioned over its power to pe­nal­ize those who vi­o­lated the reg­u­la­tions. Hand­ing the work to a stat­u­ary body helps de­ter mal­prac­tices, Tung be­lieved.

A stat­u­ary body will also be more sys­tem­atic in the set­tling of dis­putes, Tung said.

The leg­is­la­tor rep­re­sent­ing the tourism in­dus­try in the Leg­isla­tive Coun­cil, Yiu Si-wing, be­lieved harsher penalties would pre­vent com­pa­nies vi­o­lat­ing the rules.

Pre­vi­ously, some in­dus­try play­ers would just close one of their many com­pa­nies when breach­ing reg­u­la­tions and con­tinue with the re­main­ing op­er­a­tions, Yiu re­vealed.

Re­ports of mal­prac­tices, such as tour guides forc­ing tourists to shop and un­der-ta­ble deals with cer­tain sou­venir stores, have long been preva­lent in Hong Kong.

In one no­to­ri­ous case last year, a man died af­ter clash­ing with a tour guide over forced­shop­ping in a jewelry shop in Hung Hom.

Also on Wed­nes­day, Ocean Park Hong Kong an­nounced it had wit­nessed a nearly 20-per­cent slide in the num­ber of vis­i­tors in the past fis­cal year, lead­ing to a deficit of HK$241.1 mil­lion, the at­trac­tion’s big­gest rev­enue loss since 1987.

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