Statutory watchdog with muscles welcomed
The SAR government on Wednesday submitted the draft travel industry bill to the Legislative Council for its Panel on Economic Development to deliberate over in its next meeting on Tuesday. The industry-specific legislation is a necessary instrument for the establishment of the Travel Industry Authority as well as for ensuring the healthy development of tourism-related businesses in Hong Kong. We are a society living under the rule of law and it is only natural for the city to have a properly regulated travel industry that offers visitors a pleasant experience every time they are in Hong Kong.
Tourism has long been a major economic growth engine for Hong Kong and expanded significantly since the introduction of the Individual Visit Scheme for mainland residents in 2003. Millions of visitors from the mainland have been spending so much money annually here in Hong Kong in recent years that local consumer services are now more reliant on mainland customers than ever. However, tourist arrivals from across the northern boundary with Guangdong have decreased markedly this year due to a number of reasons, not least sporadic harassment by a few “localist” groups.
Malpractices targeting mainland tour groups are also hurting business in the tourism sector. On Wednesday yet another alarm sounded as disappointing business results were reported by Ocean Park, which is now in the red for the first time in more than a decade. Another main tourist attraction — the Hong Kong Disneyland Resort — also reported an operating loss last year.
Needless to say Hong Kong is not the most important destination for many mainland tourists any more, as more and more overseas markets have opened their arms to mainlanders. This means Hong Kong needs to come up with new attractions and afford a better reception to appeal to its northern neighbors. To do so will inevitably require adequate regulations. This is in order to prevent illegal practices from harming Hong Kong’s reputation and development as well as visitors’ personal well-being. It’s time to give the travel industry a regulatory body with real muscles.
Some players in the sector have previously expressed worries that the proposed Travel Industry Authority may turn out to be a “toothless tiger”. Now the concern seems to be about disciplinary overkill, especially the question of where to draw the line between civil and criminal liabilities. Such issues deserve extra careful handling by legislators to ensure the end result will be an effective guarantee for the healthy and orderly development of the travel industry instead of it being a “scarecrow” or “control freak”.