Official: Tour agencies should pay deposits

10:45, March 07, 2011      

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A leader in the Hong Kong tourism industry has proposed that travel agencies pay deposit fees that will be set aside to compensate tourists harmed by abuses such as forced shopping, which subjects travelers to high-pressure sales techniques.

Lo Sui-on, executive director with China Travel Service (Holdings) Hong Kong Ltd, said recent disputes between Hong Kong tour guides and mainland travelers have roused concerns over the growth of the tourism industry.

"It is definitely a blow to Hong Kong's tourism brand, but we think the scandal also has a good side, since we need ways to deal with these cheap tours," said Lo, who is in Beijing for the annual session of the National People's Congress (NPC).

Last month, a Hong Kong tour guide fought with tourists in Hong Kong, four of whom suffered injuries bad enough that they were sent to a hospital. That followed a July 2010 case, in which a Hong Kong tour guide was caught on video berating a busload of mainland tourists.

Both altercations came about for the same reason: The travelers had declined to spend money at Hong Kong jewelry shops.

Before 2001, only four travel agencies in the mainland were permitted to arrange trips to Hong Kong for mainlanders, Lo said. But as the mainlanders grow wealthier, an increasing number of businesses have appeared to cater to their wanderlust.

Lo estimated that there are now more than 100 travel agencies in the same business. He said the resulting competition has led to lower prices for trips to Hong Kong. The current offerings include free-of-charge tours or even negative-charge tours.

"As a result, these businesses cannot make a profit on these low-charge tours unless some shopping occurs," Lo said. "Some agencies have even built their own shopping malls in Hong Kong. The commission rates can reach up to 60 percent for tour guides."

He said the proposed deposit fees, which would be charged to travel agencies, would act as a restraint on both the behavior of trip organizers and tour guides.

Hong Kong welcomed a record 36 million visitors in 2010, 21.8 percent more than in the previous year. Nearly 26 million of the travelers hailed from the mainland, the Hong Kong Tourism Board (HKTB) announced in January.

But only 2 million of those mainland visitors were taken on their trips by representatives of travel agencies, according to Lo. He noted that the Individual Visit Scheme , which allows mainland travelers to visit Hong Kong on their own, was introduced in 2003. Since then, travel agencies have become less important to the Hong Kong tourism industry.

"In the long run, it is Hong Kong's business reputation, shopping environment and service quality that will keep the city's travel industry vigorous," said Lo.

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Source: China Daily
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