Hong Kong Travel Industry Council to lose its authority


Hong Kong government prepares to create new system for licensing, regulation of tour companies

The government has taken another step toward reducing the influence of the Travel Industry Council (TIC) as part of the ongoing effort to repair the tourism industry’s damaged reputation.

The government has proposed four measures in all to reform the travel industry after a series of embarrassing incidents involving people from the mainland complaining they were coerced into spending money at retail oACutlets where they were taken by tour guides.

The role of the TIC, up until now, the industry’s self-governing body, will lose its authority by degrees.

The TIC’s right to issue licenses to tour guides will be taken away.

The TIC’s other major responsibilities are to be taken over by a statutory body or government department.

A consultation period for the tourism industry, the public, scholars and lawmakers commenced Friday ahead of the Labor Day holiday.

The government is expected to assemble views over the next two and a half months, and determine the way for the industry to move forward in the fourth quarter.

“The main objective of the review is to set the direction for the sustainable and healthy development of our tourism sector,” Acting Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development Gregory So said.

The move comes months after a string of incidents of coerced shopping showdowns, including one situation that ended in magistrates’ court after a brawl erupted between a couple from Anhui province and their tour guide.

In another case, an irate tour guide was surreptitiously caught on video berating her charges for being “cheap”, after they had failed to satisfy her expectations of purchases they would make at a jewelry shop.

“In recent years, the number of mainland visitors has grown rapidly, placing heavy pressure on the TIC’s regulatory work,” So said.

He added it was time the city’s 20-year-old tourism regime was reworked to repair the industry’s image and ensure its continued prosperity.

With implementation of the options ranging from a year to two and a half years, So said the government will consider further interim measures if a series of new rules introduced earlier this year failed to stem the spread of malpractice.

Under the current regime, the TIC is responsible for self-regulation while the Travel Agents Registry is responsible for issuing licenses.

The first option involves diluting or eliminating trade member representation on TIC boards and will take one year before lawmakers’ approval.

The second option will place the council under a government department which must approve codes of conduct and directives. It also involves setting up independent appeal committees, all of which will take two years before being introduced to the legislature. It will cost HK$9 million.

The third option, which will take two and a half years and cost between HK$17 and HK$22 million, will transfer most of the council’s functions to a statutory body which will oversee travel agents, guides and escorts with the council only retaining its promotional role.

The fourth and final option will also take two and a half years and transfer most of the TIC’s functions to a government department but will cost only HK$12 million.

The tourism sector employs some 190,000 people directly, with more than 36 million visitors spending HK$210 billion in 2010.