The problem of "zero-fee" tours does not appear today, nor would it disappear right away.
But before we examine this problem, we need to know what really is a zero-fee tour. Mainland travellers joining a zero-fee tour does not mean they do not need to pay any tour fee. Rather, it means mainland tour operators making use of extra low tour fees to lure travellers to join package tours and then farming out such tours to Hong Kong receiving agents without paying any reception fee; as such, zero-fee tours should be more accurately called "zero-reception-fee" tours. Apart from zero-fee tours, what is more unacceptable is the so-called "negative-fee" tour, which means mainland tour operators ask Hong Kong receiving agents to pay a reception charge in order to allow the latter to take a package tour. Similarly, the proper name for negative-fee tours should be "negative-reception-fee" tours.
Since Hong Kong receiving agents are unable to earn even a penny from mainland tour operators, they cannot but take those visitors who have joined zero- or negative-reception-fee tours to designated shops in order to get commissions from the shops. And since those shops need to pay commissions to Hong Kong receiving agents and tourist guides, they cannot but try to get a profit by taking advantage of the price and quality of the items they sell, with the result that visitors, having bought something dissatisfactory, come to Hong Kong in high spirits and leave the city feeling depressed.
But then how does the TIC tackle the problem? By implementing the 14-Day, 100% Refund Guarantee Scheme, the TIC ensures that visitors who are taken by Hong Kong receiving agents to registered shops are entitled to a full refund if they ask for it within 14 days. Any registered shops which refuse to refund will be handled by the Committee on Shopping-related Practices according to the Demerit System for Registered Shops . And if there is any misconduct by tourist guides, the Tourist Guide Deliberation Committee will be responsible for punishing them. As for Hong Kong receiving agents which have violated rules of the TIC, the Compliance Committee will handle such cases. All the three committees consist of trade and non-trade members in order to ensure every single case involving registered shops, tourist guides and Hong Kong receiving agents is handled in a fair and just manner.
Even though the TIC has put plenty of effort into tackling the problem of zero- and negative-reception-fee tours, one must recognise that the root of the problem does not lie in Hong Kong, but in mainland China. How could such a problem arise if mainland tour operators did not lure travellers by means of exceptionally low tour fees and then paid no reception fee to Hong Kong receiving agents? The following methods may be conducive to resolving the problem:
- educate mainland travellers to think twice before joining package tours whose fees are very low;
- punish those mainland tour operators which are unable to deliver their promises in order to prevent mainland travellers from being cheated by them;
- ensure the content of the contract signed between mainland tour operators and mainland travellers is the same as that of the contract signed between mainland tour operators and Hong Kong receiving agents;
- step up promotion of the 14-Day, 100% Refund Guarantee Scheme implemented by the TIC.
As far as the above methods are concerned, the TIC has already been working hard with the China National Tourism Administration and the tourism bureaux of many provinces and municipalities, as well as the Tourism Commission of Hong Kong and the Hong Kong Tourism Board, in order to solve the problem of zero- and negative-reception-fee tours as quickly as practicable.
Finally, I think the title of this article should perhaps be revised as follows:
Oh zero-reception-fee tours, what malpractices are committed in thy name!
11 October 2006