Following is the full text of a speech by the Secretary for Economic Services, Ms Sandra Lee, in moving the second reading of the Travel Agents (Amendment) Bill 2001 in the Legislative Council today (July 11): (Translation)
I move that the Travel Agents (Amendment) Bill 2001 be read the second time.
The purpose of the Bill is to amend the Travel Agents Ordinance to put in place a licensing scheme to regulate travel agents providing inbound travel services.
The present Travel Agents Ordinance only provides for the control and regulation of agents engaged in the provision of outbound travel services. It does not regulate agents providing inbound travel services. The Ordinance currently requires all outbound travel agents to apply for a licence from the Registrar of Travel Agents. To provide outbound travel services without a licence is unlawful. The licensing framework is supported by a self-regulatory regime administered by the Travel Industry Council of Hong Kong. Membership of the Travel Industry Council is one of the licence conditions for outbound travel agents. The Registrar of Travel Agents and the Travel Industry Council maintain close liaison and cooperation in respect of the regulation of outbound travel agents.
After careful consideration of the views expressed by the travel trade and related bodies, we propose to amend the Travel Agents Ordinance to require all inbound travel agents to apply for a licence as is the case for outbound travel agents. Any person carrying on a business as an inbound travel agent without a licence will then commit a criminal offence. The Registrar of Travel Agents will serve as the licensing authority for both inbound and outbound travel agents. We propose to extend the licensing requirements currently applicable to outbound travel agents to cover inbound travel agents. This will include membership of the Travel Industry Council. It follows that inbound travel agents will need to comply with the relevant codes of conduct and directives issued by the Travel Industry Council as formulated by the industry itself.
The amendments will result in better service standards for inbound travel agents which will enhance Hong Kong's reputation as a tourist-friendly city. It will also address public concern over the lack of an appropriate and direct means to deal with malpractices of a small number of inbound travel agents which are currently not members of the Travel Industry Council and are not subject to control under the Travel Agents Ordinance or the industry's self-regulation. Such malpractices include leaving tour groups unattended or taking them to shops which charge exorbitant prices not commensurate with the quality of the goods sold.
The Bill contains new definitions for "inbound travel agent" and "inbound travel service", "outbound travel agent" and "outbound travel service" and a section on what constitutes carrying on business as an inbound travel agent. The Bill also sets out related consequential amendments to be made to the Travel Agents Regulations. The legislation will be brought into effect on a date to be appointed by the Secretary for Economic Services by notice in the Gazette. This is intended to allow time for eligible inbound travel agents to apply for the necessary licences and for the Registrar of Travel Agents to process and issue them.
We have consulted the Advisory Committee on Travel Agents and relevant industry bodies on the proposed amendments. They generally welcome the proposals. I hope that Members will also support the Bill.
Thank you, President.
End/Wednesday, July 11, 2001