LCQ4: Combating touting activities in booking of LCSD sports venues
It is learnt that the supply of sports venues under the Leisure and Cultural Services Department (LCSD) falls short of demand, and some hirers tout their booked sessions for using the venues for profits (touting). On the other hand, the LCSD introduced a number of new measures in May and November last year respectively to further combat suspected touting activities. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:
(1) whether it has conducted specific surveys on the touting situation, such as the type of venues and the sessions where touting activities are particularly serious, the difference between the asking prices demanded by people engaged in touting activities and the hire charges of venues, and the reasons for the prevalence of touting activities;
(2) whether it has plans to review the existing arrangements for hiring the LCSD venues or formulate administrative measures to combat the touting trend, including setting up a blacklisting system; and
(3) whether it will amend the Pleasure Grounds Regulation to add provisions prohibiting the transfer of booked sessions for the use of venues for profits, and treat the relevant cases as "summary offences", so as to combat touting activities?
The Government provides leisure and cultural facilities for public use to encourage their participation in activities which are good for their body and the mind, thereby improving their quality of life. To benefit more people, the charges of these facilities are inexpensive and affordable to most members of the public. The Leisure and Cultural Services Department (LCSD) has put in place a booking policy enabling members of the public to book and hire facilities in a fair and orderly manner. However, the high demands for facilities, especially during certain peak hours, give rise to activities where touts demand hirers to pay higher prices for the facilities and profit from the margin. In recent years, the LCSD has introduced various measures to improve the booking policy and combat the unauthorised transfer of user permit for profit (touting).
My consolidated reply to the questions raised by the Hon Luk Chung-hung is as follows:
The LCSD has been closely monitoring social media platforms to keep abreast of the modus operandi and the latest situation of suspected touting activities, including types of venues, time slots and prices. Recently, touting activities have mostly been conducted on various social media platforms in a discreet manner to evade the investigation and crackdown by the LCSD, making it more difficult for the LCSD to collect relevant information. The LCSD reviews the booking policy from time to time and has adopted, in recent years, a multi-pronged approach comprising a series of administrative measures with a view to combating touting activities and securing equal opportunities for genuine users to hire public leisure facilities. These measures include (1) enhancing the booking policy; (2) imposing penalty mechanism; and (3) stepping up inspections.
On enhancement of the booking policy, the LCSD has adopted the following measures since May 2022:
- reducing the daily maximum number of non-peak hour sessions of fee-charging sports and recreation facilities that an individual can book to two hours for the same type of facility;
- pushing back the starting time of the operating hours of the Leisure Link booking counters and self-service kiosks to 7.15am to combat "queuing gangs" lining up overnight;
- allowing login to the Internet Booking Service of the Leisure Link e-Services System (LLES) via "iAM Smart" without having to input CAPTCHA, which is a simpler and faster way to log in as compared to the normal computer login procedure. This will increase the chance of booking facilities successfully and make it easier for genuine venue users to book facilities;
- requiring the input of the Leisure Link patron numbers of the hirer and four other users, three of whom must check in and be present during the use of the booked session alongside the hirer, at the time of submitting an online application for balloting of turf soccer pitches with a view to making it more difficult for touting; and
- releasing sessions of facilities from cancelled bookings for public booking at 7am on the next day alongside new sessions available on that day to allow a fair chance for the public to book these sessions.
After the implementation of the aforementioned measures, there has been virtually no overnight queue at the Leisure Link booking counters and self-service kiosks. Besides, according to the record of the computerised booking system, the percentage of users logging in to the Internet Booking Service of the LLES via "iAM Smart" during the busiest period in the morning (7am - 7.15am) has increased from 42 per cent on May 17, 2022, to 71 per cent on February 26, 2023. This is effective in strengthening the authentication of identity of patrons to the benefit of genuine users of facilities and minimising the chances for touting. The LCSD considers that the above measures are effective in combating touting activities to a certain extent.
On the other hand, the LCSD imposes heavier penalty on hirers breaching the conditions of use of facilities to achieve a better deterrent effect, including:
- extending the suspension of a hirer's rights to book fee-charging sports and recreation facilities to 360 days for "unauthorised transfer of user permit"; and
- doubling the validity period of records of a hirer "not taking up the booked sessions" or "not being present during the use of the booked sessions" to 60 consecutive days.
Furthermore, venue staff are strengthening random inspections. A total of over 790 000 inspections were conducted from May last year to mid-March this year. 1 404 hirers in total were found not being present during the use of the booked sessions, involving various fee-charging sports and recreation facilities such as arenas of sports centres, tennis courts and turf soccer pitches. Among them, a total of 41 hirers had accumulated two counts of breach for not being present during the booked sessions of the facilities and were suspended from booking the fee-charging facilities of the LCSD for 90 days. Moreover, over 4 600 hirers had accumulated two counts of breach for failing to take up the booked sessions in 2022 and were suspended from booking the fee-charging facilities of the LCSD for 90 days. Not only can the above measures combat touting effectively, but also help reduce wastage of venue resources.
The LCSD has been examining the possibility of imposing deterrent criminal liabilities or fines on persons engaging in unauthorised transfer of user permits under the current legislation. It is also seeking legal advice on requiring the hirers and the hiring organisations to declare and undertake that they will not transfer the booked facilities by any means at the time of their booking or registering to use the facilities. Those who breach the conditions of use may have contravened the Theft Ordinance (Cap. 210) and be liable to criminal responsibility.
We understand that there has always been a keen demand for sports facilities among the public. The Government announced the "Five-year Plan for Sports and Recreation Facilities" and the "10-year Development Blueprint for Sports and Recreation Facilities" in the Policy Address in January 2017 and 2022 respectively to develop new sports and recreation facilities or improve existing ones with a view to encouraging members of the public to exercise regularly and improve the quality of living. Additional venues can also be provided for national sports associations and athletes for training purposes, thereby facilitating the diversification of sports development. Six sports centres have been completed and commissioned since 2018. The LCSD will provide more sports facilities for public use in the future.
The LCSD will continue to closely monitor the booking situation and usage of its leisure facilities as well as information on suspected touting activities on social media platforms. More targeted measures against touting activities will be launched where necessary.
Ends/Wednesday, March 22, 2023
Issued at HKT 14:20
Issued at HKT 14:20