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LCQ7: Supporting development of tourism industry
     Following is a question by the Hon Martin Liao and a written reply by the Secretary for Culture, Sports and Tourism, Mr Kevin Yeung, in the Legislative Council today (April 26):
     There are views pointing out that although the number of visitor arrivals to Hong Kong in February this year exceeded one million, returning to 26 per cent of the pre-epidemic level, the receiving capacity of Hong Kong's tourism industry has not been able to keep pace with the recovery, and this, coupled with the varying quality of quite a number of low-priced Mainland tour groups recently, will affect the reputation of Hong Kong's tourism industry in the long run. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:
(1) as it is learnt that there is manpower shortage in Hong Kong's tourism industry due to some members of the industry retiring or switching to other industries, and members of the industry have expected a substantial increase in the number of visitors during the Labour Day holiday of the Mainland (commonly known as "Labour Day Golden Week"), whether the authorities have formulated short, medium and long-term measures to assist the industry in filling the manpower gap, thereby enhancing Hong Kong's receiving capacity; if so, of the details; if not, the reasons for that;
(2) as it has been reported that some low-priced Mainland tour groups use their members to smuggle illicit cigarettes into Hong Kong, and there are cases of overcharging by some tour groups and some Mainland tour groups do not have travel agencies to receive them in Hong Kong (i.e. the so-called "mustang tour groups"), causing visitors to have a negative impression of Hong Kong, what new targeted measures the Travel Industry Authority and the Travel Industry Council of Hong Kong (TIC) have put in place to regulate non-compliant Mainland tour groups; whether they will consider collaborating with the relevant Mainland departments to combat the relevant non-compliant acts, and how they will remind Mainland visitors to pay attention to the quality of low-priced tour groups;
(3) given that the TIC has implemented 10 measures since 2011 to strengthen the regulation of the arrangements for receiving Mainland tour groups in Hong Kong, whether it has assessed if such measures are effective in combating non-compliant Mainland tour groups; if it has, of the details; if not, the reasons for that; and
(4) as there are views pointing out that although the Government's launch of the "Hello Hong Kong" Campaign with the distribution of 500 000 air tickets for global publicity earlier on has attracted international attention, it is difficult to use such publicity method frequently, whether the authorities have innovative publicity tactics in place to maintain Hong Kong's international exposure, and how they will increase the selling points of Hong Kong; whether they will consider jointly launching tourism projects with other Mainland cities in the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area, so as to attract more visitors?
     Following the end of the epidemic, Hong Kong's tourism industry has gradually recovered. With the resumption of cross-boundary travel from February to end March 2023, about 3.8 million tourists visited Hong Kong, with an average of about 70 000 people per day, which is about 47 per cent of the pre-epidemic level. The Hong Kong Tourism Board (HKTB) estimates that the number of tourists visiting Hong Kong in 2023 will reach 25.8 million, which is 46 per cent of the pre-pandemic level. Hong Kong is a diverse city providing tourists with a variety of travel experiences in all price range for tourists to choose according to their own preferences. That said, regardless of whether the price of tour group is on the high or low side, we require travel agencies to provide high-quality services.
     In respect of the question raised by the Hon Martin Liao, having consulted the Labour and Welfare Bureau, the Travel Industry Authority (TIA) and the HKTB, the reply is as follows:

(1) In a bid to cope with the short, medium and long term need of manpower resources, the Government has been maintaining close liaison with the TIA, the HKTB and the tourism industry, including the Travel Industry Council of Hong Kong (TIC), the Hong Kong Hotels Association and the Federation of Hong Kong Hotel Owners, to understand the existing situation of manpower resources situation among different job categories in the industry and explore feasible remedial measures. 

     In the long run, we must nurture talents. At present, the Hong Kong Polytechnic University and the Chinese University of Hong Kong are both offering funded undergraduate programmes on tourism and hotel management while the Vocational Training Council, the Caritas Institute of Higher Education and some other self-financing post-secondary institutions are offering related courses of different levels. At the same time, the Employees Retraining Board provides courses that are market-driven and employment-oriented and offers over 1 000 training places for hotel and tourism related courses in 2023-24. Resources have been reserved for providing extra places as and when required. 
     The Government earmarked $100 million in 2022-23 to sponsor the training and development of tourism practitioners and the TIA launched a three-year training subsidy scheme for practitioners of the travel industry in October 2022 for strengthening and enhancing the professional standards and service quality of the travel industry.  
     In addition, the HKTB launched two free training programmes through the TIC to assist the trade in mastering cultural tourism knowledge, the first of which was the free six-month Cultural Tourist Guide Training Programme launched in January 2022, which provided training for about 1 000 tourism practitioners. The other is the free Cultural and Heritage Training Programme co-organised with the TIC from September 2022 to August 2023, which is expected to benefit 1 500 tourism practitioners.
     On the other hand, the HKTB organised a series of free seminars and training workshops for merchants under the Quality Tourism Services Scheme so as to prepare them for the return of visitors. A total of 18 training programmes were organised in 2021-22 and 2022-23 under the scheme, attracting the participation of over 2 000 frontline staff in the service sector.
     Apart from nurturing talents in medium and long term, the Government also pays attention to the problem of talent resources in the short run. Following the full resumption of cross-boundary travel since February 6, 2023, the number of inbound traveller is gradually increasing and has brought pressure on the demand for talent resources in different industries, including the tourism industry. The Government will keep in view the manpower provision in the travel trade, including the recovery of manpower of various tourism supporting facilities and services, continue to adopt a multi-pronged approach to assist the tourism industry to recover in an orderly manner, monitor the effectiveness of various measures such as keeping in view the latest situation of licensed tourist guides and tour escorts returning to the industry through the TIA and maintain communication with the trade. We expect that with the restart of tourism activities, practitioners of the tourism industry will return to the trade gradually.

(2) and (3) In a bid to combat the malpractice of inbound tour group and to strengthen protection against travellers, the TIC implemented several measures in 2011 (i.e. the 10 measures mentioned in the question) including the introduction of a demerit point system for travel agents and tourist guides, strengthening the training on ethics and integrity in the tourist guide training courses, and inspections, etc. Later, the Government conducted a public consultation on Review of the Operation and Regulatory Framework of the Tourism Sector in Hong Kong in 2011 and introduced the Travel Industry Bill to the Legislative Council in March 2017, which proposed regulating travel agents, tourist guides and tour escorts in a holistic and impartial manner by replacing the TIC's trade regulatory regime with a view to enhancing the professionalism of the travel trade and fostering its healthy long-term development through establishing the TIA. The Travel Industry Ordinance (Cap. 634) (TIO), passed by the Legislative Council in November 2018, provides a legal framework for the new regulatory regime of the travel industry. The TIC's various measures implemented in 2011 have been incorporated into the TIA's regulatory framework.
     The new travel industry regulatory regime of the travel industry was implemented in full on September 1, 2022.The TIA took over the licensing and regulatory work of the travel industry from the Travel Agents Registry and the TIC respectively on the same day. Under the new regulatory regime, the TIA enforces and implements various arrangements to combat the malpractices of Mainland inbound tour groups in accordance with the TIO.

     Section 6(4) of the TIO prohibits local travel agents from obtaining inbound travel services for Mainland inbound tour groups organised by Mainland travel agents (i.e. persons who carry on the business of organising Mainland inbound tour groups in the Mainland) that are not approved by the Mainland regulatory body. The TIO also criminalises misconduct such as coerced shopping and abandoning tourists linked to "zero tour fare" and unreasonable low-priced tours. A person is liable on conviction to a maximum fine of $100,000 and imprisonment for two years. So far, the TIA has not discovered these illegal acts, nor has it received relevant complaints.
     Besides, pursuant to the power of the TIO, the TIA issued the Directives for Licensees (Directives) to require travel agents to register itineraries for all the Mainland inbound tour groups with the TIA, including shopping trips, meal arrangements, etc., for the TIA's inspections. Directives also require tourist guides to distribute an itinerary to each tour group participant upon their arrival in Hong Kong which should also include details on the fees of all self-paid activities, service charges, and any other charges. The TIA has also setup a reporting hotline for inquiries, complaints and reports by any person, including tourists and members of the public. Tourist guides must distribute to travellers itinerary printed with the reporting hotline and read the reporting hotline aloud, or else it is regarded as contravention of requirement.
     At the same time, the TIA disseminates various forms of information through its official website, social media platforms, and search engines, reminding inbound tourists of information they should be aware of.
     If travel agent and tourist guide are found to be providing services that are not in accordance with the registered itinerary, overcharging, or engaging in other illegal or non-compliant behaviours, the TIA will initiate an investigation, take disciplinary action and maintain communication with other relevant law enforcement agencies according to the circumstances of the case as per established procedures.

     To strengthen co-operation among cities within the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area (GBA), the tourism departments of Hong Kong, Macao, and Mainland cities in the GBA have jointly established a platform named Joint Regulatory Alliance of the Tourism Market of 9+2 Cities in September 2020 in the GBA (JRA) to strengthen the regulation of GBA tourism market. The Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Government is assisting the TIA to actively participate in the JRA platform to strengthen co-operation and communication with other tourism regulatory bodies in the GBA, carry out joint law enforcement operations, so as to join hands in rectifying problems in the GBA tourism market and jointly implement measures for enhancing regulatory co-operation of the GBA tourism market as set out in the Culture and Tourism Development Plan for the GBA, thereby promoting the high-quality development of the tourism industry of the GBA in the long run. 

(4) The Government launched "Hello Hong Kong", a large-scale global promotional campaign, on February 2, 2023. The HKTB has rolled out a series of promotional activities to drive a speedy recovery of the tourism industry according to the following strategic focuses, including:
(i) Extending a warm welcome to the world
  • Inviting the trade, celebrities and key opinion leaders (KOLs) to take part in the production of more than 330 video clips featuring Hong Kong's new attractions, local delicacies, arts and cultural attractions, urban oases and other travel experiences to keep spreading the welcome message to the world;
  • Offering exciting rewards to visitors in collaboration with over 16 000 outlets in Hong Kong, including distributing "Hong Kong Goodies" visitor consumption vouchers to one million visitors;
  • Promoting Hong Kong's tourism appeal by making use of popular social media platforms in the Mainland, such as Weibo, WeChat, Douyin and Xiaohongshu; and
  • Fully supporting the promotion of 500 000 air tickets giveaway campaign by the Airport Authority Hong Kong and airlines.

(ii) Inviting visitors to experience Hong Kong and enhancing global visibility
  • Inviting trade and media representatives, artists and celebrities, KOLs and "Hong Kong Super Fans" from the Mainland, Southeast Asia and Europe to visit Hong Kong's latest attractions for "seeing is believing" to generate more positive word-of-mouth and reviews; and
  • Inviting influencers with a large follower base on various Mainland social platforms such as Douyin, Xiaohongshu and Weibo to visit Hong Kong and experience the city in person, inviting them to post ways to enjoy Hong Kong with photo tutorials, travel tips and real-time stories on their channels, targeting and enticing young travellers to visit Hong Kong.

(iii) Reaching out to the world to showcase Hong Kong's appeals
  • In 2023, the HKTB will arrange trade representatives to participate in over 20 large-scale industry events on tourism trade and Meetings, Incentive Travels, Conventions & Exhibitions (MICE) trade shows in the Mainland and overseas markets to showcase the city's tourism appeals, and assist the trade in exploring more business opportunities.

(iv) Organising mega events
  • The HKTB will continue to organise different mega events and help promote various major culture, sports and tourism events globally, with a view to showcasing Hong Kong's diverse appeal, attracting visitors to Hong Kong and enriching their travel experience, thereby reinforcing Hong Kong's position as a world-class tourist destination and an Events Capital.

     Moreover, the HKTB will attract visitors from all around the world to spend in Hong Kong by collaborating with various Mainland and international media to produce and broadcast programmes featuring new perspectives on Victoria Harbour, cultural and arts tours, new treats for the palate, novel experiences at recently commissioned and upgraded attractions, the city's urban oases and local film culture.
     As for overseas promotion, the HKTB signed a Memorandum of Understanding with CJ ENM, a leading entertainment media organisation in Asia in 2021. The HKTB will actively seek to arrange Korean dramas and variety shows to film in Hong Kong, with a view to attracting Korean entertainment fans to Hong Kong's set locations featured in these shows. The HKTB has also collaborated with various media worldwide to produce travel, entertainment and leisure programmes for broadcasting on overseas platforms such as tvN Asia, VIU, Discovery Channel, PBS, KBS, Fuji TV, etc. to increase the positive exposure of Hong Kong around the world, thereby driving more visitors to Hong Kong for in-person enjoyment and experience.
     Targeting at the Mainland markets, the HKTB has confirmed the production of a new media programme with CCTV to bring famous news anchors to Hong Kong to introduce the unique culture and new experiences of the city. The HKTB will also seek to invite popular Mainland reality TV variety shows on provincial broadcasters and major streaming platforms to Hong Kong, featuring celebrities to introduce Hong Kong's authentic wine and dine culture, Hong Kong classic dramas and new attractions, providing more inspirations for Mainland visitors to rediscover Hong Kong.
     For promoting the GBA tourism, the HKTB will step up promotion and encourage visitors to go on multi-destination itineraries to other GBA cities via Hong Kong, so as to create synergy and jointly pursue the objective of "building a Bay Area for leisure" by enhancing the complementary strengths of the cities in the region. With the full resumption of international travel between Hong Kong and other places, the HKTB will continue to work with cities in the region to build a GBA tourism brand for the regional and international markets through the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao co-operation and promotion mechanism, and join hands with the cultural and tourism authorities of other GBA cities to consolidate resources and jointly promote multi-destination tourism to source markets through media and marketing channels.
     At the same time, the HKTB will incorporate GBA-related elements into existing mega events, such as the Hong Kong International Dragon Boat Races and the Hong Kong Wine & Dine Festival, and promote GBA-themed mega events, showcasing the GBA's unique arts and cultural appeals and telling the good story of the GBA through various promotions and publicity efforts.
     The HKTB will encourage the local trade to develop and enhance multi-destination tourism products through various funding schemes so as to jointly explore more business opportunities. For cruise tourism, the HKTB will also jointly conduct promotions and build partnerships with the GBA cities.
     As for MICE tourism, the HKTB will showcase the GBA's immense opportunities and Hong Kong's unique advantages under the theme of "Meet HK ‧ Meet GBA" to the world, thereby bringing in more overseas MICE events. As for the Mainland market, the HKTB will promote Hong Kong's unique advantages in organising large-scale MICE events, so as to help connect the Mainland events to the international market and increase their exposure.
Ends/Wednesday, April 26, 2023
Issued at HKT 14:50
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