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LCQ1: Supporting healthy development of tourism industry
     Following is a question by the Hon Jeffrey Lam and a reply by the Acting Secretary for Culture, Sports and Tourism, Mr Raistlin Lau, in the Legislative Council today (May 10):
     It has been reported that tour groups to Hong Kong flaunting low prices have emerged on the Mainland. Some tourists were taken to visit public rental housing when they visited Hong Kong, and some tour escorts were even suspected of asking tour members to assist in smuggling illicit cigarettes, which have tarnished the image and reputation of Hong Kong. On supporting the healthy development of the tourism industry, will the Government inform this Council:
(1) given that coerced shopping is a criminal offence under the new regulatory regime of the travel industry which came into effect on September 1 last year, of the number of complaints about coerced shopping received by the authorities since the new regulatory regime came into effect, as well as the total amount of money involved, and whether any tour guide or travel agency has been prosecuted; if so, of the numbers and details; 

(2) of the measures implemented by the Government during the Labour Day Golden Week just passed to reduce the nuisances caused to residents in old districts by inbound Mainland tour groups, as well as the regular measures to be taken in the future to alleviate the nuisances caused to residents in various districts by the activities of receiving tour groups; and 

(3) as it has been reported that there is insufficient manpower in the tourism industry of Hong Kong with a shortage of labour for positions such as tour guides, hotel janitors and front office receptionists, and drivers of tourist coaches, which has become a bottleneck for resumption of normalcy in Hong Kong, whether the Government will consider importing labour from the Mainland and overseas in a timely manner, such as assisting the relevant trades in holding job fairs outside Hong Kong; if so, of the details; if not, the reasons for that? 

     In respect of the question raised by the Hon Jeffrey Lam, having consulted relevant bureaux and departments, and the Travel Industry Authority (TIA), the reply is as follows:

(1) The Travel Industry Ordinance (Cap. 634) (TIO) was implemented in full on September 1, 2022. The TIA is responsible for the licensing and regulation of travel agents, tourist guides and tour escorts, as well as functions such as supporting the sustainable development of the industry, strengthening and enhancing the professional standards and service quality of the travel industry, etc, replacing the previous industry self-regulatory regime.
     Under the framework of the TIO: 
(i) some malpractice in the past, such as coerced shopping, abandoning tourists, as well as providing inbound travel services for Mainland inbound tour groups organised by Mainland travel agents that are not approved by the Mainland regulatory body, have been criminalised and liable to a maximum fine of $100,000 and imprisonment for two years; and
(ii) The TIA issued the Directives for Licencee (Directives) to require (1) Hong Kong travel agents to register itineraries for all Mainland inbound tour groups with the TIA, including shopping trips, meal arrangements, for the TIA's inspections; (2) tourist guides must distribute an itinerary to each tour group participant upon their arrival in Hong Kong which should specify details on the fees of all self-paid activities, service charges, and any other charges; and (3) tourist guides must distribute to travellers itinerary printed with the TIA's reporting hotline and read the reporting hotline aloud, etc.
     The aforementioned arrangements strike a severe blow to some malpractice in the past, thereby eliminating the "zero-fare" Mainland inbound tour groups. So far, the TIA has not received any complaints related to coerced shopping or discovered any "zero-fare" Mainland inbound tour groups.
     As for the past cases mentioned in the question and reported by media in the past few days, the TIA is collecting relevant information and conducting investigation. If illegal or non-compliant behaviours are found, the TIA will follow up on prosecution and disciplinary action against the relevant travel agent and tourist guide and maintain communication with other relevant law enforcement agencies according to the circumstances of the case.

(2) To receive a large number of tourists to Hong Kong during the Labour Day Golden Week, the Tourism Commission convened two co-ordination meetings in April with participants from government departments such as the Customs and Excise Department, the Hong Kong Police Force, the Immigration Department, the Transport Department and various District Offices, as well as various tourism-related organisations including the TIA, the Hong Kong Tourism Board (HKTB), the Travel Industry Council of Hong Kong (TIC), the West Kowloon Cultural District Authority, major tourist attractions, hotel industry. 
     For the period from April 29 to May 3, the TIA received a total of 453 Mainland inbound tour groups registration, involving about 14 000 tourists. TIA implemented a series of measures including requesting travel agents receiving relevant tour groups to stagger arrival times as far as possible and urge them together with shops and restaurants which receive tour groups to strengthen management measures in order to reduce the impact of tourism activities of tour groups brought to the district; reminding licensed travel agents and tourist guides to strictly comply with the requirements under the TIO and Directives; and deploying additional manpower to conduct inspections in places more visited by Mainland inbound tour groups.
     All in all, with the concerted efforts of government departments, the TIA and the travel trade, the Mainland inbound tour groups visited Hong Kong during the Labour Day Golden Week were in good order. The traffic, order and operation of tourist areas and control points remained smooth.
     As a matter of fact, the TIA issued instructions to travel agents and tourist guides in end March and revised the Directives for regulating the dining arrangement of Mainland inbound tour groups, including requiring travel agent and tourist guide to reserve and confirm their dining arrangements with catering premises in advance, arranging meals according to the reservation time. At the same time, the TIA requested registered shops in the Kowloon City District to revise the submitted crowd management plan in order to prevent tour participants from waiting on the street. The TIA and the trade will continue to review effectiveness of relevant measures and the arrangements implemented during the Labour Day Golden Week, so as to deploy regulatory actions in the future.

(3) With economic activities returning to normalcy, the demand of different sectors for manpower has been increasing. The Labour Department has strengthened employment services to assist employers to recruit staff. On the premise of ensuring the employment priority for local workers, the Government allows increasing the number of imported workers on an appropriate and regulated basis, with a view to alleviating the shortage of manpower in individual sectors/job categories. 
     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 TIC, the Hong Kong Hotels Association and the Federation of Hong Kong Hotel Owners, to understand the existing manpower resources situation among different job categories in the tourism industry and explore feasible remedial measures.
     In the long run, we must nurture talents. The Hong Kong Polytechnic University, the Chinese University of Hong Kong, 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 offers over 1 000 training places for hotel and tourism related courses in 2023-24. 
     The Government earmarked $100 million in 2022-23 to subsidise the training and development of tourism practitioners. The TIA launched a three-year "Training subsidy scheme for practitioners of the travel trade" in October 2022 and is considering launching other schemes, for strengthening and enhancing the professional standards and service quality of the travel industry.  
     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 and maintain communication with the trade. We expect that with the orderly resumption of tourism activities, more and more practitioners will return to the industry gradually.
Ends/Wednesday, May 10, 2023
Issued at HKT 12:05
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