LCQ10: Establishment of Travel Industry Authority
Following is a question by the Hon James Tien and a written reply by the Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development, Mr Gregory So, in the Legislative Council today (December 2):
Given that the reputation of Hong Kong's tourism industry had been seriously tarnished due to a spate of incidents concerning mainland inbound tours in the past few years, such as tourist guides hurling abuses at tourists and forcing tourists to shop, and that the effectiveness and impartiality of the existing industry self-regulatory regime administered mainly by the Travel Industry Council of Hong Kong (TIC) had been called into question, the Government launched a public consultation exercise on the review of the operation and regulatory framework of Hong Kong's tourism sector in April 2011. In December of the same year, the Government announced that a Travel Industry Authority (TIA) would be set up as the overall regulatory body of the tourism sector and expected that the relevant bill could be introduced into this Council within 2014 so that TIA could come into operation in 2015 at the earliest (the regulatory proposals). Nevertheless, the Government has not yet introduced the bill into this Council and no date has been set for the establishment of TIA. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:
(1) given that in reply to a question raised last month by a Member of this Council, the Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development said that in the past two years, the Government had continued its discussion with the tourism trade on the detailed arrangements in relation to the aforesaid legislative proposals and on TIC's future role, and it had to make appropriate amendments to the original regulatory proposals having regard to the trade's views, of such views put forward by the trade to the Government, and the Government's plans for amending the regulatory proposals and the justifications thereof;
(2) given that the Government put forward the regulatory proposals in 2011 after conducting a 10-week public consultation exercise, and that it had subsequently consulted Members of this Council on the proposals, why the Government has planned to amend the regulatory proposals without making any announcement nor consultation with Members of this Council;
(3) whether it knows the situations since the implementation of the 10 measures introduced by TIC in February 2011 for improving the operation of mainland inbound tours, including the number of inspections conducted each month, as well as the respective numbers of travel agents, tourist guides and shops penalised; if such information is not available, of the reasons for that;
(4) how the Government has monitored the implementation of the six measures recently introduced for strengthening the regulation of mainland inbound tours, and whether it will regularly review the effectiveness of such measures; given that incidents relating to unscrupulous practices of the tourism trade still occur one after another despite new regulatory measures have been introduced incessantly by TIC in recent years, whether the Government will expedite the implementation of the regulatory proposals; and
(5) in light of the current work progress, of the Government's expected dates of (i) completing the drafting work of the aforesaid bill, (ii) submitting the bill to this Council for scrutiny, and (iii) TIA's establishment and coming into full operation for carrying out its duties; if no specific timetable is available, of the reasons for that?
The Government all along attaches great importance to the healthy and sustainable development of the tourism industry. In 2011, the Government launched a public consultation exercise on the review of the regulatory framework of the tourism sector, and announced at end of the same year that an independent statutory body, to be called the Travel Industry Authority (TIA), would be set up as the overall regulatory body of the tourism sector so as to enhance the independence, credibility and transparency of the regulatory framework. Under the new regulatory framework, the TIA would collectively take up the current regulatory and licensing functions of the Travel Industry Council of Hong Kong (TIC) and the Travel Agents Registry. The targets of regulation will include travel agents, tour escorts and tourist guides.
Our replies to the questions raised by Hon James Tien are as follows:
(1 and 2) Following the announcement in end-2011 on the implementation of a new regulatory framework of the tourism sector, the Government has been in active discussion with the trade on the detailed proposals, including TIC's involvement under the new regime. Subsequently, the Government proposed in 2013 to entrust to the TIC certain non-regulatory public functions, including conciliating disputes that do not involve disciplinary matters, accrediting training courses and administering licensing examinations for tourist guides and tour escorts, handling emergencies involving inbound or outbound tours, and managing a fund to be established in support of development of the travel industry. Having discussed thoroughly with the Government and the trade on the proposal concerned, the TIC convened an extraordinary general meeting in March 2014 for its members to express their views on the roles and functions of the TIC under the new regulatory framework. The voting result was that the special resolution supporting the TIC to perform non-regulatory public functions under the new regulatory regime was not passed as it could not secure the votes of not less than three quarters of the attending members. The above voting result was published at TIC's website and was reported by the media in March 2014. Since the relevant proposal concerned the future roles and functions of the TIC, we respected the trade's views and needed to make corresponding amendments to the parts about entrusting to the TIC non-regulatory public functions during the law drafting process in the light of the voting result. As the legislation concerned is still at the drafting and revision stage, we will consult the Panel on Economic Development of the Legislative Council on the bill including the amendments concerned after completion of the drafting work.
(3) The Government and the TIC all along attach great importance to the regulation of Mainland inbound tour groups. Since the implementation of the 10 measures in February 2011, the TIC has been conducting an average of 12 inspections per month, which cover around 100 Mainland inbound tour groups and 30 registered shops.
In addition, the number of cases in which travel agents and tourist guides were penalised for their violation of the 10 measures is set out in Annex 1.
The number of cases in which registered shops were given demerit points since the implementation of the 10 measures is set out in Annex 2.
(4) Following the announcement in early November 2015 of the introduction of various measures to strengthen the regulation of Mainland inbound tour groups, the Government has been in close communication with the TIC, and has written to the TIC to request for the implementation of the new measures concerned as soon as possible. We note that the relevant task force of the TIC has convened a meeting to study and work out the implementation details of the measures. The Government will continue to work closely with the TIC and the relevant law enforcement agencies on the implementation of the measures concerned, and to review the relevant measures in a timely manner with a view to curbing the problems arising from zero/negative tour fares and coerced shopping.
(5) We are pressing ahead with the drafting work of the new legislation for the establishment of the TIA and implementation of the new regulatory framework. The new legislation will replace the existing Travel Agents Ordinance (Cap. 218) (TAO), and will include a number of new elements, such as licensing of tourist guides and tour escorts, establishment of the disciplinary committee and appeal board, etc., which require much complex drafting work. Hence, the time required for drafting the new legislation is longer than originally estimated. The Government will continue to drive for early completion of the drafting work of the legislation and introduction of the bill into the Legislative Council thereafter.
In addition, following the scrutiny and passage of the legislation by the Legislative Council, we will proceed with various preparatory work for the establishment of the TIA and implementation of the new regulatory framework with full speed, such as seeking relevant funding from the Finance Committee of the Legislative Council, appointment of TIA members, staff recruitment for TIA's executive office and handling other related administrative arrangements, as well as ironing out the details of the regulatory directives and licensing arrangements under the new regime with a view to enabling the early establishment and operation of the TIA.