Tuesday, May 01, 2007

HK scams targetting Mainlanders may hit tourism industry

There has been a steadily rising problem in Hong Kong of unscrupulous tour operators and shop owners tricking visitors from the Mainland into buying worthless or counterfeit goods while on holiday.

The scam was exposed on Chinese TV channel CCTV recently and now it is feared that tourism to Hong Kong from the Mainland will be affected as a result. Already, drops of 30% in the number of visitors from Mainland China are being predicted in the light of the scandal.

The way the scam works is that a tour operator will take a group of tourists to specially designated shops in Hong Kong, where they will be encouraged to buy as much as possible. Sometimes the operator will have enticed customers by offering a 'no fee' deal. The profit for the operator comes, of course, from taking a cut of the shop's profits.

This kind of arrangement can be perfectly legal but the CCTV report exposed collusion between tour operators and shop owners in selling counterfeit or worthless goods to tourists, hard sell techniques and plenty of bad attitude when tourists failed to purchase goods.

A Shanghai tourist said all group tour members were taken to designated shops and asked to buy goods. "Sometimes our tour guide gave us a long face if we didn't buy anything. As the authenticity of items is difficult to determine, I bought some cheaper things in the shops," she said.

Some industry experts blamed the industry malpractice on the "zero-fee tours" for mainlanders. For such tours, travel agencies and tour guides would not charge tourists fees and would take them to do shopping in designated stores, which would then give them commissions of up to 30% on goods purchased by the tourists.

In October, a "zero-fee" group from the remote northwestern Chinese province of Qinghai were abandoned by their tour guide after they refused to buy goods at certain shops.

Full report here.

After working so hard to shake off its image as 'home of counterfeit goods', why have scams like this emerged 'exclusively' for Mainland tourists?

HK authorities are now introducing new measures to protect tourists' rights and prevent people from being ripped off.

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