Thursday, November 26, 2015   

Customers are not always right

Mary Ma

Friday, May 03, 2013

The upheaval stirred up by a hysterical Liaoning tourist couple was amazing. But the avalanche of angry feedback to the husband's tricks was even more spectacular.

It certainly wasn't the first time a Hong Kong tour operator opted to compensate rowdy mainland tourists to settle a dispute before it turned into a crisis. That's understandable since negative headlines would link an operator to dubious practices such as forced selling.

In the latest drama, the ensuing public outcry wasn't aimed at the tour operator, but the Liaoning civil servant after he squeezed cash and an extra night at a hotel by shedding tears before the cameras.


Backed by his wife, the man whined about how disillusioned he was about the SAR's rule of law after the coach that was supposed to pick up his group at a Tsing Yi hotel broke down on its way.

That could not be helped and obviously, the operator tried to minimize the delay.

Yesterday, two industry heavyweights responded to the fiasco. Travel Industry Council executive director Joseph Tung Yiu-chung criticized the tour operator for paying cash to the family, saying it should have given compensation in kind, such as food and beverage.

Meanwhile, Tourism Board chairman Peter Lam Kin-ngok pointed out that money won't solve the problem. Instead, he suggested the matter should be discussed so that local tour operators would know what to do in future.

We can see two different mindsets. Maybe Tung is reflecting the helplessness felt by inbound tour operators: why make trouble if money can solve it?

That's ridiculous. Cash or kind are the same, unable to right a wrong.

Lam made better sense because he at least highlighted the more fundamental issue: what should tour operators do in similar situations down the road?

The public was outraged by the mainlander's nauseating "blackmail" - weeping before the TV cameras while saying how disillusioned he was over Hong Kong being a lawful society after his itinerary was delayed by one or two hours. Give me a break!

According to the Inbound Tour Operators Association, they are seeing more rogue tourists than before. As soon as word starts to spread that operators are prepared to pay to stop complaints, they become soft targets.

The abuse doesn't build to the current level overnight. Who's responsible?

It's proper to blame deceitful operators, but by and large, it has become a habit to point the finger at operators in any dispute. Even government officials are prompt to accuse them first in a row.

In the February incident when 36 mainland tourists were forced to sleep on a coach overnight after no hotel accommodations were booked for them, a senior tourism commission official squawked about the operator - even before the investigation was completed.

Whatever the probe results were, the prejudicial comments would make one believe that officials would always take the tourists' side if they complain.

Each case has its own merits and should be dealt with individually. It should be essential to establish the facts before laying blame.

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