120 tour guides out as EGL bites bullet

Top News | Sophie Hui 20 Jan 2021

Travel agency EGL Tours will lay off all of the company’s 120 tour guides – a quarter of its workforce.

“These are tour guides for tours to Japan and other long-haul destinations like Europe, Australia and New Zealand,” said executive director Steve Huen Kwok-chuen.

“We made this arrangement today because we want our colleagues to get the best severance pay,” he said.

Huen said 90 percent of the guides’ income comes from service fees, but outbound tours have been suspended for a year due to the pandemic.

Their severance pay will be calculated based on their income last January when group tours were still running and their income remained unaffected, he said.

They will receive an average of HK$160,000 in severance pay, with those who have been working in the company for 20 years receiving HK$300,000.

The company expects to pay a total of HK$20 million to those laid off, Huen said.

He said staff will get the money in the first week of next month, before the Lunar New Year, in the hopes the sum will help them ride out the hard times.

“We feel bad about this, but we remain positive,” Huen said.

He said the company has promised the tour guides they will be given priority to rejoin the company when the pandemic is over.

“I believe there will be ‘revenge spending’ after the pandemic, so I am still optimistic about the future of tourism,” he said.

Huen also said the company has no plan to sack more employees for the time being. The tour agency had earlier requested staff take no pay leave.

Travel agency layoffs began at the end of November, after the second tranche of government’s employment support scheme ended.

On November 30, Wing On Travel laid off 120 staff, about 20 percent of its personnel.

Tong Kim-sang, general secretary of the Hong Kong Travel Industry (Outbound) Tour Escort and Tour Guide Union, said more layoffs are expected in the coming weeks.

“The large travel agencies have already made their arrangements, like layoffs or furloughing employees, so there’s nothing special to announce,” he said.

He also said it’s better for tour guides to terminate their employment, as they can then find another full time job.

He said outbound travel could only resume when people in most countries get vaccinated.

Perry Yiu Pak-leung, the convener of Hong Kong Travel Agents’ Relief Alliance, said he’s not optimistic.

“Travel agencies have been suffering for a year because of the pandemic, so they have to take action in reducing operating costs if they want to survive,” he said. “Without the employment support scheme, travel agencies will not be able to maintain their staff numbers.”

The sector has suggested to Financial Secretary Paul Chan Mo-po for next month’s budget the establishment of a support and development fund and a cutting down on non-essential expenses, Yiu said.

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