Taking steps to beat the cheats at HK shops

Taking steps to beat the cheats at HK shops

Two years ago, student Sophie Wang from mainland China visited Hong Kong for the first time. By the time she left, she vowed never to return.

The 25-year-old Tianjin native, who was part of a tour group, was taken to what her local guide trumpeted as a "duty-free" shop, even though Hong Kong has no sales tax.

There, she was pressured into buying a camera - an outdated model, at that.

She later found the latest model selling elsewhere and costing HK$200 (S$32) less than what she had paid. "I cried when I found out, not because of the money, but because I was so angry I had been cheated," Ms Wang told The Straits Times over the phone. "I will never visit Hong Kong again!"

Complaints of dodgy sales practices - often a result of travel agencies and shops acting in cahoots - have been on the rise in recent years, especially during the annual National Day Golden Week holiday in October, when mainland tourists flood Hong Kong.

This year, measures have been taken to put a stop to such blatant cheating.

For instance, the China National Tourism Administration (CNTA) now bans "shopping tours".

In Hong Kong, customs and police officers are stepping up inspections of shops to promote "honest and quality tourism". All these make for a "much healthier" industry, says Mr Joseph Tung, executive director of the Travel Industry Council which regulates travel agents in Hong Kong.

In the first half of this year, the Consumer Council received 1,124 complaints, compared with 755 in the same period last year.

Many were related to "shopping tours". Travel agencies charged very low prices to entice mainland tourists but got commissions from the shops that they took the tourists to.

The tourists often faced strong-arm tactics to get them to make purchases and, in extreme cases, were prevented from leaving until after they bought something.

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