HK tour guides, agencies embroiled in row over tips

TOUR guides in Hong Kong are calling for the optional service fees that are significant to their livelihoods to be bundled into tour package prices.

This comes after a spike in cases where travellers refuse to pay the tour guides’ service fees at the end of group tours, which is thought to have been triggered by an outbound travel satisfaction survey released by the Hong Kong Consumer Council in June, advising travel consultants to tell travellers about the voluntary nature of the charge.

Service fees are at a recommended upper limit of HK$100 (US$13) a day for South-east Asia tours, and HK$140 for longhaul tours, as set by the Travel Industry Council.

The Hong Kong Travel Industry (Outbound) Tour Escort and Tour Guide Union received 15 complaints since the report’s release. Union director, Dicky Tong, said: “These situations mostly happen on discount or low-cost tours to South-east Asia or China…When the clients refuse to pay there is a serious knock-on effect down through the system because normally the tour guide has to pass on a share of his fees to the driver as well as the company.”

Tong is discussing the matter with the Travel Industry Council (TIC) of Hong Kong and travel agencies, specifically advising the former to withdraw its directive that service fees are optional.

Hong Kong Certified Escort Association chairman, Lam Chi Ting, suggested service fees be bundled into package prices. “Why can’t we treat it in the same way as the airport tax and fuel surcharge, and collect the fee from the outset, thereby eliminating cause for argument?”

However, Morning Star Travel Service’s general manager, Dannia Cheung, said: “I don’t think it’s good to bundle it in with the package tour because there won’t be any incentive for better service.”

Wing On Travel’s deputy general manager, Simon Ma, on the other hand, said refusing to tip was rare due to the company’s mid- to upscale clientele.

“To combine the fee with the tour price may undercut competitiveness and give the impression that clients are being charged more. Also, tipping is a traditional practice that incentivises the guide to work better.”

Separately, the Singapore workers’ union’s recently implemented minimum wage for tour guides has been met with rancour too (TTG Asia e-Daily, August 13, 2014).

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