The “zero-charge” tours scandal is a distinctive “free-meal” feature in Chinese capitalist society. It happens in Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan, targeting at Mainland China tourists.
How does this “zero-charge” tours come into being? Chong interlocals.net gives some background on the issue:
Incredibly low fees or “zero-charge” tours are strategies to lure people to join tours and the travel agencies make money by forcing tourists to buy souvenirs from shops who offer commissions to tour guides and travel agencies. In order to reduce cost to minimum, accomodation and meal are certainly low quality. In some cases, the tour guides only lead the tourists to designated shops rather than any tourist attractions.
Suggestion coming from the Travel Industry Council of Hong Kong that the industry should set the lowest charge for the tours. Knowledge workshop points out that price control wouldn't work:
Although most of the “cutting tourists’ flesh” travel agencies’ charges are extremely low, some “extravagant tour” with high charges also have similar situation. Instead of control the charge, we should ask the travel agencies to provide written contract with tour route to their clients. The written records should be subjected to monitor. The travel agencies cannot change their routes without written records.
Apart from monitoring the tourist routes, knowledge workshop also suggests to monitor the commissions:
Although some think that commission practice is part of the free commercial practice and it exists all over the world, therefore shouldn't be monitored. However, if the commission is up to 50-60%, it is totally unreasonable, the government should intervene.
Ngai, who is about to get the license as professional tourist guide, explains the difficult situation of tourist guide in Hong Kong:
導遊的生存空間很窄狹, 沒有固定底薪, 生活只靠佣金和少量的服務費, 人客不購物, 也就是取得車馬費的義務工作…..而旅行社更要從導遊這份”人工”當中, 收取部份來作旅行團的雜費, 而且有時候還是導遊預先支付, 就是說, 人客不購物到一能金額, 導遊也就是給錢來替人工作……這能想像到導遊為什麼會冒著停牌的危險來逼人客來買東西…..所謂”逼虎跳牆”….
Tourist guides have to strive for their own survival, they don't have fixed basic salary, their living is based on commission and minimum service fee, if the customers don't buy, they become volunteer for their work as the salary can only cover their own travel expenses… Worse still, some of the travel agencies have to extract from the “salary” as part of the tour's miscellaneous expense, and sometimes the tourist guides have to prepaid. In other words, if the tourists don't consumer to a certain amount, the tourist guides have to pay for their own work… now we can imagine why the tourist guides would force the tourists to shopping and put their license at risk… When the tiger is forced to the corner, it jumps…
Ryan felt that it was wrong for the Travel Industry Council of Hong Kong to address the issue as a moral problem, it is a pure economic issue:
The travel agencies in mainland China are jerks, however, Hong Kong travel agencies have to be blame for accepting the situation. Hong Kong travel agencies shouldn't accept “zero-charged” tours, once you accept that, there is no way to earn money except from “cutting the flesh” from the tourists. Killing the chicken for the eggs, how many chicken can you kill? Do you expect that 1.3 billions Mainland Chinese would come here in person for you to cut their flesh in order to realise the trap? Destroying Hong Kong tourist industry and making Hong Kong notorious can benefit no one. The meeting of the tourist industry, the research on tourist guides’ code of ethics, all these are pure bullshit.