Govt proposes bill aiming to fight ‘zero-fare’ tours

2024-03-25 03:12     BY Tony Wong    Comment:3

Non-local tour guides mastering foreign tongues can be hired

The government has finished drafting a bill regulating the licensing and operations of the city’s travel agencies and tour guides, proposing to bar local receiving agencies from serving tour groups visiting Macau at a price that generates a revenue lower than the cost required to organise the respective group’s tour here, with the aim of making it more effective for the government to combat the organisation of the notorious “zero-fare” group tours.

Moreover, the bill also proposes that only Macau residents can work as tour guides here, except if Macau does not have local tour guides who speak a particular foreign language fluently, in which case non-locals speaking that language could be hired as tour guides here.

Secretary for Administration and Justice André Cheong Weng Chon and Macau Government Tourism Office (MGTO) Director Maria Helena de Senna Fernandes made the announcement during a press conference at Government Headquarters on Friday. Cheong is also the spokesman for the government’s top advisory Executive Council.

The bill will be submitted to the Legislative Assembly (AL) in due course for debate, review and vote.

The bill proposes to establish a new law regulating the city’s travel agencies and tour guides to replace a decree law enacted back in 1998 when Macau was still under temporary Portuguese administration.

The decree law was last amended in 2004. The Macau Special Administrative Region (MSAR) was established on December 20, 1999.

During Friday’s press conference, Cheong pointed out that the current decree law regulating travel agencies and tour guides has been in force for many years. With the aim of promoting the sustainable development of Macau’s tourism industry, Cheong said, the government has drafted the bill after reviewing the provisions listed in the current decree law and considering the tourism sector’s actual conditions.

According to Cheong, the bill proposes to streamline the administrative procedures for licensing travel agencies. The bill proposes that travel agencies will be licensed by the MGTO director, a change from the current decree law according to which it is the chief executive who formally licences travel agencies.

The bill also proposes that a local travel agency that organises outgoing tours and also serves tour groups visiting Macau will be subject to separate regulations for these two types of business, Cheong said.

Cheong said that with the aim of tackling the issue where tour groups visiting Macau are not served by a tour guide, the bill proposes that incoming tours organised by a travel agency outside Macau must be served by a local receiving agency.

In addition, Cheong said, the bill proposes to bar local agencies from receiving tours from elsewhere “charging below-cost prices” as well as to better regulate the promotion and provision of optional activities during a tour for which members of the tour group have to pay, with the aim of better protecting the rights and interests of tour-group members.

Senna Fernandes said during the press conference that the proposed provision aims to enable the government to combat the organisation of “zero-fare” group tours more effectively.

The tourism chief noted that the current decree law does not clearly define “zero-fare” group tours because of which there is “a grey area” making it difficult for the government to carry out law enforcement aiming to combat “zero-fare” group tours.

Senna Fernandes said that the proposed provision will make it easier for the government to carry out evidence gathering for fighting “zero-fare” group tours.

The tourism chief mentioned as an example that the proposed provision would enable the authorities to deem a one-night tour charging each member only 50 patacas to have charged a below-cost price, because 50 patacas certainly could not even cover a one-night budget hotel stay for each tour member, she said.

According to tourism industry analysts, zero-fare tours refer to a business mode where tour operators set the price of group package tours at a lower-than-cost level to attract customers in a price-sensitive market. In order to generate a profit for the tour operator, in zero-fare tours, shopping is virtually compulsory rather than optional.

Moreover, Cheong said that the bill also proposes that if Macau does not have local tour guides who speak a particular foreign language fluently, the respective local agencies could apply to hire non-locals holding the respective qualifications as a tour guide here for a certain period of time in compliance with Macau’s laws and regulations hiring non-resident workers.

Senna Fernandes said that according to the current decree law, all those living in Macau can work as a tour guide here, while the bill specifically proposes that only Macau residents can work as a tour guide here, except under the special circumstance where if Macau does not have local tour guides who can speak a foreign language spoken by tourists that the local government wants to attract, non-resident workers who speak that language fluently could be hired as a tour guide here, she said.

According to the tourism chief, Macau currently has 1,758 licensed tour guides, only 17 of whom are non-locals, comprising 13 speaking Korean, 3 speaking Thai, and 1 speaking another foreign language which she did not identify.

Senna Fernandes underlined that the non-locals would still be required to pass a course and exam run by the public Macao Institute for Tourism Studies (IFTM), which will be elevated to university level from Monday next week, before being issued a licence to work as a tour guide in Macau. 

Secretary for Administration and Justice André Cheong Weng Chon (right) and Macau Government Tourism Office (MGTO) Director Maria Helena de Senna Fernandes look on during Friday’s Executive Council press conference at Government Headquarters. – Photo courtesy of TDM

Locals and tourists alike throng Rua de S. Paulo, the street leading to the Ruins of St Paul’s UNESCO World Heritage landmark, yesterday. – Photo: Tony Wong

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