[Hong Kong] Comments on New Travel Agent License Requirement for OTAs

ATTIA provided its comments to the Hong Kong Travel Industry Authority (HKTIA) on September 21, 2022, regarding a new requirement for online travel agencies (OTAs) to obtain travel agent licenses. This effectively imposed similar regulatory requirements on traditional travel agents and OTAs alike, despite major differences in their clientele and operating models.

Download our comments here.

ATTIA has studied the Travel Industry Ordinance (Cap. 634) and its implications for the Travel Industry Authority’s (TIA) new scope, which now extends to the licensing and oversight of travel agents.

We see great potential in the TIA’s ability to promote the long-term development and success of the city’s travel industry. With the TIA’s newly-empowered scope, we trust that your team, helmed by Executive Director Ms. Annie Fonda, will only further enhance the professionalism and competency of travel stakeholders in Hong Kong. As travel technology companies, ATTIA’s members are keen to work more closely with the TIA to improve standards within the island’s travel and tourism ecosystem.

However, we also wish to express our concerns regarding the Travel Industry Ordinance – in particular, Section 6(2) which would effectively require online travel agents (OTAs) which “actively market” in Hong Kong to obtain travel agent licenses. While we understand the reasoning behind regulating OTAs and traditional agencies under a common framework, we are unsure if such a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach would be appropriate to serve the TIA’s mandate.

OTAs have features distinct from traditional travel agents in Hong Kong – such as catering to a large number of inbound foreign travelers, and offering sophisticated platform-wide consumer claims and dispute resolution processes. Moreover, accommodation listings on OTAs also involve rigorous approvals processes with consumer protection in mind.

With such mechanisms already in place, we believe that OTAs should be subject to different oversight mechanisms, where industry self-regulation or co-regulation is emphasized. This could better address the TIA’s mandate while allowing for regulatory flexibility, amidst the constantly-evolving nature of digital platform models and the ‘sharing economy’.

Given Hong Kong’s ambitions to reinvigorate its tourism industry following the COVID-19 pandemic, ATTIA’s members are keen to facilitate Hong Kong’s return as a global tourism and business destination, and are prepared to share their perspectives which have served other markets well.