The Consumer Council has found that all travel agencies, without exception, were engaged to various degrees in the sale of travel insurance, and in the majority of cases, the agencies make it optional for consumers to buy the cover.
Of 18 travel agencies surveyed, however, six firms bundled travel insurance with the sale of package tours. Of the six, one travel agency operating tours to Japan demanded customers to make compulsory purchases of a specified travel insurance plan
Four other tour agencies would waive the travel insurance requirement if consumers could produce proof of purchase of year-round travel insurance or comprehensive travel insurance; otherwise, they must first pay the insurance premium, and later get a refund of the insurance premium if they could prove, within a specified time limit, to the travel agencies they had purchased their own insurance.
The remaining one tour agency, despite not requiring the purchase of specified travel insurance, sets the insurance premium as a payment item that could not be deleted if consumers opted to enrol online.
In addition, the survey also found that the premiums in some travel insurance plans specified by travel agents were generally unreasonable, representing in some cases 20% to 30% of the tour price.
Though the 12 other travel agents in the survey had refrained from engaging in bundling travel insurance with the tour purchase, some required tour members to take out comprehensive travel insurance. Some even stated that members unable to produce the proof of their own travel insurance would be barred from departure with the tours.
A similar survey conducted by the Council seven years ago had found the situation the same as in the latest survey, indicating that the industry has not made any significant improvement over the years.
The Consumer Council says that consumers have different considerations when choosing travel insurance, and tour agencies should allow consumers to choose the travel insurance that best suits them in accordance with their needs.
The Consumer Council says that the Travel Industry Council of Hong Kong is urged to devise clear guidelines on the practice of travel agents in selling travel insurance and the authorities should also consider regulatory oversight to safeguard the consumers’ right of choice.
Between June and October this year, staff of the Council, in two separate visits, made a total of 87 enquiries at the 18 travel agents and scrutinised 34 online websites for information on package tours. The survey focused on “Japan 5-day Tour”, “Beijing 5-day Tour”, and “Chaoshan 3-day Tour”, and where there were no identical tours, the nearest alternative routes would be used in order to find out the various sale practices employed by the travel agents in selling travel insurance.