EU passengers' rights. Also, crackdown on coersive guides in Hong Kong

By David Tykol
This item appears on page 2 of the February 2011 issue.

Dear Globetrotter:

Welcome to the 420th issue of your monthly overseas travel magazine.

Pont du Gard aqueduct, France. Photo by ignis, Wikimedia Commons

In the European Union, legislation gives specific rights to passengers, and specific remedies are required of airline and rail companies regarding travel delays and cancellations, access by the mobility impaired, lost luggage and other travel-related issues.

In December, the European Commission began a two-year campaign to inform people of their “passenger rights” when traveling with an EU-based airline or railroad in the European Union. Posters and leaflets are available in airports, train stations and travel agencies. You also can visit or in Europe call 00 800 6789 1011. At that website’s homepage, click on “Campaign” in order to download a low-resolution leaflet summarizing passengers’ rights.

One example — elsewhere on the website, and under the heading Rights of People with Reduced Mobility, is written, “Persons with reduced mobility are entitled to receive assistance free of charge in airports (on departure, arrival and during transit) and on board aircrafts (for example, the transport of wheelchairs and the carriage of guide dogs for the blind).”

It also states, “An air carrier may refuse to accept a reservation from or to embark a person with reduced mobility or request that a traveling person with reduced mobility must be accompanied by another person, in order to meet applicable safety requirements duly established by law or if the size of the aircraft makes it physically impossible to embark that person.”

Know what you are and are not entitled to.

The Travel Industry Council of Hong Kong, after a number of incidents of mistreatment of tour groups from mainland China, in June passed regulations designed to crack down on guides who coerce or mislead group members. These regulations are targeted at “zero-fare tours,” in which guides are paid little or no salary and rely on sales commissions from selected shops for their income.

In the first 10 months of 2010, 134 complaints were reported to the council, a 45.6% increase over the 92 reported by tour groups from the mainland in all of 2009. In early 2010, a video was circulated on the Internet showing a Hong Kong guide berating a group of tourists from Anhui province for not spending much money on jewelry and luxury goods. Though the guide later apologized, her license was revoked.

Under the new regulations, as of Feb. 1, 2011, guides in Hong Kong who are in charge of escorting tour groups must remain with the group at all times as they go shopping or sightseeing.

Until now, for different parts of a tour the escort would hand the group off to different guides (i.e., “sell” the group to third parties), who often were highly motivated to tout certain shops. Thus, on the last day of a typical four-day itinerary, group members would be relating any complaints to a guide who was not responsible for the shopping or sightseeing activities and could not help them.

The intent of the new regulations is to make the guide who benefits from the commissions, the primary guide, the one who is accountable for any complaints.

In addition, shops must abide by a six-month, full-refund policy for purchases.

The rules also include a demerit system for guides and companies who receive complaints (with a loss of license after a certain number of demerits).

Guides will have to read the itinerary aloud to the group before beginning the tour, as well.

While a minimum wage for tour guides has been proposed (HKD25, or US$3.25, per tour member), the new rules will force guides to work fewer tours each week.

Tour operators and guides are protesting the regulations and, at press time, the tour guides’ union was threatening a walkout.

From New Hope, Minnesota, Lorna Tjaden wrote to ITN, “Greetings! Several months ago in the ‘Person to Person’ section I made a request for recommendations of travel companies to/in Tunisia. I did not get many responses, but the ones I did get were extremely helpful. ITN readers do have a vast amount of travel knowledge and are willing to share it. Thanks!”

I would point out that some “Person to Person” queries elicit several responses, while others may get none. It depends on the subject. Questions also may be posted on the Message Board of ITN’s website, with any answers more immediate; just realize that it is open to nonsubscribers as well.

Louise D. Buonaguro of Northport, New York, sent in a sheet with five names and addresses plus this note: “After seeing a slide show of my trip to China and hearing about ITN, these people signed up to each receive a sample copy.” All were put on the list to be sent the next-printed issue.

She added, “I would also like to thank all of the wonderful people who answered my call for help in planning my trip to Easter Island. I combined all the various suggestions to make my trip plans, and everything worked out well. Thank you, all.”

Barb Hartwell of St. Petersburg, Florida, wrote, “A friend of mine recently ended an e-mail by writing, ‘Don’t you just love ITN?’ The answer, of course, is a resounding, ‘Yes!’ We really look forward to finding our copy in the mailbox each month.”

She continued: “Last June, my request for opinions on EgyptAir was printed. What a happy surprise it was to receive over 30 answers from ITN readers. I was given many useful tips and read of many wonderful experiences, along with cautions and ‘must sees.’ Thank you, ITN, and thank you, ITN Readers!”

Of course, anyone taking the time to answer a request for information would appreciate a personal acknowledgement, a simple ‘Thank you’ sent in return.

Lastly, Joan W. McCreary of St. Petersburg, Florida, wrote to ITN several months ago, referring to the Publisher: “This letter is a ‘Thank you’ to ITN’s entire crew for staying true to Armond’s philosophy. We love that the magazine isn’t ‘slick’ paper and that there are no postcard inserts or heavier pages meant to cause the reader to turn to an ad.

“I absolutely love hearing/reading other travelers’ experiences. Even when I disagree with their take on a subject, I’m grateful we all have a forum to express ourselves. And, boy, howdy, do we learn valuable tips from each other!

“ITN published my ‘Person to Person’ letter in which I asked for opinions on Tauck World Discovery from readers who traveled with them lately. Travel & Leisure had panned them as having slipped in customer care. I did not get a response from readers, but Tom Armstrong, Tauck’s corporate communications manager, sent me a reassuring letter. And, to my delight, Arthur Tauck called me at home on a weekend to confirm that the report was untrue and considerably out of context. I wanted everyone to know how seriously Tauck takes their reputation. We are still big fans of Tauck (Norwalk, CT; 800/788-7885,

“By the way, when our copy of ITN arrives, my husband and I tussle for possession of it. Thanks for the pleasure you provide… We are just leaving for our monthly chapter meeting of our ITN travel club. We have a terrific group.”

It’s good to know that, between the ‘Person to Person’ section, the subscribers’ trip reports and the clubs that have sprouted up, ITN has made it possible for travelers to help each other. Ultimately, everyone benefits in this info-sharing project.