Unlicensed tour guides bringing mainland Chinese travellers to Hong Kong via the newly opened mega bridge were under the spotlight on Saturday as police carried out inspections in Tung Chung on Lantau Island, but overcrowding issues remained.
Chaos erupted in the afternoon when two activists – NeoDemocrats member Roy Tam Hoi-pong and Wong Chun-yeung of online community Tung Chung Future – led a small group of locals to intercept some mainland tour guides at a bus stop.
They wanted to check whether the guides had a local counterpart with them as under Hong Kong law anyone conducting business as a travel agent must be licensed.
Some visitors were blocked from boarding a bus to the local port of the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge while their tour guides were questioned, forcing police to step in.
One female tour guide cried after being chased.
Illegal tour agents were believed to have contributed to travel chaos last weekend in Tung Chung, the residential area closest to the bridge’s local checkpoint, after an influx of tourists.
The arrival of so many tourists sparked an outcry from residents, prompting officials to roll out measures on Friday for diverting travellers to other parts of Hong Kong amid fears that tensions might escalate between locals and mainland visitors.
Wong planned to launch a “Reclaim Tung Chung” action on Sunday against illegal tour agents.
He expected a group of 20 to 40 people would join with his movement and check whether the mainland guides had a local agent.
He said that if the tour guides lied, they would be surrounded and the group would ask police to make an arrest.
Wong added that he did not expect there to be any clashes.
“We will not pick on tour group members,” he said.
“We will mainly focus on the guides because they are the source of the problems.”
While police carried out spot checks on tour operators and asked to see their licences throughout the day in Tung Chung, the Post also spotted at least three groups that did not appear to have local guides.
At around 1pm, a flag-wielding man led about 35 tourists to Tung Chung and took out a banner with the logo of a Dongguan-based travel company for a group photo.
One visitor, who gave his surname as Yu, said the group did not have a local tour guide.
Yu, 73, said their tour guide had shown them where the Citygate Outlets shopping centre was located and told them to gather again at 6pm. But their leader said he was not a tour guide and had just come with the group to visit Hong Kong.
Tourism sector lawmaker Yiu Si-wing said mainland tour guides bringing a group to Tung Chung to sightsee without a local counterpart could be breaching the law because they did not hold a local licence.
But Alice Chan Cheung Lok-yee, executive director of the Travel Industry Council, said if guides allowed tourists to wander freely around Tung Chung, law enforcement officers would need to look into each case before judging.
As of 8pm, around 83,000 passengers had passed through the city’s port at the bridge, according to Hong Kong’s Immigration Department, compared with almost 78,300 at the same time last Saturday.
Residents said overcrowding was still a factor in Tung Chung on Saturday despite bus operators and officials introducing measures to ease the pressure.
On Friday, transport minister Frank Chan Fan said travellers could consider taking other bus routes such as B5 to Sunny Bay instead of B6 to Tung Chung.
Group tickets were also offered by the B5 operator.
Tung Chung resident Irene Fung Siu-wai, 32, said she saw no improvement as mainland travellers continued to arrive.
“In the past, we might go to Citygate Outlets. But I really don’t dare to go in now. It’s hard to even walk past it,” the housewife said.
Accountant Ron Lam, 40, also said the number of visitors on Saturday was similar to the previous weekend. He said his children played in the public areas before, but now most spaces were taken.
“It is a disturbance because many people have come and we have less public space,” he said.
But Matthew Wong Leung-pak, whose company operates route B6 between the local checkpoint and Tung Chung, said the government’s measures had helped and bus operations were smooth.
Wong said about 7,000 people took the B6 route from the port to Tung Chung as of 5pm on Saturday, compared with an overall figure of around 8,000 a week earlier.
“People didn’t have to wait. They got in the queue and then just boarded a bus,” he said.