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The Macau government has introduced a new law on travel agents and tour guides that will prohibit local travel agencies from charging below-cost prices, further cracking down on “zero-fare” tours.

The draft law was announced by the Macau Executive Council on Friday. The law will simplify the licensing process for travel agents, with the Director of the Macao Government Tourism Office (MGTO) being responsible for approving travel agent licenses and relaxing the entry qualifications for technical directors of travel agents. The law will also separate the organization of tours and the ground transportation business of travel agents and refine the responsibilities of travel agents.

One of the objectives of the bill is to prohibit receiving agents from charging below-cost prices and to regulate the promotion and provision of self-financed activities. It is expected that the bill will be effective in combating “zero-fare” or low-cost tours to better protect the rights of tourists.

Commenting on the bill, MGTO Director Maria Helena de Senna Fernandes said, “Some (inbound) tours are obviously too low, for example, MOP$50 for a trip to Macau, which is obviously not reasonable.

“The current legislation does not regulate this practice. I hope that the new law, when passed, will minimize the emergence of grey areas.”

Zero-fare or low-cost tours often rely on tourists to make purchases in order to generate commissions, but this can lead to forced purchases or even disputes in the process.

In addition, since the reopening of Macau’s borders in January 2023, there have been a number of cases of unlicensed tour guides in which inbound tour groups travel through Macau without being received by local tour guides. This situation will be regulated by the new law, which stipulates that tours to Macau organized by travel agencies outside Macau must be handled by a local travel agency.

The law also mentions that the profession of being a tour guide can be performed by foreign employees, but when the travel agency lacks local tour guides who are proficient in a specific foreign language, foreign guides should apply for a job according to the law on the employment of foreign employees.

Fernandes explained, “There is a shortage of foreign language tour guides in Macau, such as Indonesian. The government is also cautious in approving applications. If a travel agency wants to bring in a foreign tour guide, the guide needs to obtain a license from the Institute for Tourism Studies.

“There are currently 1,758 tour guides in Macau, including 13 Korean-speaking non-residents, three Thai-speaking tour guides and one minor language guide. Foreign-language tour guides are a very small minority, and the government is very cautious in approving them.”

The bill has to be submitted to the Legislative Council for scrutiny and is not expected to come into effect anytime soon.

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