Dodgy travel insurance practices in Hong Kong?

Hand luggage at the airport

In Hong Kong, a consumer watchdog has raised concerns that holidaymakers are being unfairly steered towards certain insurance plans from travel operators when booking tour packages.

The Consumer Council found that all travel agencies it surveyed, without exception, were engaged in varying degrees in the sale of travel insurance and that, in most cases, the agencies made it optional for consumers to purchase the cover.

It surveyed 18 operators of three popular short-haul tours to Osaka, Japan, and Beijing and Chaoshan, China, and found that EGL Tours had made it mandatory for customers to buy its Osaka five-day trip with a specific travel insurance plan. Five other travel agencies were found to bundle travel insurance with the sale of package tours, while four others would waive the cover requirement if consumers were able to produce proof of purchase of year-round travel insurance or comprehensive travel insurance. If they were unable to do so, they were required to first pay the insurance premium and later get a refund if they were able to prove they had purchased their own insurance.

When it comes to premiums, the Consumer Council found that some were unreasonable ─ sometimes representing 20 to 30 per cent of the tour price. While 12 of the travel agents were found not to engage in bundling travel insurance in with the tour purchase, some still required that tour members have comprehensive travel insurance; even going as far as to state that members who couldn’t produce proof of purchase would be barred from departure with the tours.

While the importance of travel insurance cannot be underestimated, at the end of the day it is up to the consumer to protect themselves. While a level of encouragement can be understood, it is unfair for tour operators to essentially force travellers to purchase cover as ─ ultimately ─ it is the consumer’s decision.