The Consumer Council of Hong Kong and the National Consumer Affairs Center (NCAC) of Japan today (June 20) signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) for collaboration to put in place an information exchange and consumer complaint referral mechanism to deal jointly with disputes and issues arising from visiting tourists and online purchases between the two territories. Under the new mechanism, consumers will be able to file their complaints to their respective consumer body locally which will refer their cases to the other party for follow-up. The exchange mechanism will effectively remove past obstacles over geographical, language and jurisdiction barriers, leaving many consumer complaints unresolved, in a joint effort to strengthen the safeguard of the rights and interests of consumers in both territories. The MOU followed a similar one signed with the Korea Consumer Agency last year as the Council continues to expand its ties for cooperative partnership with counterpart consumer bodies overseas.
Japan has long been a favorite holiday destination for tourists from Hong Kong. According to the statistics released by the Japan Tourism Agency in January this year, a total of 2.23 million tourists from Hong Kong visited Japan last year, an increase of 21% over the previous year 2016, with an average spending of about HK$10,000 each. On the basis of Hong Kong’s population the ratio of people visiting Japan tops all others in the world. Hong Kong is also a favorite of Japanese tourists; statistics of the Hong Kong Tourism Board showed 1.23 million tourists from Japan visited Hong Kong, a 13% increase over the preceding year of 1.09 million Japanese visitors.
According to the Consumer Council’s statistics, between 2011 and 2017, it received 3,839 complaint cases in total from overseas visitors, among them nearly 1.5% were from Japanese tourists. The nature of complaints from the Japanese visitors concerned largely about tourism matters and, in recent years, mostly about purchasing air-tickets which many complainants were unable to take off on the journey as planned.
Last year, the Japan NCAC’s Cross-border Consumer Centre Japan (CCJ) received a total of 4,040 cases of disputes between consumers and overseas enterprises, and during the period 2011 and 2017, consumer complaints involving Hong Kong totaled 666 cases, among them over half were related to online purchase due to non-delivery of goods (27%), and unsatisfactory arrangements for goods return (20%).
Owing to the differences in the legal system and trade practices of the two markets, as well as tight travel schedules and language barrier, visiting tourists when face with disputes or undesirable sales practices abroad often find it prohibitive to pursue a complaint quickly. And when back home they are obviously at a loss as to the channel where they can pursue their complaints and redress. Further, as online purchase invariably involves jurisdiction issues, consumer disputes could even be harder to redress.
The Consumer Council and the National Consumer Affairs Center of Japan are fully convinced that the upcoming agreement in establishing an effective complaint mechanism is a right step forward that will not only help resolve consumer complaints but also help foster the development of the tourism and retail industries between Hong Kong and Japan in the long run.