Guests who have had their stay in hotel quarantine shortened after Hong Kong’s Covid-19 travel restrictions were eased should get refunds “without unnecessary delay,” the city’s consumer watchdog has said. Administrative fees for the refunds should also be waived.

Travellers with bookings at one hotel were told they would have to wait up to 200 business days – or about 6.5 months – to get their money back, while at least two hotels informed patrons that they would be charged a fee for their refund.

One of Hong Kong’s designated quarantine hotels. Photo: Mercedes Hutton/HKFP.

Responding to an enquiry from HKFP, a spokesperson from the Consumer Council said there were a number of factors at play in the refund process, including “the number of restitutions to be processed by the hotels due to policy changes during the quarantine period, and whether the booking was made via a travel agent.”

“However, the Council urges hotels and travel agents to proceed with the refund without unnecessary delay,” the spokesperson said.

On August 8, Chief Executive John Lee announced that the hotel quarantine period for international arrivals would be cut from seven days to three nights.

Speaking during the same press conference, Deputy Secretary for Health (Special Duties) Vincent Fung said hotels must refund the fee for the outstanding nights. Fung, however, asked for patience as hotels would need time to process the large volume of refunds.

HKFP has reached out to all 68 establishments on the government’s list of designated quarantine hotels to enquire about their refund policies in light of the recent policy change. Of those that responded, a timeframe of six to eight weeks after checkout was commonly given for reimbursement.

The swiftest refund period confirmed by HKFP was offered by Ovolo, which operates two hotels on the list. Guests there were given the option of requesting a refund before check-in, which would take up to two weeks, or receiving it at checkout, which, the hotel group said in an email was “the most efficient way… operationally.”

An earlier email received by some Ovolo guests stating that it “may take up some time” for them to be refunded, and that they would be charged “a standard 3.5 per cent bank administration fee” was a “mistake,” the group said.

The longest wait for reimbursement came from the Ramada Hong Kong Harbour View, which said it would take 150 to 200 business days, in an email to guests. “For information, the bank has received a huge number of refund requests from different hotels recently. Hence the refund processing period will be a bit more delayed than normal,” the email read.

Guests took to Twitter to complain about the delay, with one saying that he secured a reduction after threatening to complain to the Consumer Council. His refund time was shortened to 40 days.

Another guest, however, tried the same approach to no avail. The Hong Kong resident told HKFP that she would pursue a swifter refund through her credit card company after checking out of the Ramada Hong Kong Harbour View.

Several hotels, including the W Hong Kong and O’ Hotel, did not provide a timeframe. The upscale W Hong Kong, where the cheapest room is HK$2,400 per night, said that refunds would be processed upon checkout and that the time it took for guests to get the money “varies based on payment methods used.”

Administration fees

People with quarantine reservations at the Holiday Inn Golden Mile Hong Kong were told that they would have to pay a “3 per cent administration fee” for their refund.

Under normal circumstances, the Consumer Council told HKFP that an administration fee or surcharge paid in the event of cancelling or modifying a booking could be expected, subject to terms and conditions.

“However, hotel operators are advised to waive any administration fee or surcharge given that the variation of period of stay is not initiated by consumers,” the watchdog’s spokesperson said, adding that guests should always read the terms and conditions carefully before confirming their booking.

“Also, remember to properly retain all receipts and useful information, such as email correspondence or screenshots of online conversations, which would serve as useful evidence in case of future disputes,” the Consumer Council said.

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Mercedes Hutton

Mercedes is a Hong Kong-based British journalist with an interest in environmental and social issues. She has written for the Guardian and the BBC and previously worked at the South China Morning Post.