Chinatown business owners are demanding the state government take action against touters operating on Dixon Street, by granting the City of Sydney council powers to have them removed.
The touters, representing souvenir and merchandise stores, typically stand on busy Dixon Street outside souvenir shops and attempt to bring potential customers to their own nearby stores. They spruik cheaper prices, often lying about being a wholesaler, and accuse Dixon Street store owners of over-charging.
Touters have operated in Chinatown for more than 10 years, but the issue is now at boiling point, with violent incidences ending up in court, and businesses reporting a marked decrease in sales.
Chris Newman, spokesperson for the Chinatown Business Community Dixon Street Precinct, wants the state government to enable the City of Sydney to crack down on touting using powers already granted in other states, including Victoria and Queensland. The activity is not allowed in Melbourne or the Gold Coast.
“Common sense says you don’t stand in front of other people’s shops,” he said. Mr Newman wants the touters to be restricted to within 10m of their own stores, which are typically in discreet upstairs locations where they pay far less rent than in the Dixon Street mall.
Mr Newman described touters “attacking” pedestrians, thrusting flyers into their faces and even approaching them once they were already inside a store. A June 2013 council motion by Liberal councillor Edward Mandla noted: “some of these touters are behaving in an aggressive and intimidating fashion when approaching potential customers, sometimes physically preventing them from entering shops on Dixon Street.”
Lord Mayor Clover Moore then urged the state government to amend Section 68 of the Local Government Act to include a reference to touting and spruiking.
“There is no legislation prohibiting touting in public streets or malls and as a consequence the City is powerless to act in response to this issue,” she wrote in June.
Minister for Local Government, Don Page, indicated he would refer the matter to the Local Government Acts Taskforce. City News understands the issue never came before the taskforce, which produced its final report in October without reference to the issue.
A spokesperson for Mr Page said the government is aware of concerns about touting in Chinatown.
“The government will consider the issue of touting within the context of a range of other changes to the Local Government Act,” the spokesperson said.
Joe Trieu, director of Rose Opal Souvenirs on Dixon Street, said the impact on his business was very bad and no authority appeared willing to take action.
“It’s getting worse and worse,” he said. “The council, the police – no-one can do anything.”
The nearby Emperor’s Garden restaurant is not directly affected by touters: the restaurants in the mall generally hand out menus outside their own premises. But director Valentine Yee says all businesses suffer from the damage being done to Chinatown’s reputation among Chinese travellers.
“It gives tourists the perception that Chinatown is an area where people are fighting amongst each other, and tourists don’t want to walk through here,” he said.
City News visited one store known to send touters into Dixon Street. Staff there said they could not comment and the manager would not return for several weeks.