The Fair Trade Commission on Tuesday fined 21 recreational diving venues on Siaoliouciou Island (小琉球) a total of NT$2.35 million (US$77,039) for fixing prices in a bid to cope with a slump in local tourism during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The commission opened a probe after receiving complaints from cutomers, the commission said, adding that almost all of the of the island’s biggest diving companies were fined.
Siaoliouciou, an island administered by Pingtung County, was closed to visitors in May 2021 due to the pandemic, which significantly affected the local economy, it said.
In the middle of August that year, the Siaoliouciou Tourism Development Association started a discussion with diving venues on the Line messaging app, ahead of the island’s scheduled reopening later that month, the commission said.
Records of the messages showed that the venues and the association agreed to raise the price of snorkeling from NT$300 to NT$350 per person before the pandemic to NT$400, while the size of tour groups would be decreased from 10 people to five under the pretext of public health, as there is a fee for each tour group, it said.
The venues enforced the price-fixing scheme through mutual surveillance and constantly communicated via the app, it said.
Price fixing falls under forms of “concerted action” prohibited by Article 15 of the Fair Trade Act (公平交易法), it said.
The fines, which ranged from NT$100,000 to NT$150,000 for different venues, were less than what they could have been out of consideration for the economic hardships diving services went through, the commission said.
The association is to pay a fine of NT$150,000 for its role in facilitating and organizing the scheme, it said.
The law allows exceptions to the ban on concerted action for specific purposes, which include setting standards for goods and services, entering into agreements concerning competition in foreign markets and avoiding overproduction during a downturn, among others, the commission said.
Businesses must obtain the permission of an appropriate regulatory authority before engaging in legitimate forms of collective action, it said.
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