The Tourism Board boss directly challenged the chief executive yesterday, questioning his suggestion that the city could be harmed by "blindly" welcoming more visitors.
James Tien Pei-chun, the city's top promoter of tourism, made the comments at a press conference, where he estimated there would be 51.9 million visitors to the city this year - a 6.8 per cent increase on last year.
Earlier in the day, Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying said he noticed that many tourist hotspots had been saturated with visitors during last week's Lunar New Year holiday.
"We should not blindly go for an increase in the number of visitors," Leung said. "While we are pursuing economic benefits from the tourism industry, the daily lives of Hongkongers should not be affected."
But his comments did not convince Tien, who had earlier branded Leung "incapable" and not trusted by business leaders.
Tien said: "Except for the supply of hotel rooms, I do not think Hong Kong is running short of infrastructure. If CY and lawmaker Regina Ip [Lau Suk-yee] say the city is overwhelmed [by tourists], they should point out what exactly the city is lacking."
This year's 48.6 million visitors to Hong Kong included 34.9 million from the mainland, Tien said. Shopping was their top expenditure, accounting for 70 per cent of overall spending. The city is not running short of shops or goods, Tien said.
He disagreed that Hong Kong was "blindly" pursuing tourists, and said the board was focused on attracting overnight visitors with higher spending power.
In the coming year, the Tourism Board will reduce its budget for promotion in southern China, as most people in the region make same-day trips to the city rather than staying overnight.
It is also co-operating with inbound tour agencies to develop new itineraries that promote different attractions to tourists - encouraging them to stay longer than the average 3.5 days.
Since the scheme began last year, seven out of 15 applications to organise creatively themed tours have been approved.
One such tour brings people to Sham Shui Po for night snacks, while another takes visitors to the Tai O fishing village for handicraft and cooking classes.
Tien said the recent outcry against excessive tourism came from a series of problems related to mainlanders burdening the city's resources, creating a lack of hospital beds for pregnant local mothers, and school places for children in North District.
If the government can restrict the entry of parallel-goods traders, genuine tourists will not be a problem for the city, he said.