A hospitality group controlled by billionaire Lee Shau-kee has opposed reducing the number of mainlanders allowed to use a scheme under which they can visit without joining a tour group.
Cutting back on the individual visitor scheme would damage the city's reputation and economy, said Martin Lee Ka-shing, Miramar Hotel and Investment's new chairman from today. "Any restriction on tourist arrivals will harm the reputation of Hong Kong as a 'shopping paradise'," he warned.
Miramar, which owns The Mira Hong Kong hotel in Tsim Sha Tsui, is a subsidiary of Lee Shau-kee's flagship Henderson Land Development.
"I personally do not agree on cutting quotas of mainland visitors under the scheme," said Lee, the second son of Lee Shau-kee.
He suggested that to resolve the strain on infrastructure in the city centre, the government should plan more shopping centres catering to different needs.
Mainland visitors who held multiple-entry permits would not necessarily head downtown if they could buy what they wanted at other locations, he said.
"This will ease the burden on the transport system," he said.
The solo traveller scheme allows mainlanders from 49 cities to visit Hong Kong without having to join tour groups.
Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying is seeking public opinions on whether to lower traveller numbers amid concerns that the rapid influx of individual mainland visitors has far exceeded the city's handling capacity. Last month, a reduction of 20 per cent of visitors was mooted.
Official figures showed that in 2012, visitors under the scheme spent HK$26.1 billion in Hong Kong - 1.3 per cent of gross domestic product - and created over 110,000 jobs, making up 3.1 per cent of total employment.
Assuming a 20 per cent cut in mainland arrivals translates into a 20 per cent cut in visitor spending, the hit to Hong Kong's GDP would be roughly 36 basis points this year, Bank of America Merrill Lynch said in a research report.
But Martin Lee said the actual impact on the economy could be "very big" because of the effect on many sectors.
At The Mira Hong Kong, about 30 per cent of its guests were mainlanders visiting under the scheme, and any reduction would not hit the hotel significantly, he said.