Travel agencies on the mainland expect a 20 per cent increase in visitor numbers after a change in permit rules which will allow non-permanent residents of six cities easier access to Hong Kong, with the first surge arriving as early as next month.
From today people who study or work in Beijing, Shanghai, Chongqing , Tianjin or Guangzhou but do not hold residency permits there will be able to apply for single-visit permits to Hong Kong without returning to their hometowns, as is now required.
In Shenzhen, they will be able to seek multi-visit permits, a rule change that has already sparked fears about Hong Kong's ability to handle the influx.
No number has been put on how many people in the six cities will benefit, but it could exceed 20 million.
Applications usually take a month. Applicants can choose group tours or individual travel.
Agencies expect people in the more distant cities to join group tours but say most in Guangzhou and Shenzhen will probably opt for individual travel.
Li Silu , in charge of Hong Kong and Macau tours at big Shanghai agency Datong Travel, expects tourists to Hong Kong during the golden week holiday in October to rise 20 per cent.
"People don't need to bother to go back to their hometowns, hundreds or thousands of kilometres away, to apply for an entry permit. This can save them time and money," she said.
Since last week, when the national security authorities announced the new policies, her company has received a lot of inquiries about entry permits.
In January, Shanghai launched a pilot programme to allow white-collar workers who do not have Shanghai permanent residency to apply for passports and entry permits there.
But Zhang Wuan , spokesman for the Shanghai-based Spring International Travel Services, said the programme had not caused a boom because few people knew of it.
However, the latest national policy, and its high-profile announcement, would boost the market, he said.
Zhao Shuibo, of China Comfort Travel in Shenzhen, expects 20 per cent growth in the number of visitors from next year, most of them from other cities.
"Nowadays, our company sends about 300 or 400 tourists to visit Hong Kong at weekends and more than 1,000 people on a public holiday," he said. "About 95 per cent of the tourists are from hinterland provinces and other places outside Guangdong. Only 5 per cent of them are migrant workers working in Shenzhen."
Others do not expect an early boost to visitor numbers.
Staff at GZL International Travel Service in Shenzhen said applications were complicated and time-consuming. "Applicants will be required to present their household registration certificate, identity card and temporary residence permit. Employed people will also need a statement from the city's social security bureau to confirm they have paid social security or income tax in the city for at least a year."
Tianjin Travel Service expected a smaller boost, as the city's floating population was smaller than that of other cities.