The government should consult the tourism industry before deciding on a cut to mainland visitor numbers, Tourism Board chief Peter Lam Kin-ngok says.
Lam said tourism created over 200,000 direct job opportunities. "Would cutting mainland tourist numbers by 20 per cent see incomes fall by one-fifth? Or will the sector cut one-fifth of the jobs?" he asked.
Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying on Monday sought opinions, at a meeting of the Commission on Strategic Development, on a 20 per cent reduction in visitors from the mainland.
Lam applauded the government's response to fears of overcrowding in the city, but said controlling visitor numbers was complicated and required detailed evaluations. "Is it tolerable to see job losses because of this?"
He said the government should find a way to minimise the impact of any such cut and consult those affected. "It shouldn't make a decision on the 20 per cent cut on its own," he said.
Businesses reacted strongly to the news, saying the sales workforce of 267,000 would be threatened. Share prices of retailers and property developers went down.
The government says tourism offers 230,000 direct job opportunities - 40 per cent in retailing, 20 per cent in catering and 15 per cent in accommodation. There were 40.7 million mainland visitors to the city last year, up 16.7 per cent from 2012. Their number continued to grow in the first four months this year, up 18.7 per cent to 14.9 million. But arrivals during the three-day Labour Day holiday in May fell 1.7 per cent.
Anthony Lau Chun-hon, executive director of the board, noted tourism was affected by external factors - such as exchange rates and political instability - as well as mainland arrivals.