POST-1997 airline arrangements between Hong Kong and South Africa are raising concern in the tourism industry, visiting South African tourism officials say. The officials, who visited Hong Kong for a promotional event last week, said visitors were arriving in South Africa from Hong Kong and the mainland, but uncertainty over flight arrangements could hinder development of tourism and trade. South African Tourism Board deputy regional director Theuns Vivian said the increase in Hong Kong and mainland visitors to South Africa was because of booming trade between the three areas. Annual visitors from Hong Kong grew by an impressive 146.5 per cent between 1993 and last year, up from 3,934 to 9,699. The numbers were even higher this year, with about 11,602 Hong Kong visitors recorded between January and July. Mr Theuns said the country saw a 35 per cent increase in inbound visitors during the first nine months, exceeding the yearly forecast of 20 per cent. The strong growth implied that visitors from Asia, including those from Hong Kong and China, would continue to increase, he said. Despite the growth, it was not known if direct flights between Hong Kong and South Africa could be sustained when Hong Kong returned to Chinese sovereignty because there were no aviation and landing agreements between South Africa and China, Mr Vivian said. North-West Province finance director Martin Kuscus said the two countries did not have diplomatic relations and there was no direct flight service linking the two places. South Africa established diplomatic relations with Taiwan in the early 1970s. South African Consul General Michael Farr said talks would be held between the Hong Kong Aviation Authority and its South African counterpart at the end of this year to negotiate flying and landing rights and arrangements beyond 1997. The two authorities would discuss terms for more flights and a memorandum of understanding in aviation arrangements would straddle 1997. 'There will be meetings between the South African aviation authority and the Hong Kong Aviation Authority by the end of the year and we think the terms for a memorandum of understanding between the two parties would straddle 1997,' Mr Farr said. No official talks had been held between the South African Government and China about flying and landing rights, but talks had been held between South African Airways and Air China, Mr Farr added. About 10 per cent of Hong Kong sourced visitors were from China who had travelled through Hong Kong, Mr Vivian said. The officials remained optimistic about the future tourist intake from Hong Kong, China and other Asian countries. 'South Africa is a long-haul destination for China and there are many occasions that airlines would prefer to have stop-overs in Singapore, Hong Kong or Malaysia anyway,' Mr Vivian said.