Hong Kong is to team up with mainland cities in a campaign to help the SAR survive its post-handover tourism slump. But tourism chiefs warned it would be two to three months before the industry showed signs of recovery. Hong Kong Tourist Association executive director Amy Chan Cheng Yi-yim said yesterday: 'In addition to being a source market, the mainland is also a complementary destination. 'We are supporting projects promoting Hong Kong along with cities like Beijing, Shanghai, Xian and Guilin.' Last year, Hong Kong received 2.3 million mainland visitors. The latest campaign, aimed at travellers worldwide, encourages visitors to stop in Hong Kong as part of a trip to the mainland. The association yesterday declined to predict how many tourists the campaign would attract. Ms Chan said currency devaluations throughout Southeast Asia had made Hong Kong expensive to visit compared with other places in the region. Bird flu, food poisoning and cholera outbreaks had also affected visitor numbers. But Ms Chan said the SAR was still the region's best 'quality' destination. She said about 10.4 million visitors arrived last year - three million more visited the SAR's closest regional rival, Thailand. Arrivals are expected to rise in July or August, partly due to the opening of the new airport and tourism campaigns launched earlier this year. Tourism could rescue Asia from the depths of economic crisis, but government must take a leading role, industry leaders said. Although the Hong Kong Tourism Association promotes the SAR, Hong Kong industry leaders have urged the Government to appoint a Secretary for Tourism, instead of having the portfolio fall under the Economic Services Bureau. 'That is the only way growth will happen,' said Hong Kong Pacific Asia Travel Association Chapter chairman Brian Deeson. 'Hong Kong has no minister or secretary for tourism and it needs to consider that.' But Secretary for the Economic Services Bureau Stephen Ip Shu-kwan ruled out the need for a separate tourism portfolio. The debate comes as the World Travel and Tourism Council prepares to discuss declining tourism in Asia at its annual meeting in London this weekend.