AFTER registering record growth of 15.8 per cent last year, with seven million people visiting the territory, Hongkong's tourism industry is expecting a more modest gain this year of between five and seven per cent. Translated into tourists, that represents between 7.4 million and 7.5 million people, an impressive figure for any Asian destination. Last year, the territory set another record by earning $48.39 billion, an increase of $8.7 billion over 1991, contributing seven per cent to gross domestic product. The tourism sector is at present believed to be neck-and-neck with the electronics industry as the territory's second-biggest foreign exchange earner. With more electronics factories moving across the border, the sector stands a good chance of moving into second spot in the near future. The industry employs 180,000 people, encompassing airlines, hotels and Hongkong Tourist Association retail shops while the electronics industry employs 64,013 people. The tourism employment figures do not include the restaurant industry which by itself provides jobs to about 187,000 people, based on government survey statistics for 1990, the latest available, according to Mr William Mark, head of the Federation of Restaurant Owners. According to Mr Mark, tourists were estimated to have contributed $5 billion to the total revenue of the restaurant industry, further strengthening the importance of tourism to the territory's economy. The Hongkong Tourist Association (HKTA) is modest when asked of its on-going race with the electronics industry. Assistant executive director James Lu said: ''Last year was an exceptional year of growth with seven million visitors. ''We don't expect to surpass that figure and we forecast a moderate growth of from five to seven per cent. ''Our base has become so big and therefore the growth will be a modest one.'' Mr Lu added that it was difficult to give forecasts for the industry as it was sensitive to many factors, including political and economic issues. ''Our major concern is Japan as the country has problems with its economy and as such its arrivals in Hongkong have been dropping as the Japanese become more cautious with their spending,'' he said. Last year, the Japanese spent $9 billion, 1.6 per cent down from their 1991 spending of $9.18 billion. The number of Japanese who visited the territory was 1.32 million, a moderate growth of 5.1 per cent from 1.26 million in 1991. Initial statistics for this year already show a decline in Japanese visitors. For the first two months of this year, Japanese visitors declined by 13.7 per cent over the same period last year, to 197,483 from 228,812. This compares with the Taiwanese, who flocked to the territory in record numbers of 1.64 million last year, a rise of 26.3 per cent over 1991. They also accounted for 23.5 per cent of the total arrivals last year. The Taiwanese also overtook the Japanese in terms of spending and visitor growth last year. ''The Taiwanese were the most important contributor to tourism's growth last year. The growth from there was tremendous,'' said Mr Lu. They were also the biggest spenders, splurging a staggering $11.8 billion in the territory, a 67.8 per cent increase over 1991. Mr Lu hopes that the trend will continue and the association will be working hard to maintain the trend. ''It is difficult for it to grow singularly more than that,'' he said, adding that spending habits were not something which could be relied upon. ''The market will still grow, but at a moderate rate,'' he said. He said that HKTA would work hard on its major markets - Taiwan, Southeast Asia and Japan. ''They are the major contributing markets,'' he said. The association would also be pinning its hopes on the improving economies of its long-haul markets. ''I hope the long-haul markets will continue to grow as they are high yield,'' he said. ''The long-haul visitor stays longer and spends more.'' While the industry flourishes, there are signs that it could do with a little help from the Government. Its rapid growth has led to a shortage of workers which is a deepening concern, particularly in the hotel industry. At the last count, it was estimated that the hotel industry was short of 3,000 workers and industry leaders has appealed to be allowed to import foreign workers. Mr Felix Bieger, the chairman of the Hongkong Hotels Association, warned that if the shortage persisted, the quality of the service in hotels might deteriorate, which would not augur well for the territory and its reputation of having one of the highest standards of service in Asia if not the world.