A record 1.5 million visitors came to Hong Kong last month, the Tourism Board announced yesterday. The surge forced the board to revise its forecast for the year-on-year rise in tourist numbers from 7.9 per cent to 11.8 per cent. It said arrivals in the first eight months had hit 10 million, up 14.4 per cent from last year. The growth has been propelled by the mainland and Southeast Asian market. About 659,000 mainlanders came to Hong Kong last month, 55.6 per cent more than the arrivals for August last year. The rise in Southeast Asian visitors in August was led by a 19.7 per cent increase from Thailand and an 18.2 per cent improvement from the Philippines. All markets except Taiwan, the Americas and North Asia recorded healthy growth. The figures for the first eight months show the mainland leading the way with a 44.8 per cent increase, followed by a 4.5 per cent rise from South and Southeast Asia. Clara Chong Ming-wah, executive director of the board, said the organisation was confident that this year would top 15 million visitors, although she admitted the market remained fragile. She said turbulence in the airline industry and the potential conflict between the United States and Iraq had affected tourism. Meanwhile, a mainland Web site announced the National Tourism Administration would increase the number of licensed travel agents from 67 to 528. Although not officially confirmed by the Chinese government, Tung Yao-chung, executive director of the Travel Industry Council, said the expansion could boost the quality of Hong Kong tours.