Eighty per cent of travel agents are alarmed by business problems in the sector, according to a recent survey. The study of 552 travel industry professionals also showed that 35 per cent thought they were facing a 'serious crisis'. Nearly half said Hong Kong had lost some of its appeal as a shopping paradise. The drop in the number of visitors due to the global economic downturn and the lack of competitiveness in the local tourism industry were also cited as key issues. In the survey, conducted jointly by City University and the University of Queensland in Australia, nearly 70 per cent of respondents said ways to overcome the crisis included promoting international business conferences and exhibitions in Hong Kong, improving the service quality of the tourist sectors, and providing better training for tour guides. Ida Lam, a senior lecturer at City University's department of social science, said Hong Kong should not just rely on mainland tourists and shopping as the main driving force for its tourism. She suggested Hong Kong develop health travel, offering spa and massage treatments and resort hotels, which were popular in other Asian countries such as Thailand and Indonesia. However, Travel Industry Council executive director Joseph Tung Yao-chung said he was optimistic about the business prospects of the travel industry as Hong Kong would continue to benefit from mainland visitors who usually made stopovers in Hong Kong before visiting other countries. 'The whole world is now looking at China for business opportunities after the country entered the World Trade Organisation. Hong Kong is lucky enough to be part of China and enjoys many benefits, such as the income brought by mainland tourists,' Mr Tung said. 'I would insist that Hong Kong remain a shopping paradise. Although the Hong Kong dollar, which is pegged to the US currency, is considered high in exchange rates, tourists can easily shop for different brands and products which may not be available in other places.' He said the council had required that all tour guides receive further training to improve services. But he agreed it would take government effort to develop more tourist attractions. The Tourism Board said last month that a record 1.5 million visitors came to Hong Kong in August. The surge forced it 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 was propelled by mainland and Southeast Asian visitors.