But hotels and retailers should profit from individual arrivals from Guangdong The lifting of restrictions on individual tourists from Guangdong will help the retail and hotel sectors in Hong Kong but may not help tour operators, academics and business leaders said yesterday. Residents of four Pearl River Delta cities - Dongguan, Zhongshan, Jiangmen and Fushan - can apply to visit Hong Kong individually from July 28. At present mainland tourists can only come to Hong Kong on group tours. The scheme will be extended to everyone in Guangdong within a year if the trial proves successful. It is expected to bring a huge increase in mainland tourists. But tour operators on both sides are sceptical about whether they will benefit, and some even fear it might harm their business. 'It may help retail, transport and the hotel business, but I don't see what we tour operators can gain from it,' said Paul Leung Yiu-lam, chairman of the Hong Kong Inbound Travel Association. Mr Leung said under the scheme, mainland travellers could bypass tour organisers and come to Hong Kong directly. His mainland counterpart, Chan Yikai, vice-general manager of Dongguan Travel, agreed. 'The scheme has some negative impact on us. People in future can plan their own trips to Hong Kong and they may not need us anymore. Many Guangdong people are familiar with Hong Kong and they don't really need a tour guide. Our role will be reduced to helping them book hotels or purchase bus tickets,' he said. But academics and retail operators believe it could help to re-establish Hong Kong as a shoppers' paradise. 'It gives travellers more freedom. They can shop around freely to get the best deal,' said Leung Sik-wah, chairman of the Hong Kong Jewellers and Goldsmiths Association. 'Group tours often only visit certain shops and customers have little choice. If they can make their own choice and don't need to pay tour guide commissions, they will be happier and will come back again. 'We still have edge over mainland retailers because we offer better quality, fashionable and more variety goods and services to customers.' Vincent Heung, associate professor at the school of hotel and tourism management at Polytechnic University, said lifting travel restriction on individual tourists was a must if Hong Kong wanted to keep attracting Guangdong visitors. 'Many Guangdong people have visited Hong Kong before. They are not interested in guided tours anymore. But many of them still want to come to Hong Kong for shopping or for other specific activities. Lifting the restriction gives them much more flexibility and it could attract repeated tourists who otherwise may not want to come,' he said. Joseph Tung Yao-chung, executive director of the Travel Industry Council, said tour operators could develop more feature tours to attract individual tourists. 'Local tours really started to take off during the Sars outbreak. These tours are more creative and less conventional. They are not only attractive to local people but can also attract individual tourists. If we can develop more theme tours, operators still could reap benefits,'' he said. Last year, Hong Kong saw a 50 per cent increase in the number of tourists from the mainland, to about 6.8 million. Of these, about 40 per cent were from Guangdong. The average tourist from the mainland spent more than $5,000 on each visit to Hong Kong last year, studies have revealed.