About 80 million Guangdong residents might be able to visit Hong Kong without joining tour groups from May next year. This is two months earlier than the timetable set under the free-trade agreement signed between Hong Kong and the central government, the Travel Industry Council of Hong Kong has learned. The news also appeared in mainland media on Saturday shortly after President Hu Jintao pledged the mainland would quicken liberalisation promised in the free-trade arrangement in areas such as telecommunications, tourism and financial services. 'This will be a direct boost to the economy,' said Joseph Tung You-chung, executive director of the council. He was confident Hong Kong could handle the influx of Guangdong tourists over the next Labour Day holiday. 'The original arrangement, which allowed them to come next July, was just overcautious. Hong Kong should be able to handle it well,' he said. A government spokeswoman was unable to confirm the report. Under the Closer Economic Partnership Arrangement (Cepa), signed on the eve of this year's handover anniversary, restrictions on tourists entering Hong Kong from Guangdong will be lifted progressively from next Monday. The first to benefit from the Cepa agreement will be residents of Foshan, Dongguan, Zhongshan and Jiangmen who will be able to visit Hong Kong for sightseeing without joining tour groups, a practice not currently allowed. Travel restrictions for the rest of Guangdong will be lifted next year, allowing Hong Kong's struggling tourist sector to tap a potential market of 80 million consumers. Tourism Commissioner Eva Cheng Yu-wah had voiced fears over how immigration checkpoints could handle a large number of tourists from Guangdong smoothly if they did not arrive in groups.