All mainlanders will eventually be allowed to visit Hong Kong as individuals, but the scheme will first be extended to residents of the pan-Pearl River Delta region, a top mainland tourism official said. Gu Zhaoxi, vice-chairman of the China National Tourism Administration, said the authorities were still studying the timeline of the extension. 'We have to take note of how many people mainland immigration can handle, and the number of tourists Hong Kong can take,' Mr Gu said. 'But the pace, definitely, has to be quicker. If not, what about people in other parts of the country [who want to visit Hong Kong]?' 'The next step is to extend the scheme to the pan-Pearl River Delta region.' Among the nine provinces in the pan-Pearl River Delta, only Guangdong and Fujian residents can visit Hong Kong individually. If the scheme is extended to the entire region, about 450 million residents would be eligible to apply. Tourism Board chairwoman Selina Chow Liang Shuk-yee said its new Guangzhou office, launched this week, would strengthen promotion in southern China and relationships with the local travel trade. 'China is our largest tourism market, and 4.8 million have visited over the past five months. About 73 per cent of these mainlanders came from southern China,' she said. The Guangzhou office is set to promote Hong Kong's attractions to 300,000 high-spending credit card clients of a mainland bank.