Mainland tourists have made their presence felt in Hong Kong since the door was opened to individual travellers last year. By spending freely in our shops, hotels and restaurants these tourists from across the border have helped lift our city's economy out of a long and depressing downturn. Largely for this reason, they have been welcomed with open arms. But not all of the consequences of this boom in mainland visitors can be viewed in such a positive light. As we report on the back page of this section today, concerns are being raised about some of the less favourable repercussions. Our maternity wards, we are told, are being swamped by pregnant women from the mainland, putting a strain on resources. Increasing numbers of mainland tourists are committing crimes and filling our jails. The flood of visitors from the north is even crowding local residents out of their favourite restaurants and entertainment venues. These byproducts of greater integration may be considered irritating, or even troubling. But Hong Kong is in no position to complain. The individual traveller scheme was launched for a good reason. The government - somewhat belatedly - realised that mainland tourists could help boost our economy. This has indeed proved to be the case. But if Hong Kong wants the benefits - and it clearly does - it must be prepared to also accept the drawbacks. It is a matter of taking the rough with the smooth. The only surprise so far is that the problems have not been more pronounced. Pregnant women from the mainland have long sought to have their children born in Hong Kong. They view the medical treatment they receive as superior - and there is the added bonus that their children are entitled to the right of abode. In the past they often came here as illegal immigrants - now they are coming as tourists. As for crime, there have always been understandable concerns that the visitor scheme will be exploited. So far, the official figures suggest that the impact has been slight, although it is increasing. But this is also an inevitable result of opening up the floodgates. It would be naive to think that the only tourists applying for visas will be those motivated entirely by a desire to spend their hard-earned cash in our shopping malls. There is, however, an important lesson to be learned from the concerns that are now being expressed. As integration with the mainland continues, many changes are going to be seen. Some will be positive, others problematic. There is a need for the government to anticipate the consequences and to act accordingly. This will require closer, more effective contact with mainland officials. High-level talks are all very well, but they must lead to practical measures being taken. Hong Kong should be looking to pro-actively take the lead in the integration process, otherwise we could end up being overtaken by events. A long-term strategy is needed in a wide range of policy areas including the environment, health, infrastructure and the economy. The problems that have arisen from the greater numbers of mainland tourists should have been foreseen so that steps could be taken to limit their negative impact. Hospitals, for example, must be prepared to accommodate mainland patients while ensuring that the quality of health care available to local people does not decline. The necessary resources should be made available. And efforts to combat cross-border crime should be stepped up. But Hong Kong was quick to go cap-in-hand to Beijing when times were tough. And we have been very happy to reap the economic benefits. So we should be prepared to cope with the downside. Integration with the mainland is an irreversible process. Hong Kong should be well prepared for the changes this will inevitably bring.