BEIJING, June 29 (Xinhua) -- Residents of more cities and provinces in the Chinese mainland will be allowed to travel to Hong Kong as individuals in the near future, an official with the China National Tourism Administration has promised.
The organization's Ren Jiayan told Xinhua on Friday that it has consulted with concerned ministries on whether Hong Kong's hotels and customs officials can cope with more entrants, and will steadily expand the regions eligible for individual travel to the region.
Since 2003, 49 cities in 22 provinces, covering a population of 250 million, have been given approval for individual travel, while tourists in other areas can only enter the Special Administration Region in groups.
From April 2009, citizens of Shenzhen, the boom-town bordering Hong Kong, have been able to apply for multiple annual entries to their neighbor. In the 20 subsequent months, Shenzhen residents made 5.64 million trips through those means.
In 2011, about 28.1 million Chinese mainlanders visited Hong Kong, 12 percent of them in groups.
Ren's comments come in the wake of the ninth supplement to the Mainland and Hong Kong Closer Economic Partnership Arrangement being signed by the two sides on Friday. Under the agreement, Hong Kong-invested travel agencies will be encouraged to organize group travel to Hong Kong. There are 27 such travel agencies operating in the Chinese mainland currently.
The official said Hong Kong tourism businesses should seize this opportunity to establish and improve their credibility.