As a new air link pact between Taiwan and China will take effect soon, Hong Kong’s tourism sector is concerned about being marginalized amid the changing situation in the Taiwan Strait, the Hong Kong-based Mingpao daily newspaper reported Wednesday.

Citing an executive of the Hong Kong Association of Travel Agents, the newspaper said the local tourism sector fears that it might lose about a million China-bound transit travelers from Taiwan per year — or two-thirds last year’s total number of Taiwanese transit passengers in the former British colony — with new, more direct flight routes to be opened between Taiwan and China.

The new daily charter flights will make cross-strait travel more convenient, enabling Taiwanese travelers to head for many regions in China without having to detour via Hong Kong, the executive said.

Some Hong Kong tourism operators are worried that a large number of individual Chinese tourists will be attracted to Taiwan instead of Hong Kong, as several important Chinese cities, such as Shenzhen and Tianjin, have been added to the direct cross-strait air service program.

Others contend that Hong Kong should take advantage of the more direct cross-strait flights to promote a special “greater China” tour package featuring Hong Kong, Taiwan and Shenzhen.

Hong Kong Tourism Board (HKTB) Chairman James Tien Pei-chun said the expanded Taiwan-China airlinks will certainly have a negative impact on the willingness of Taiwanese tourists to visit Hong Kong.

In an effort to mitigate the adverse impact, the HKTB is considering an upgrade of the functions of its Taipei office, he hoted.

Taiwan and China signed four cooperation accords Tuesday in Taipei, including one on the expansion of the cross-strait weekend charter flights that were launched in early July.

At present, all non-stop cross-strait charters must pass through the Hong Kong Flight Information Region, which adds to the travel time between cities in central and northern China and Taiwan.

Under the new agreement, the 36 non-stop charter flights that have been plying the Taiwan-China route Friday to Monday since July will be increased to 108 non-stop charters per week, with direct flights available every day of the week. The number of destinations in China will also be expanded to 21, up from the existing five.

Apart from Beijing, Shanghai (Pudong) , Guangzhou, Xiamen and Nanjing — which were included in the first phase of the cross-strait weekend charter program — the new pact will open services to cities scattered throughout China such as Shenzhen, Chengdu, Chongqing, Hangzhou, Tianjin and Dalian.

In the future, a flight between Taipei and Shanghai will take as little as 81 minutes, while a Taipei-Beijing flight will take 166 minutes — both marking a reduction of more than one hour in travel time.

In line with the new cross-strait routes, China has also eased its restrictions on travel to Taiwan.

The minimum size of a group tour to Taiwan was lowered from 10 to five travelers and the maximum period of stay in Taiwan was increased from 10 to 15 days — a measure that many believe will pave the way for greater numbers of individual travelers from China and help create a genuine boom in Taiwan’s tourism-related businesses.