Hong Kong is giving away 500,000 free air tickets and vouchers to woo tourists back to the city.
The international financial hub is racing to catch up with other popular travel destinations in a fierce regional competition after a slow tourism recovery post-Covid.
During the pandemic, the city largely aligned itself with mainland China’s zero-Covid strategy and has relaxed its entry rules months slower than rivals such as Singapore, Japan and Taiwan. Even after it reopened its border with mainland China in January, tourism still remained sluggish.
In a bid to tempt visitors back, Chief Executive John Lee on Wednesday (1 February) launched a tourism campaign, Hello Hong Kong, saying the city will offer 500,000 free air tickets to welcome tourists from around the world.
Speaking at a ceremony, he said: “Hong Kong is now seamlessly connected to the mainland of China and the whole international world and there will be no isolation, no quarantine.
“This is the perfect timing for tourists, business travellers and investors from near and far to come and say, ‘Hello, Hong Kong.’”
Under the campaign, most of the plane tickets — worth two billion Hong Kong dollars (£210 million) — will come from three Hong Kong-based airlines through various promotional activities, including lucky draws, buy one, get one free promotions and games.
The project will begin in March and last about six months, with airlines set to distribute the tickets in phases.
Fred Lam, chief executive officer of the Airport Authority, said the Southeast Asian markets are set to benefit first. An additional 80,000 air tickets will then be given away to Hong Kong residents in the summer.
Those living in the Greater Bay Area will also benefit from the policy, which offers more than 700,000 tickets in total. The Greater Bay Area is a Chinese government initiative to link Hong Kong with neighbouring mainland cities, including the technology and finance hub of Shenzhen and the manufacturing powerhouses of Dongguan and Foshan.
Mr Lam said: “We hope those who secure the air tickets can bring two or three more relatives and friends to the city. Although we are just giving away 500,000 air tickets, we believe this can help bring Hong Kong over 1.5 million visitors.”
Visitors can also enjoy special offers and vouchers among other incentives in the city, he added.
Hong Kong received 56 million visitors in 2019 — more than seven times its population — before the pandemic began, but its strict Covid restrictions have been keeping visitors away over the past three years, devastating the tourism sector and its economy.
The city’s GDP last year fell 3.5% from 2021, according to the government’s provisional data. In the past few months, it finally dropped its mandatory hotel quarantine rule and PCR tests for incoming travellers, resulting in a slight increase in arrival figures. Despite this, its 2022 visitor numbers were just 1% of the 2019 level.