Hong Kong will offer air tickets and vouchers to lure tourists to the international financial hub, rushing to catch up with other popular travel destinations in fierce regional competition.
During the pandemic, the city has largely aligned with mainland China’s “zero-COVID” strategy and relaxed its entry rules months slower than rivals such as Singapore, Japan and Taiwan. Even after its border with mainland China reopened in January, the recovery in tourism has been slow.
On Thursday, Chief Executive John Lee launched a “Hello Hong Kong” tourism campaign, saying the city will offer 500,000 free plane tickets to welcome tourists from around the world in what he called “probably the greatest welcome in the world”.
“Hong Kong is now seamlessly connected to the Chinese mainland and the whole international world and there will be no isolation, no quarantine,” he said at a ceremony. “Now is the perfect time for tourists, business travelers and investors from near and far to come and say ‘Hello, Hong Kong’.”
As part of the campaign, most of the air tickets – worth $255 million – will come from three Hong Kong-based airlines through various promotional activities, including raffles, promotions and “buy one, get one free” games. The project will start in March and last about six months, said Fred Lam, CEO of the Airport Authority.
“We hope that those who get the plane tickets can bring two or three other relatives and friends to the city. Although we only donate 500,000 plane tickets, we believe that it can help attract more than 1, 5 million visitors to Hong Kong,” Lam said.
Airlines will distribute tickets in phases, with Southeast Asian markets expected to benefit first, he said.
An additional 80,000 plane tickets will be distributed to Hong Kong residents this summer, Lam said. Those who live in the Greater Bay Area will also benefit from the policy which offers over 700,000 tickets in total. The Greater Bay Area is a Chinese government initiative to connect Hong Kong with neighboring mainland cities, including the technology and financial hub of Shenzhen and the manufacturing powerhouses of Dongguan and Foshan
Visitors can also take advantage of special offers and vouchers among other incentives in the city, Lee said.
Hong Kong received 56 million visitors in 2019 – more than seven times its population – before the pandemic began. But its strict COVID-19 restrictions have kept visitors away for the past three years, devastating the tourism sector and its economy. The city’s GDP last year fell 3.5% from 2021, according to provisional government data.
In recent months it has finally dropped its mandatory hotel quarantine rule and PCR testing for incoming travellers, leading to a slight increase in arrival figures. Yet its number of visitors in 2022 was only 1% of the 2019 level.