Air travel is finally opening up after three years.
From 12 December to 18 December 2022, slightly more than a million passengers landed or took off at Changi Airport.
With most countries lifting COVID-19 restrictions, things seem to be returning to normal.
In fact, Hong Kong is giving half a million airline tickets for free to lure tourists back.
Time to pack your luggage.
“Hello, Hong Kong” Campaign
The 500,000 free tickets are part of the HK$2 billion relief package that the government offered airlines during the height of the pandemic in 2020.
The “Hello, Hong Kong” promotion campaign was unveiled by Hong Kong’s Chief Executive, John Lee, on Thursday.
The announcement was accompanied by an extravagant display of dancers and neon lights in the city’s main convention centre, located next to its famous harbour.
Hong Kong’s Tourism Board is also investing a minimum of HK$100 million in the campaign’s initial phase.
Mr Lee said, “We have to let outsiders know that Hong Kong has unique status, especially when the ‘one country, two systems’ principle will be implemented in Hong Kong for a long time.”
The campaign aims to show that the city is finally open for tourism.
In addition, Hong Kong hopes to lure back businesses and investors and boost growth in the Chinese special administrative region.
The tickets will be distributed through Cathay Pacific, HK Express and Hong Kong Airlines.
Mr Lee mentioned that Hong Kong would host sports and cultural events and highlight attractions like The Palace Museum and M+ Museum.
Furthermore, the Peak Tram attraction has been revamped with special visitor vouchers.
Hong Kong’s Tourism Sector
Did you know that Hong Kong’s tourism industry was one of the city’s central economic pillars before the pandemic?
In 2018, the industry contributed to around 4.5% of Hong Kong’s GDP.
However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Hong Kong’s borders were largely sealed off.
For visitors, there was a mandatory quarantine of up to three weeks, including intensive testing and screening.
As the rest of the world began to open up, Hong Kong’s borders remained shut to tourists as the city followed China’s zero-Covid policy.
As China began to ease its COVID restrictions towards the end of 2022, Hong Kong also dropped most of its COVID-19 regulations in December.
However, wearing masks remains mandatory unless one is partaking in strenuous exercise.
Furthermore, daily rapid antigen testing remains compulsory for students.
Until 2019, Hong Kong was one of the world’s most visited cities.
However, in 2021, the official number of visitor arrivals was a mere 91,000.
That is a stark decrease from the city’s whopping 56 million visitor arrivals in 2019.
How to Get the Free Tickets
Free stuff is always great, so how will the free tickets be allocated?
The ticket giveaway will start with Southeast Asian markets, followed by mainland China and North Asia and finally, the rest of the world.
Notably, around 80,000 tickets have been reserved for Hong Kong residents. Authorities aim to give them out during the summer.
The city’s tourism board’s executive director, Dane Cheng, told CNBC’s “Squawk Box Asia” that the number of tickets given to each region was based on visitor numbers from pre-pandemic times.
The specific way visitors can get these free tickets will depend on the regulations and customs of their region.
If you want to grab free tickets to Hong Kong, there’s some hope for you.
Fred Lam, the CEO of Hong Kong’s airport authority, told CNBC, “that could include large-scale lucky draws, giving it out through a first-come-first-serve basis, offering buy-on-get-one-free tickets, or through game participation.”
Though only 500,000 tickets are up for grabs, Mr Lam hopes it will bring more than 1.5 million tourists into the city.
He said, “We hope those who received the tickets will bring 2-3 more friends and family with them.”
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“Hong Kong Goodies” Campaign
The Hong Kong Tourism Board has also started giving away more than 1 million spending vouchers worth HK$100 each.
This comes under the “Hong Kong Goodies” campaign in a bid to welcome back visitors.
The campaign is on a first-come, first-served basis and will end on 31 December.
Tourists can redeem free drinks at more than 100 bars, restaurants and hotels, which is truly the definition of a dream vacation.
In addition, the bars include high-end hotels like Mandarin Oriental and famous party districts like Lan Kwai Fong.
For the shopaholics, visitors will also receive discounts on attractions, retail, food and transport from more than 16,000 outlets.
The vouchers are offered to visitors staying in Hong Kong for a maximum of 90 days.
Note that the vouchers will only be valid for 30 days from the day you acquire them.
To redeem them, visitors must create an account with the Hong Kong Tourism Board website and will be issued a QR code.
Still Some COVID Restrictions
Though Hong Kong has eased many restrictions, there are still some that you should take note of.
Firstly, though people can now visit Hong Kong without quarantine, all international travellers must test negative in a pre-departure COVID-19 test.
Furthermore, mask-wearing in Hong Kong will continue to be mandatory on public transport, including indoor and outdoor public places.
While the news gives Hong Kong’s tourism sector the opportunity to bounce back to its pre-pandemic numbers, it may take time for the city to receive the same number of visitors as it did before the pandemic.
Mr Cheng noted that Hong Kong had more than 24 million overnight visitors each year and it would take time for the city to regain those numbers.
Mr Cheng also acknowledged that Hong Kong’s infrastructure “has some catching up to do to accommodate the increase in visitors”.
Despite this, he told CNBC, “It’s difficult to catch up… particularly for the airlines, the airports and even hotels, [but] you want to kick start and… tell the world in a clear message that Hong Kong and then mainland – we have finally reopened.”
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