Hong Kong is giving away 500,000 airline tickets in an effort to woo tourists back to the region.
The city has rolled back COVID travel restrictions in recent months including mandatory isolation on arrival.
Now it is hoping to bounce back from the massive impact the pandemic had on its tourism industry. And part of Hong Kong’s plan involves giving away 500,00 airline tickets worth more than €250 million.
Back in October, executive director of the Hong Kong Tourism Board Dane Cheng told the BBC that the free tickets were initially bought to support airlines during the pandemic.
On Wednesday (1 February), Hong Kong’s Chief Executive John Lee launched the $2 billion (€1.8 bn) ‘Hello Hong Kong’ campaign, with the flight ticket giveaway starting on 1 March.
Hong Kong received 56 million visitors in 2019 – over seven times its population – before the pandemic began. But its strict COVID restrictions have kept visitors away over the past three years, devastating the tourism sector and its economy. The city’s GDP last year fell 3.5 per cent from 2021, according to the government’s provisional data.
How will Hong Kong’s free ticket scheme work?
The giveaway will start on March 1 and last for about six months, with tickets distributed in phases.
The free tickets will be distributed by Hong Kong-based airlines Cathay Pacific, HK Express and Hong Kong Airlines, according to Fred Lam Tin-fuk, chief executive officer of the Airport Authority Hong Kong.
Tickets will be distributed gradually on the airlines’ overseas platforms starting with Southeast Asian countries, followed by mainland China and Northeastern Asia, according to Time Out Hong Kong.
A further 80,000 free air tickets will be given to Hong Kong residents in the summer, with another 80,000 for those living in the Greater Bay Area.
Visitors can also enjoy special offers and vouchers among other incentives in the city.
One million vouchers worth over HKD100 (€11.60) each will provide discounts on food, drinks, transport, hotels, retail and attractions. They will be distributed at tourist inquiry counters located at four border checkpoints from 5pm on 2 February, according to Time Out Hong Kong.
The city will also host more than 250 events and festivals throughout 2023, from the Hong Kong Marathon to the Clockenflap music festival, Art Basel and Hong Kong Rugby Sevens.
What are the entry requirements for Hong Kong?
Hong Kong has had some of the strictest rules for travellers throughout 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.
In September, mandatory quarantine on arrival was dropped. But even after Hong Kong reopened its border with mainland China in January, tourism recovery was sluggish.
Now, the rules have been relaxed further. Visitors no longer need to self isolate on arrival, providing they test negative for COVID.
Inbound tourists are subject to rapid antigen testing on arrival and again on day five of their visit. If you test positive, you are required to self isolate for five days in your hotel or accommodation.
Proof of vaccination is also required for those over 12 years old, unless you have proof of medical reasons why you cannot be vaccinated.
Hong Kong residents who are not fully vaccinated will be able to enter Hong Kong. Non-residents who are not fully vaccinated and have visited places outside mainland China, Macao or Taiwan within the past seven days, will be denied entry into Hong Kong.
To travel between Hong Kong and mainland China, a negative PCR test taken no more than 48 hours before departure is required. If you are travelling via land border control points, you must make a quota booking on the HKSARG’s online booking system. This is not required for air travel.
Virgin Atlantic stops flights to Hong Kong after 30 years
The closure of Russian airspace after the invasion of Ukraine means some airlines won’t be resuming services to the city.
Virgin Atlantic announced in autumn that it would be closing its offices in Hong Kong after 30 years. Flights to the city were suspended when the pandemic hit and had been due to return as part of the 2023 summer schedule.
The carrier made the decision to pull out of the Asian travel hub altogether. Several factors contributed to the decision including the closure of Russian airspace adding at least an hour to journey times.
Customers who had booked to travel to Hong Kong with Virgin Atlantic from March 2023 have been offered a refund, voucher or the option to rebook on an alternative route with the airline.