Hong Kong about to give away half a million airline tickets

Hong Kong received some 605,000 visitors last year as the city slowly dropped its Covid-19 restrictions, up from 91,000 in 2021. - AFP

HONG KONG (Bloomberg): Hong Kong officials are expected to announce details of a plan to distribute 500,000 air tickets as part of a global publicity campaign to be unveiled on Thursday (Feb 2).

The city’s leader John Lee will oversee the launch of the Hello Hong Kong campaign at a briefing at 2:3pm local time, while finance chief Paul Chan will hold a press conference after the event, according to a government statement. The head of the Airport Authority will also attend the ceremony, the statement said.

The campaign will highlight more than 200 events to be held to underscore the city’s return, according to the South China Morning Post. Most of the half-million free air trickets will be distributed by Cathay Pacific Airways Ltd. and its budget airline HK Express, with some handed out by travel agencies to international tourists, the SCMP said, citing someone it didn’t name.

The government is seeking to revive the economy and repair the city’s global image which was damaged by often-violent protests in 2019, the imposition of tough security laws in 2020 and three years of self-imposed isolation during the pandemic. Gross domestic product shrank 3.5% last year, its third contraction in four years.

Many of the tickets will be allocated to travellers in Asia including mainland China, as well as Europe and the US, with a "small portion” going to local residents for overseas travel, the SCMP said.

Hong Kong received some 605,000 visitors last year as the city slowly dropped its Covid restrictions, up from 91,000 in 2021, according to the local tourism board. That compares with almost 56 million in 2019 before the pandemic hit.

The ticket giveaway may pressure airlines. Cathay Pacific’s flight capacity at the end of last year was 32% of its pre-Covid level. Hong Kong was Asia’s busiest international airport prior to Covid. The government purchased the tickets in 2020, Sing Tao reported last year.

Moves are underway to boost the number of visitors from the rest of the country. Testing requirements and a quota system for mainland Chinese visitors are set to be dropped, while three more border crossings with the mainland will reopen as early as Monday, the SCMP reported. The border reopened last month for the first time in three years.

Natixis SA estimates Hong Kong’s economy lost US$27 billion in potential growth due to the effects of the pandemic and the city’s strict Covid-19 curbs.

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