In March, Hong Kong will hand out free airfare to 500,000 visitors to lure back tourists and business travelers after three years of harsh pandemic restrictions.
The HKD 2 billion (US$255 million) “Hello Hong Kong” campaign will also offer tourists discounts on food, drink, transportation, hotels, retail, and attractions. Hong Kong hopes the incentives will revive its moribund tourist economy and woo back business investors.
For three years, the city has primarily followed China’s “zero COVID” strategy and sealed its borders, with new arrivals required to quarantine for up to three weeks in hotels and submit to extensive testing and screening.
The city was slow to relax these entry requirements, even as neighboring countries did and as Hong Kongers warned of the devastating impact on the city’s position as a global financial hub and its formerly vibrant tourist economy.
In 2019, Hong Kong welcomed 56 million visitors, over seven times its population and contributing 17.6% of its GDP. In 2022, just over 600,000 visitors came.
But finally, in September 2022, Hong Kong scrapped the mandatory quarantine for foreign arrivals and, in January, reopened its border with mainland China. With other curbs now largely lifted, the city is throwing open its arms to the world.
“Hong Kong is now seamlessly connected to the mainland of China and the whole international world, and there will be no isolation, no quarantine,” said Hong Kong chief executive John Lee, speaking in English.
The centerpiece of the Hello Hong Kong Campaign is a giveaway of half a million free plane tickets.
The city will hand the free tickets to three Hong Kong-based airlines—Cathay Pacific, HK Express, and Hong Kong Airlines—which will distribute them gradually between March and September. After that, the airlines will award them to travelers through promotional activities, including prize drawings, games, and “buy one, get one free” deals.
The tickets will be handed out to visitors in specific geographic regions in stages, with the Southeast Asian markets to benefit first, followed by mainland China and Northeastern Asia.
An additional 80,000 air tickets will be given to Hong Kong residents over the summer, and another 80,000 will be allocated to those in the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area.
Visitors to Hong Kong can also claim one million vouchers worth over HKD 100 (US$12.75), providing discounts at restaurants, hotels, transportation including the revamped Peak Tram, and attractions such as the Palace Museum and M+ Museum. The vouchers will be available at tourist inquiry counters at four border checkpoints from 5 PM on February 2.
Hong Kong will also host more than 250 cultural and sports events and festivals throughout the year, from the Hong Kong Marathon and Hong Kong Rugby Sevens to the Clockenflap music festival and Art Basel.
Some pandemic restrictions are still in place, however. For example, all visitors over 12 years old must show proof of vaccination to enter.
Inbound tourists from overseas must also do rapid antigen tests on the day of their arrival and day five. If they test positive, they’ll be required to self-isolate for a minimum of five days at their original accommodation or hotel.
Those traveling to Hong Kong from mainland China or Macao must show a report of a negative PCR test taken at most 48 hours before departure.