The websites of Hong Kong airlines have been overwhelmed with traffic after Chief Executive John Lee announced an end to Covid-19 hotel quarantine on Friday afternoon. The news came a day after Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishido declared that the country – a popular destination for Hongkongers – would be dropping travel restrictions in October.

Cathay Pacific website queue time
Users have to wait for an estimated time of 19 minutes in order to access Cathay Pacific’s website on Friday afternoon. Photo: Cathay Pacific, via screenshot.

The website of the city’s flagship carrier Cathay Pacific said it was “currently experiencing high traffic” when HKFP tried to access it after Lee’s announcement, placing users in a “virtual queue” to access the homepage. “If you are signing into your Cathay membership account, please note there may be an additional waiting time, again due to high traffic,” a message on the landing page read.

The issue was the same at low-cost airline Hong Kong Express. “Our website if busy due to the high traffic, which may cause longer time in flight search, booking, or receiving itinerary emails,” its website said. Users were thanked for their patience.

Flight searches, fares for Japan skyrocket

Following Japan’s announcement that it would resume visa-free solo tourism from October 11, Hongkongers’ eagerness to visit the East Asian country has been reflected in rocketing search volumes and flight fares.

On Friday, “Japan non-guided tours” became the city’s most searched term on Google with over 20,000 searches, four times more that the second and third place searches.

Meanwhile, the lowest-priced return flights for a traveller embarking on a five day trip to Tokyo on October 11 was priced at HK$5,529 on Friday, more than twice as much as two weeks ago, according to Google search data.

Google flight fare history (Tokyo)
The flight fare history for a returning trip from Hong Kong to Tokyo between October 11 and 15. Photo: Google, via screenshot.

However, Hongkongers’ appetite to travel to Japan did not appear to be dented.

Eddy Yip, Hong Kong and Taiwan e-Commerce team leader for online travel agent, said in a press release that flight searches for Tokyo had increased by 650 per cent and Osaka by 30 per cent on their Hong Kong site as of 2:30 p.m. Friday compared with a week ago. That was an hour before Hong Kong officially axed hotel quarantine.

The two Japanese cities were also the website’s first and third most popular overseas destinations, Yip said.

Japan, women in yukata
Women exploring a japanese village in yukata. File photo: Wikicommons.

In addition, the number of users viewing flights on their website had also surged by 120 times from midnight to 3:45 p.m. Friday, when compared with the same period last week.

Cathay to add over 200 flights next month

Cathay Pacific said in a statement on Friday afternoon that it intended to add more than 200 passenger flights to regional and long-haul destinations in October.

Over the next month, the courier said it would increase the frequency of flights to Tokyo’s Narita International Airport to 43 pairs and Osaka to 50 pairs.

From November, the airline will resume daily flights to Haneda Airport – Tokyo’s second international airport. It will also resume flying to Sapporo four times a week from December 1.

Cathay Pacific
A Cathay Pacific aircraft. File photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

The statement said Hong Kong’s new travel arrangements “will help boost sentiment for travel, thereby facilitating the gradual resumption of travel activities and strengthening of network connectivity to, from and through the Hong Kong aviation hub.”

It, however, noted that “it will take time to rebuild our capacity gradually.”

According to the company’s monthly traffic figures, the number of passengers it carried in August was 91.3 per cent lower than the pre-Covid level in August 2019.

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Peter Lee is a reporter for HKFP. He was previously a freelance journalist at Initium, covering political and court news. He holds a Global Communication bachelor degree from CUHK.