Hong Kong is giving away 500,000 plane tickets to overseas visitors as part of a HK$2 billion campaign to revive tourism after three years of strict Covid-19 restrictions.

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The plane tickets will be distributed to Hong Kong airlines to be handed out to visitors in overseas markets, Fred Lam, the Chief Executive Officer of the Airport Authority Hong Kong, said on Thursday.

The carriers will hold promotional activities such as lucky draws, buy-one-get-one-free offers and games for the tickets to be won starting in March. The aim is to complete the distribution in six months.

The giveaway is part of the government’s “Hello Hong Kong” campaign to promote the city after the relaxation of tough Covid-19 rules that saw the city largely cut off from the rest of the world since the pandemic began.

Arrivals to Hong Kong in December last year were only five per cent of those seen during 2019. According to data obtained from the Tourism Board, the city saw 3,191,466 arrivals in December 2019, and only 160,578 last December.

Cathay Pacific airplane Hong Kong International Airport flight
An airplane at the Hong Kong International Airport. Photo: GovHK.

“These free air ticket campaigns will kick off on March 1, lasting for six months,” Lam said. “The airlines will be rolling out the promotional campaigns at different times.”

The giveaway will first target potential tourists in Southeast Asia, including Thailand, the Philippines, Indonesia and Singapore, before expanding beyond the region.

“For those who get the free tickets, I hope they will be bringing along some relatives and friends,” Lam said, adding that he believed the tickets would have the multiplying effect of luring 1.5 million visitors to Hong Kong between March and September.

Hong Kong International Airport Covid-19 arrival travel
Inbound travellers in the Hong Kong International Airport. Photo: GovHK.

Dane Cheng, the executive director of the Hong Kong Tourism Board, said the city would also distribute vouchers to tourists which could be spent at retail outlets, for visitor attractions, transportation and other purposes.

Separately, Hong Kong will also give away 80,000 tickets to residents to travel overseas.

Covid-19 has severely hampered Hong Kong’s tourism industry. Over 6,586,260 arrived in the city in December 2018, compared with just 160,578 last December, figures from the Hong Kong Tourism Board show.

‘Hello Hong Kong’

After three years of Covid-19 restrictions, Hong Kong is “back on centre stage,” Chief Executive John Lee said at the launch of the “Hello Hong Kong” campaign on Thursday.

Covid-19 test
Covid-19 testing booths. Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

“Hong Kong is now seamlessly connected to the mainland of China and the whole international world,” he said. “There will be no isolation, quarantine, and no restrictions on experiencing our great wine and dine scene, on doing business… and on enjoying the hustle and bustle of Asia’s world city.”

Hong Kong has relaxed most of its Covid-19 measures in recent weeks, including scrapping a cap on group gatherings and the need to scan a mobile app before entering restaurants and other premises.

cold weather winter
Hong Kong people wearing face masks. File photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

A mask mandate in all public places, including outdoors, is still in place, although authorities said they would consider scrapping it after the winter flu season.

In a video shown at the launch ceremony, the heads of international business chambers – including the US, French and Singapore chambers – praised Hong Kong as a premier hub for doing business.

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Hillary Leung is a journalist at Hong Kong Free Press, where she reports on local politics and social issues, and assists with editing. Since joining in late 2021, she has covered the Covid-19 pandemic, political court cases including the 47 democrats national security trial, and challenges faced by minority communities.

Born and raised in Hong Kong, Hillary completed her undergraduate degree in journalism and sociology at the University of Hong Kong. She worked at TIME Magazine in 2019, where she wrote about Asia and overnight US news before turning her focus to the protests that began that summer. At Coconuts Hong Kong, she covered general news and wrote features, including about a Black Lives Matter march that drew controversy amid the local pro-democracy movement and two sisters who were born to a domestic worker and lived undocumented for 30 years in Hong Kong.