Hong Kong’s Massive Giveaway of 500,000 Free Airline Tickets

During the Covid-19 pandemic, Hong Kong implemented some of the strictest safety measures in the world. In an effort to revive tourism, the tourism board has introduced a new plan named “Hello Hong Kong”. The government has declared that it will offer 500,000 round-trip airline tickets to visitors for free over the next six months, as per a statement. At a recent launch event, John Lee, the chief executive of Hong Kong, announced the giveaway, stating that it could be the largest welcome ever.

These tickets will be made available by three airlines, namely Cathay Pacific, Hong Kong Airlines, and HK Express. The government expects to spend approximately $250 million on this initiative, according to CNN’s Lilit Marcus. To participate in the lottery for a free trip, travelers in Southeast Asia can apply starting in March, followed by mainland China residents in April. The giveaway will then be open to other countries across the globe in May.

As per reports by Condé Nast Traveller’s Connor Sturges, a few of these free tickets will be granted to Hong Kong residents traveling to other places. The tourism board will also be offering vouchers to visitors for food, drinks, and public transportation. This initiative is part of a pandemic relief package from 2020, during which the government procured the tickets to support the dwindling travel industry. Now, the government is using those acquisitions to help revive tourism.

Prior to the pandemic, tourism in the area had decreased due to political instability. The year 2019 saw mass pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong that were aimed at stopping the erosion of the area’s autonomy by China. In response, China implemented a national security law that has allowed authorities to repress any form of dissent in the region, which was once known for its independent judiciary and the liberal press. Many protesters were arrested and are now on trial.

In 2018, about 65 million tourists visited Hong Kong, but the number dropped to only 56 million the following year due to protests and government crackdowns. In 2021, fewer than 100,000 travelers arrived, but this number increased to 600,000 in 2022.

The CEO of Hong Kong’s airport authority, Fred Lam, believes that the ticket giveaway could lead to a ripple effect, with recipients bringing along friends and family. CNBC’s Vivian Kam reports that he said at the launch event, “We hope those who received the tickets will bring two to three more friends and family with them.”

According to economist Gary Ng at Natixis, the new scheme is a “good start,” but its effectiveness will depend on whether Hong Kong proves to be an appealing destination to travelers. The Washington Post reported his comments.

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