Rush for Free Airline Tickets to Hong Kong Crashes Booking Websites
On Wednesday, people seeking to take advantage of Hong Kong’s offer of half a million free airline tickets encountered lengthy online queues. The initiative is part of the city’s efforts to lure back tourists after years of strict pandemic-related travel restrictions and political suppression. Last month, the Hong Kong government launched a campaign to restore its status as “Asia’s world city.”
The mask mandate was also lifted on Wednesday, with city leader John Lee hailing it as a sign of the city’s return to normalcy. Tourism was once a significant contributor to Hong Kong’s economy, but visitor numbers fell drastically in 2021, reaching less than 1% of 2018 levels.
Hong Kong-based carriers Cathay Pacific and Hong Kong Airlines were the first to offer free tickets in the government-backed “Hello, Hong Kong” campaign. The ticket giveaway will be rolled out over several months, with the first stage offering round-trip flights from Southeast Asia. However, some social media users reported long wait times to register online, with some waiting for over two hours on the Hong Kong Airlines website.
According to an AFP reporter, over 55,000 users were waiting to access the offer on the Cathay Pacific website. Cathay Pacific announced that it had allocated all 17,400 round-trip tickets from Thailand to Hong Kong in the first hour, even though the promotion was scheduled to run for seven days.
The city’s strict travel restrictions and quarantine requirements, which were part of China’s “zero-COVID” strategy, brought travel to a virtual standstill and caused many airlines to suspend their services to Hong Kong. Although most of the restrictions have now been lifted, some regional Asian airlines are still unable to restart services to the city due to labor shortages. In July, a separate campaign will be launched to offer 80,000 tickets to Hong Kong residents.