Hong Kong to give away 500,000 free flights worth £225milllion
Tourists will be offered free flights to Hong Kong in a bid to drive up visitor numbers, which have fallen by tens of millions a year since the Covid-19 pandemic.
In the initiative, 500,000 plane tickets worth £225million will be given away to encourage travellers to visit once the authorities remove all coronavirus restrictions.
The global campaign is expected to start early next year.
The Hong Kong tourism board will manage the advertising campaign for the scheme while the airport authority will distribute the free tickets.
‘The airport authority set aside HK$2billion in 2020 to buy about 500,000 tickets from several local airlines to promote the city’s tourism industry once the pandemic eased,’ Dane Cheng, the Hong Kong tourism board’s executive director, said.
The scheme would start by targeting visitors from Asia and other short-haul markets, the tourism boss added.
Before the pandemic, in 2019, 56 million people visited Hong Kong as a whole, while just 184,000 visitors came to the city in the first eight months of this year.
Until recently, the city, which followed China’s strict Covid policies, had some of the toughest restrictions in the world.
Changes to isolation rules were announced last month, which mean that travellers now have to monitor themselves for possible infection for just three days after their arrival.
The city’s government said it would no longer require people to go into hotel quarantine or show a negative Covid test before boarding flights to Hong Kong.
Travellers rushed to buy flight tickets to and from Hong Kong following the news.
Promotions of the new offer directed at China will be limited until entry restrictions there are also relaxed.
Prudence Lai, senior analyst at market research firm Euromonitor, told the BBC that the market is heavily dependent on Chinese tourists, ‘as mainland China contributes to more than half of Hong Kong’s inbound arrivals and travel receipts’.
Meanwhile, British airline Virgin Atlantic announced on Wednesday that it will scrap its Heathrow-Hong Kong services and close its Hong Kong office.
The withdrawal officially ends Virgin’s 30-year presence in the city and reneges on earlier plans to resume flights from March 2023.
Virgin Atlantic had halted flights to Hong Kong since December and is one of several airlines which have not routed flights through Russia’s airspace following its invasion of Ukraine.