City leader John Lee announced the tribute to the launch of the Hello Hong Kong campaign during a briefing, saying it was “probably the biggest welcome to the world ever”. Lee highlighted a number of upcoming events including Rugby Sevens and the city marathon in a speech delivered in English, Mandarin and Cantonese.
The government is trying to revive the economy and repair Hong Kong’s global image which was hurt by often violent protests in 2019, the imposition of tough security laws in 2020 and three years of self-imposed isolation during the pandemic. Gross domestic product fell by 3.5% last year, the third contraction in four years.
Tickets will be distributed through Cathay Pacific Airways Ltd., its budget carrier HK Express and Hong Kong Airlines International Holdings Ltd., said Fred Lam, chief executive officer of the city’s Airport Authority. The giveaway will start in early March and run for six months, he said, adding that there will be multiple ways to win tickets, such as a lottery system and two-for-one purchases.
Hong Kong received around 605,000 visitors last year as the city slowly lifted its Covid restrictions, up from 91,000 in 2021, according to Local Tourism axis. That compares with nearly 56 million in 2019 before the pandemic.
Ticket giveaway can put pressure on airlines. Cathay Pacific’s flight capacity at the end of last year was 32% of its pre-Covid level. Hong Kong was Asia’s busiest international airport before Covid. The Airport Authority purchased tickets in 2020 as part of a HK$2 billion (US$255 million) rescue package for the airline industry.
The city will also distribute 80,000 airline tickets to Hong Kong residents in the summer and another 80,000 to Greater Bay Area residents, Lam said.
Initiatives are underway to increase the number of visitors from the rest of the country. Testing requirements and a quota system for visitors from mainland China are expected to be dropped, while three more border crossings with the mainland are set to reopen as early as Monday, the South China Morning Post reported. The border reopened last month for the first time in three years.
Natixis SA estimates that Hong Kong’s economy has lost $27 billion of potential growth due to the effects of the pandemic and the city’s severe Covid restrictions.
The only remaining pandemic-era restriction in Hong Kong is the requirement to wear a mask in public places. City leader Lee She said this week he hopes to remove the mask mandate when the winter wave is over, with no dates given.