Hong Kong is seeking to entice returning international tourists by giving away half a million free air tickets to the territory, according to the chief executive of the territory’s tourism authority.
However, Dane Cheng told the BBC that the massive ticket giveaway, valued at more than USD 254 million, will not commence until the Hong Kong government eliminates the remaining COVID-19 travel restrictions.
Hong Kong considerably eased pandemic-era border controls last month by lifting quarantine limits. Still, experts warn that the remaining limitations make the city unappealing to most outside visitors.
Visitors must take a pre-departure test, a second COVID-19 exam immediately upon arrival, and numerous further tests throughout their stay in Hong Kong, according to the territory’s so-called ‘0+3’ travel rules.
Hong Kong also has severe social distancing restrictions, such as a broad mask mandate, prohibiting some types of live entertainment, and hefty fines for violating group gathering rules.
According to the Hong Kong Tourism Board, the new border restrictions are only likely to attract returning locals, some visiting family members, and a limited number of business travellers at first.
“Once the government says that all Covid-19 restrictions for inbound travellers will be lifted,” Cheng told the BBC, “we’ll launch the advertising campaigns for the free flight tickets.”
The Tourism Board purchased the tickets during the height of the pandemic in order to help airlines financially. Still, details on how the programme will function have yet to be finalised with airlines participating in the scheme.
Along with the free tickets, Hong Kong aims to resurrect the territory’s shattered tourist business with a multimillion-dollar advertising campaign. Over 500 social media influencers will also be brought in to assist market the city as part of the campaign.
The advertising effort will initially target the Asian market before expanding when limitations are abolished or considerably relaxed.