Hong Kong is offering 500,000 free flights to visitors in an effort to revive tourism after being mostly closed off to international travelers for nearly three years during the pandemic.
The giveaway is part of a recently launched Hong Kong Tourism campaign, titled “Hello, Hong Kong”—an effort to welcome back the 56 million travelers who visited the city annually prepandemic. In addition to a massive flight giveaway and discounts on airfares (more details on that below), Hong Kong is offering travelers “Hong Kong goodies,” a collection of freebies and vouchers that include:
- A welcome drink at more than 100 participating restaurants, bars, and hotels
- A cash voucher worth HK$100 (USD$13 currently), which can be used for dining and shopping (The vouchers are being distributed at the Hong Kong International Airport visitor center and Kowloon visitor center throughout 2023.)
- An “exclusive gift” that will be provided to visitors at attractions and museums throughout the city
But the most enticing element of the campaign is, by far, the flight giveaway.
How to get free and discounted airline tickets to Hong Kong
Starting March 1, contestants can visit the Hong Kong Airport website to register for the flight lottery.
The tickets will be doled out in phases, with the initial batch only available to Southeast Asia residents. On April 1, another round of tickets will be released to people from mainland China. And finally, on May 1, the rest of the world will be able to apply.
Through this campaign, most of the airline tickets will be awarded by three Hong Kong–based carriers: Cathay Pacific, HK Express, and Hong Kong Airlines, which will also be offering major discounts on flights such as “buy one, get one free” promotions.
For travelers based in the United States and Canada, Cathay Pacific will also be offering a limited number of “generously discounted round-trip tickets to Hong Kong starting from May onwards,” according to the carrier.
The Hong Kong Airport Authority will cover the cost of economy-class tickets for the winners of free flights, although travelers will have to cover their own taxes and fees.
The effects of the pandemic on Hong Kong’s tourism sector
The airline ticket giveaway is part of a larger Hong Kong COVID relief package. During the early days of the pandemic, Hong Kong gave the airlines $255 million to stay afloat. Some of that money is now being used to supplement the flights.
While only 500,000 flights will be given away, Fred Lam, CEO of the Hong Kong Airport Authority, said, “We hope those who secure the air tickets can bring two or three more relatives and friends to the city. . . . We believe this can help bring Hong Kong over 1.5 million visitors.”
From 2020 until the end of 2022, Hong Kong largely aligned itself with mainland China’s “zero-COVID” strategy (an effort to keep the number of COVID cases as close to zero as possible). It eventually started to relax its entry rules, but at a slower pace than other Asian countries, such as Singapore, Japan, and Taiwan. The city only dropped the last of its COVID travel rules in late December 2022 (though masking indoors and on public transport is still mandatory).
Hong Kong received 56 million visitors in 2019—more than seven times its population—before the pandemic began. But its strict COVID-19 restrictions had a severe impact on visitor numbers over the past three years, devastating the tourism sector and its economy. The city’s GDP last year fell 3.5 percent compared to 2021, according to government data.
In the past few months, Hong Kong finally dropped its mandatory hotel quarantine rule and PCR tests for incoming travelers, resulting in a slight increase in arrival figures. Still, its 2022 visitor numbers were just 1 percent of the 2019 numbers.
The Associated Press contributed reporting.