Hong Kong is giving freely half 1,000,000 aircraft tickets to spice up tourism

Hong Kong’s new global advertising campaign will “boost” the city’s reopening to international travelers, the Hong Kong Tourism Board told CNBC’s Squawk Box Asia on Friday.

As part of the “Hello Hong Kong” campaign that started on Thursday, 500,000 flight tickets will be given away over the next six months from March.

The tickets are issued by three Hong Kong airlines – Cathay Pacific, HK Express and Hong Kong Airlines.

The free tickets are part of the HK$2 billion (US$255 million) aid package the government offered to airlines in 2020 at the height of the pandemic.

The Hong Kong Tourism Board is also investing at least HK$100 million to support the initial phase of the campaign, the opening ceremony said.

But Hong Kong still faces a “dilemma” – its infrastructure needs some catching up to accommodate the surge in visitors, said Dane Cheng, executive director of the tourism association.

“I think we actually saw this dilemma from other markets and destinations when they reopened in the last year or so. It’s difficult to catch up…especially for the airlines, the airports and even the hotels,” he told CNBC.

“[But] They want to kickstart and … tell the world in a clear message that Hong Kong and then the mainland — we’ve finally reopened.

This is how the tickets are issued

The ticket giveaway will be phased, starting with Southeast Asian markets, followed by Mainland China and North Asia, and finally other parts of the world.

Around 80,000 tickets have also been reserved for Hong Kong residents, which authorities plan to issue in the summer.

The number of tickets for each region was based on “traffic shares” and pre-pandemic attendance numbers, Cheng said.

Fred Lam, CEO of the Hong Kong Airport Authority, also expects multiplier effects from the free tickets on the number of visitors.

The Asia-Pacific travel industry could fully recover by 2023, according to the World Travel & Tourism Council

“We hope that those who received the tickets will bring 2-3 more friends and family [to Hong Kong]read CNBC’s translations of Lam’s comments at the campaign opening ceremony.

“Although we are only issuing 500,000 airline tickets, we believe it will bring more than 1.5 million tourists arriving,” Lam added. That is about 10% of the total number of visitors expected during the campaign period.

How visitors can get their hands on these free tickets depends on “local market regulations and customs,” he said.

“[That] could include large-scale raffles on a first-come, first-served basis, offering buy-on-get-one free tickets, or through game participation,” Lam said.

“Clearly Reopened”

Hong Kong Finance Minister Paul Chan Mo-po (4th, right) speaks during the announcement of the Hello Hong Kong campaign on February 2, 2023.

Chen Yongnuo | China news service | Getty Images

On Friday, China said cross-border travel with Hong Kong and Macau would fully resume from February 6, scrapping mandatory pre-departure testing and lifting arrival quotas, according to a report by Reuters.

“I think it is very clear that the Hong Kong government and also our mainland central government have been very circumspect and they [made] it is very clear that everything wants to be resumed in an orderly and progressive manner,” said Cheng.

He added that before the pandemic, Hong Kong had “over 25 million overnight guests” each year and it will take the city some time to “get those numbers back”.

Return of MICE events in Hong Kong

Cheng said the past two to three years have been “difficult” for Hong Kong’s MICE (Meetings, Incentives, Conferences & Exhibitions) industry, which attracted more than 1.6 million overseas visitors in 2019 before the pandemic.

“In the last year or so, other countries, cities and destinations have started to open up, and of course we have some wonderful events that have been happening in Hong Kong for years,” Cheng said.

“Anchor Events [were] move out and they apologize: ‘We’re going to other places in Southeast Asia, to the Middle East,’ or some are just postponing or postponing.”

However, he said the city is now “confident” and “looks forward to welcoming visitors again”.

This can be seen in the Hello Hong Kong campaign, which will span more than 250 events and festivals through 2023 – including the Hong Kong Marathon, Clockenflap Music Festival and Hong Kong Rugby Sevens.

In addition, more than 100 international MICE events are planned for the year, the city’s tourism association announced.

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