Hong Kong to donate half a million plane tickets to boost tourism

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

As part of the “Hello Hong Kong” campaign, which was launched on Thursday, 500,000 plane tickets will be distributed over the next six months, starting in March.

Tickets will be distributed by three Hong Kong carriers – Cathay Pacific, HK Express and Hong Kong Airlines.

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

The Hong Kong Tourism Board is also investing a minimum of HK$100 million in promoting the initial phase of the campaign, he said at the launch ceremony.

But Hong Kong still faces a “dilemma” – its infrastructure has some catching up to do to accommodate the surge in visitor numbers, said Dane Cheng, executive director of the tourism board.

“I think that dilemma, we’ve seen in other markets and destinations when they’ve started to reopen over the last year or so. It’s hard to catch up…especially for airlines, airports and even hotels,” he told CNBC.

“[But] you want to kick off and…tell the world in a clear message that Hong Kong and then the mainland – we’ve finally reopened.

How tickets are assigned

Ticket distribution will be staggered: it will begin with the Southeast Asian markets, followed by Mainland China and North Asia, and finally, other parts of the world.

Some 80,000 tickets have also been reserved for Hong Kong residents which authorities intend to distribute this summer.

The ticket count for each region was based on “traffic shares” and pre-pandemic visitor numbers, Cheng said.

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

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“We hope that those who received the tickets will bring 2-3 other friends and family with them. [to Hong Kong]“, according to CNBC’s translations of Lam’s comments at the campaign launch event.

“Even if we only distribute 500,000 air tickets, we believe it will attract more than 1.5 million inbound tourists,” Lam added. This represents approximately 10% of the total number of visitors expected during the campaign period.

As for how visitors can get their hands on these free tickets, it will depend on “local market regulations and customs”, he said.

“[That] could include large-scale raffles, distribute it on a first-come, first-served basis, offer free tickets to buy on one, or through game entries,” Lam said.

“Very clearly reopened”

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

“I think it is very clear that the Hong Kong government as well as our mainland central government have been very careful and they [made] it is very clear that everything must resume in an orderly and gradual manner,” Cheng said.

He added that before the pandemic, Hong Kong had “more than 25 million overnight visitors” every year, and it will take time for the city to “recover” those numbers.

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 and exhibitions) industry, which attracted more than 1.6 million overseas visitors in 2019, before the pandemic.

“About last year, other countries, cities and destinations started to open up and of course we have wonderful events that have been going on in Hong Kong for years,” Cheng said.

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

However, he said the city was now “confident” and “looking forward to receiving visitors again”.

This can be seen through its “Hello Hong Kong” campaign, which features a 2023 lineup of over 250 events and festivals, including the Hong Kong Marathon, Clockenflap Music Festival and Hong Kong Rugby Sevens.

More than 100 international MICE events are also planned for the year, the city’s tourism board said.

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