Hong Kong (AP) — Hong Kong will give away air tickets and vouchers to woo tourists back to the international financial hub, racing to catch up with other popular travel destinations in a fierce regional competition.
During the pandemic, the city largely aligned itself with mainland China’s “zero-COVID” strategy and has relaxed its entry rules months slower than rivals such as Singapore, Japan and Taiwan. Even after it reopened its border with mainland China in January, tourism recovery was sluggish.
On Wednesday, Chief Executive John Lee launched a tourism campaign “Hello Hong Kong,” saying the city will offer 500,000 free air tickets to welcome tourists from around the world.
“Hong Kong is now seamlessly connected to the mainland of China and the whole international world and there will be no isolation, no quarantine," he said at a ceremony. “This is the perfect timing for tourists, business travelers, and investors from near and far to come and say, ‘Hello, Hong Kong.’”
Visitors can also enjoy special offers and vouchers among other incentives in the city, he said.
Hong Kong received 56 million visitors in 2019 — over seven times its population — before the pandemic began. But its strict COVID-19 restrictions have been keeping visitors away over the past three years, devastating the tourism sector and its economy. The city’s GDP last year fell 3.5 % from 2021, according to the government’s provisional data.
In the past few months, it 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% of the 2019 level.