Hong Kong offers 500,000 free flights from March to lure back visitors after tough Covid curbs

Hong Kong on Thursday unveiled a promotion campaign that will include 500,000 free flights to lure back visitors, businesses and investors to the financial hub after more than three years of tough Covid-19 curbs.

The “Hello Hong Kong” campaign was launched with dancers and flashing neon lights in the city’s main convention centre, next to its famous harbour, with a backdrop bearing the slogan in various languages including Russian and Spanish.

Hong Kong leader John Lee hailled the campaign as “probably the world's biggest welcome ever,” and said it would show that the city was open for tourism while boosting business and investment.

“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."'

Airlines Cathay Pacific, Hong Kong Express and Hong Kong Airlines will receive free flight tickets to be distributed to overseas visitors for six months from March 1, officials said.

Under the six-month campaign, most of the plane tickets - worth 2 billion Hong Kong dollars (£207m) - will come from the airlines through various promotional activities, including lucky draws, “buy one, get one free” promotions and games.

The airlines will distribute the tickets in phases, with the Southeast Asian markets set to benefit in the first stage.

An additional 80,000 air tickets will be given away to Hong Kong residents in the summer, while those living in the Greater Bay Area will also benefit from the policy, making a total of 700,000 tickets.

The Greater Bay Area is a Chinese government initiative to link Hong Kong with neighboring mainland cities.

Hong Kong was largely sealed off behind closed borders for much of the past three years in a bid to ward off Covid, with mandatory quarantine of up to three weeks for people arriving as well as intensive testing and screening.

The former British closely followed China’s zero-Covid policy until the middle of 2022 when it began to gradually unwind its rules.

Hong Kong dropped most of its remaining Covid rules in December but the wearing of masks remains mandatory unless exercising, as well as daily rapid antigen testing for students.

Mr Lee said Hong Kong would host sports and cultural events and highlight attractions such as the Palace Museum and M+ museum, as well as a revamped Peak Tram with special vouchers.

Upcoming events include the Clockenflap music festival, Hong Kong marathon and the Rubgy Sevens tournament.

Hong Kong received 56 million visitors in 2019 - over seven times its population - before the pandemic began, but received just 1% of that total in 2022 amid Covid curbs.