Hong Kong announced it was giving away half a million free flights in what it described as the “world’s biggest welcome ever” after three years of tough Covid restrictions have dented its reputation as a global travel hub. cancel.
The £200 million “Hello Hong Kong” campaign is designed to lure visitors back to experience the “hustle and bustle” of the city.
There will be “no isolation, no quarantine and no restrictions”, city leader John Lee promised at the launch event against a backdrop of dancers, flashing neon lights and slogans in several languages including Russian and Spanish.
“This is the perfect time for tourists, business travelers, and investors from far and wide to come and say, ‘Hello, Hong Kong’,” he said.
“This, gentlemen, is probably the greatest reception the world has ever seen.”
The flight promotion will open in March and flights will be distributed through promotions and lucky draws run by local airlines Cathay Pacific, HK Express and Hong Kong Airlines. A further 80,000 tickets will be made available to residents during the summer, and the destinations have not yet been announced by the carriers.
The authorities hope to revive the fortunes of the former British colony by telling “good stories” about “business opportunities, cultural attractions and tourist experiences” after a long series of damaging headlines that began with the harsh crackdown on rallies on for democracy in 2019.
The introduction of a national security law in 2020, which carries heavy prison sentences for opposing Beijing’s rule, has led to a mass exodus of Hong Kong’s own citizens and professional talent.
This week, it emerged that around 144,500 people have left Hong Kong and moved to the UK in the two years since London launched an emigration scheme for British National (Overseas) passport holders – a policy Robert Jenrick, the Home Minister, approved. Hongkongers “enjoy all the freedoms we enjoy here.”
The city’s woes have been compounded by cutting itself off for much of the past three years as it imposed some of the world’s strictest Covid curbs, including quarantines of up to three weeks and mandatory stays in facilities isolation of the government.
Mask wearing remains mandatory
The strict zero-Covid policy kept the city largely virus-free until the deadly Omicron outbreak in early 2022. But it also saw more than 130 international companies close their offices, reducing the workforce amid fears of brain drain and the economy contracting. by 3.5 percent.
Hong Kong, along with mainland China, did not open its borders until January of this year, making it one of the last Pandemic holdouts other than North Korea.
Mask wearing remains mandatory except during exercise, along with daily rapid antigen testing for students.
At the launch event, Mr Lee said Hong Kong would host sporting and cultural events and highlight attractions such as the Palace Museum and the M+ museum, as well as a renovated Peak Tram with special vouchers.
Upcoming events include the Clockenflap music festival, the Hong Kong marathon and the Rugby Sevens competition.
“We need to let outsiders know that Hong Kong has a unique status, especially when the principles of ‘one country, two systems’ will be implemented in Hong Kong for a long time,” he said.
Mr Lee, a former security chief, is currently under US sanctions for his role in sniffing out the 2019 anti-government protests.
The top US diplomat in Hong Kong, Greg May, said last week that the city’s reputation as a financial center will depend on its ability to uphold human rights.
“Our view has always been that Beijing’s actions could force many of the city’s best and brightest to flee,” he said.