Hong Kong will give away 500,000 airline tickets worth HK$2 billion (US$254 million) as part of an effort early next year to entice travellers to visit the city once authorities remove all coronavirus restrictions for arrivals. Dane Cheng Ting-yat, executive director of the Tourism Board, on Wednesday said his organisation would be handling the advertising campaign for the scheme, which was expected to launch in early 2023, while the Airport Authority would distribute the tickets. “Once the government announces it will remove all Covid-19 restrictions for inbound travellers, we’ll roll out the advertising campaigns for the free air tickets,” he said. “The Airport Authority will finalise the arrangement with airline companies. The free plane tickets are not all for inbound tourists. Some of them will be given to outbound travellers, while some will be distributed via travel agents.” The Airport Authority set aside HK$2 billion in 2020 to buy about 500,000 tickets from airlines, including Cathay Pacific, Hong Kong Express and Hong Kong Airlines, to promote the city’s tourism industry once the pandemic eased. Chief Executive John Lee Ka-chiu is already under pressure from business groups and industry leaders to provide a road map outlining Hong Kong’s return to normality, including the lifting of all entry restrictions for inbound travellers. Official figures showed the number of inbound visitors to Hong Kong during the first eight months of this year reached 184,000, surpassing the 91,400 recorded for all of 2021. But the number was far below the 56 million people who visited in 2019. Hong Kong is finally axing hotel quarantine – here’s what you need to know In a bid to revive travel to Hong Kong, the government switched to a “0+3” entry scheme last week, scrapping the hotel quarantine requirement for arrivals in favour of a three-day surveillance period. As a part of the new measures, travellers must take Covid-19 tests daily for a week and are issued an amber health code barring them from venues that require vaccine checks, such as night spots and restaurants. In anticipation of the complete removal of all travel curbs, Cheng said the first phase of the global advertising campaign would focus on Asia and other short-haul markets. But the board would postpone any large-scale promotions directed at mainland China until the rest of the country’s entry restrictions were relaxed, he added. Meanwhile, the board itself would spend more than HK$100 million as part of separate efforts to entice visitors from around the world to come to Hong Kong, with arrivals to be greeted with various welcoming gifts and promotional offers, he said. “The campaign aims to say ‘hello’ to global visitors and tell them that Hong Kong welcomes them eagerly,” Cheng said. “The Tourism Board will work with various travel trade sectors such as airlines, tour operators and hotels to provide a wide range of deals and offers to actively entice visitors to come to Hong Kong.” The head of the board added that people from all walks of life would also feature in “teaser” advertisements on local attractions, including celebrities, artists and ordinary people. Absence of Chinese visitors is spoiling the Asia-Pacific tourism comeback The organisation has also invited more than 500 travel industry representatives, tourism-based media workers and key opinion leaders to visit the city, in addition to mobilising its global engagement programme Hong Kong Super Fans. A series of mega-events would also be held to showcase the dynamic and energetic nature of the city, including the Hong Kong Wine & Dine Festival in November, Cheng said. More than 400 restaurants would be offering thematic menus and discounts of up to 30 per cent for the occasion, he added. But the board chief said Hong Kong faced a lot of challenges attracting global visitors since other places had already removed their own entry restrictions and were scrambling to boost tourism numbers. “Even if Hong Kong lifts all the restrictions on arrivals, it really takes time for global visitors to return to Hong Kong. It also depends on whether airline companies would increase flights to Hong Kong,” Cheng said.