Hong Kong’s offer of free flights won’t be enough to immediately revive the city’s tourism sector after years of COVID restrictions, the head of the city’s airport predicted on Sunday.
Last week, the Chinese city announced its “Hello, Hong Kong” campaign: a series of events and incentives meant to attract visitors back to the city after the government rolled back almost all of its travel restrictions earlier this year. The centerpiece of the campaign: 500,000 free airplane tickets for potential visitors to be distributed from March onwards.
Yet Fred Lam, CEO of Hong Kong’s Airport Authority, which operates the city’s international airport, thinks the giveaway won’t be enough to bring Hong Kong back to its pre-pandemic heyday.
“We need at least 18 months to two years to return to pre-pandemic levels,” Lam told local radio on Sunday, according to the South China Morning Post. He predicted that inbound traffic would reach 80% of its pre-pandemic total by December.
Inbound traffic into Hong Kong is slowly recovering after almost three years of pandemic controls. Over 830,000 people flew into the city’s airport in January, according to data compiled by independent analyst David Webb.
That’s far more than some of the lows recorded during the pandemic, such as the mere 8,900 arrivals recorded in March 2022. Yet it’s still a far cry from the millions of visitors Hong Kong used to attract before the pandemic, such as the 56 million travelers recorded in 2019.
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