Hong Kong is giving away free plane tickets to travelers

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(CNN) – Hong Kong attracted around 56 million visitors a year before the pandemic, and now the popular destination is taking significant steps to bring tourists back after more than two years of the world’s toughest travel restrictions.

Just days after lifting a long-standing mandatory hotel quarantine requirement, Hong Kong has confirmed plans to give away half a million airline tickets in a bid to boost tourism.

The move, announced two years ago, was confirmed to CNN by a spokesperson for the Airport Authority of Hong Kong (AAHK), who said 500,000 tickets, worth about $254.8 million, would go to international visitors, along with residents.

“In 2020, the Hong Kong Airport Authority purchased approximately 500,000 air tickets in advance from the territory’s domestic airlines as part of an aid package to support the aviation industry,” the spokesperson said.

“The acquisition is aimed at injecting liquidity into the airlines, and the tickets will be issued to global visitors and Hong Kong residents in a campaign to revive the market.”

‘Recovery Campaign’

Passengers at the departure hall of Hong Kong International Airport on September 26.

Marc Fernandes/NurPhoto/AP

More details will be announced after the relevant agreements are made with the airlines, they said.

Hong Kong has been largely cut off from the rest of the world due to Covid-19 quarantine rules, and at one point inbound travelers had to spend 21 days in a hotel room at their own expense, with only Hong Kong residents allowed in.

The quarantine was reduced from seven days to three days when it was officially lifted on September 26, and many citizens logged on to airline websites to book flights.

Cathay Pacific, the city’s flag carrier, set up a virtual “waiting room” for instant access to its website, while online travel booking service Expedia saw a nine-fold increase in searches for flights from Hong Kong to Tokyo and an 11-fold increase. Flights from Hong Kong to Osaka — Interest in flights to Hong Kong remained unchanged, according to Lavinia Rajaram, Expedia’s Asia PR manager.

“We hope to give Hong Kong the greatest opportunity to reconnect and revive our economy,” Hong Kong Chief Executive John Lee said at a press conference on Friday.

But even though hotel quarantine has been lifted, visitors to Hong Kong still face a number of rules and restrictions before and after arrival.

International passengers must present a pre-flight vaccination certificate, as well as a negative PCR test and rapid antigen test, prior to entry.

When allowed to enter, visitors must undergo a three-day self-control period, during which they are prohibited from eating in restaurants or going to bars.

Visitors must also undergo PCR testing on days 2, 4, and 6 after arrival, and a rapid antigen test daily for seven days.

CNN’s Maggie Hiufu Wong, Simone McCarthy, Kathleen Maggramo and Jake Kwon also contributed to this report