From temples to skyscrapers, museums and beautiful street markets, there are so many ways to enjoy Hong Kong. If you're really lucky, you might be able to do it for cheap-ish as the tourism board continues to give away free round-trip flights - leaving you with more money in the bag to enjoy all the good stuff Hong Kong has to offer.

The Hong Kong Tourism Board is encouraging arrivals now that borders have opened by giving away half a million plane tickets to international visitors.

The first part of the campaign opened to residents across Southeast Asia on March 1. Then, on April 1, people living in mainland China were eligible to apply. Now the next phase - which opens on May 9 - will apply to people living in the UK. 

Details on when travelers from the US, Europe and elsewhere can apply have yet to be released but it's likely the competition will extend to them sometime in May.

How can I get a free airline ticket to Hong Kong?

If you're living in the UK, you can enter your name into the flight-ticket lottery on the Hong Kong Airport website, or register via Cathay Pacific's website from 9am (GMT) on May 9. According to the tourism board, tickets will be awarded through a lottery system, or on a first come, first serve basis and buy-one-get-one-free purchases, so nothing is guaranteed. It's the luck of the draw in most cases.

The campaign covers airfare on round-trip economy-class flights. It’s important to note that if you win, you'll still have to pay any related surcharges, fees and taxes.

The competition will stay open for about a week with the winners contacted on May 15. Details on when people from elsewhere in the world can take part should be announced in the coming weeks.

Couple visit flea market in Hong Kong
Passengers can apply for free airline tickets on the Hong Kong Airport website © Getty Images

Why is this happening?

While Hong Kong’s borders reopened in mid-January, the return of tourist arrivals has been sluggish. It was only in December that Hong Kong ended social distancing, mandatory proof of vaccination and testing requirements for international visitors after aligning itself with mainland China’s zero-COVID strategy during the pandemic.

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Now, the tourism board hopes its plan, “Hello Hong Kong,” will entice visitors to return with up to 500,000 free round-trip airline tickets up for grab in what Hong Kong chief executive John Lee called “probably the world’s biggest welcome ever.”

All year long, events and festivals – such as Art Basel and the Dragon Boat Festival – will take place, and visitors will be eligible for discounts on food, drink, attraction admissions, accommodation and transport.

Endless crowds at a night market in Mongkok district.
Many visitors will also receive a welcome pack with discounts for food, drink and attractions ©  Getty Images

What discounts can I receive?

Arriving tourists will receive a welcome pack when they land in Hong Kong Airport that will give them discounts across 1500 attractions and services in the city. 

In a statement, the Hong Kong Tourism Board said that at least 1 million “Hong Kong Goodies” vouchers of value over HK$100 each would be given out to visitors, covering a complimentary welcome drink at participating bars, restaurants and hotels, or a cash voucher that can be redeemed against costs for local transport, accommodation and tourist attractions.

You can collect your welcome pack with vouchers from tourist-information desks in the arrival hall of Hong Kong Airport, as well as at the visitor desks at West Kowloon High-Speed Rail Station, Tsim Sha Tsui Star Ferry Piers and the Hong Kong–ZhuhaiMacau Bridge.

If I do go to Hong Kong, what events should I plan to see?

Hong Kong has planned about 250 events and festivals to tie in with the tourism campaign. Highlights include the Hong Kong Wine & Dine Festival, the Hong Kong Open, the Dragon Boat Festival and the Hong Kong Rugby Sevens.

When it comes to art, you can see the largest retrospective of Yayoi Kusama’s work in Asia (outside Japan) at the newly opened M+ museum (until September 2023). In July, the Palace Museum will host an opening exhibition featuring 900 pieces, some on loan from the Louvre in Paris and others on display for the first time.

Will this campaign give tourism the boost it needs in Hong Kong?

Hong Kong had been struggling to attract tourists even before the pandemic began. In 2019, the city was plunged into a recession after a series of widespread pro-democracy protests against the mainland government’s increasing control over civic life in Hong Kong brought the territory to a standstill. 

Police cracked down, often violently, and in 2020 China imposed a wide-ranging national security law that effectively silenced demonstrations and limited free speech. Hundreds of protestors, journalists and activists were arrested, including minors – and many visitors stayed away as other countries issued travel advisories for Hong Kong, encouraging visitors to exercise caution when planning a trip there. In turn, Hong Kong received 10 million fewer tourists in 2019 compared to the previous year. When tourist expenditure stalled, related industries including retail and hospitality took a battering—small-business owners even took to social media to appeal to people to visit their stores to keep businesses afloat.

Speaking at a press conference after the launch of “Hello Hong Kong,” Chief Executive John Lee said that Hong Kong is now ready to welcome tourists again. The city has removed inbound travel restrictions and the long-running mask mandate ended on March 1, though according to the UK Foreign Office, travelers should expect "greater scrutiny from mainland authorities at border crossings between the mainland and Hong Kong at this time".

Whether the campaign will generate enough interest to bring tourism back to pre-2019 levels remains to be seen.

This article was first published February 2023 and updated April 2023

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