Hong Kong’s offer of free flights will not be enough to quickly revive the city’s tourism sector after years of COVID restrictions, the city’s airport chief predicted on Sunday.
Last week, the semi-autonomous Chinese city announced its “Hello, Hong Kong” campaign: a series of events and incentives to attract visitors back to the city after the government lifted nearly all travel restrictions earlier this year. Chain. The centerpiece of the campaign: 500,000 free plane tickets will be distributed to potential visitors starting in March.
Yet Fred Lam, CEO of the Airport Authority of Hong Kong, which operates the city’s international airport, thinks the cheap route will not be enough to return Hong Kong to the days before the pandemic.
“We need at least 18 months to two years to return to pre-pandemic levels,” Lamm told local radio on Sunday. south china morning post, He predicted that by December, inbound traffic would reach 80% of its pre-pandemic total.
Hong Kong’s incoming traffic is slowly recovering after nearly three years of epidemic control. More than 830,000 people flew into the city’s airport in January, according to data compiled by independent analyst David Webb.
This is far higher than some of the shortfalls recorded during the pandemic, such as the mere 8,900 arrivals recorded in March 2022. Yet it is still a far cry from the millions of visitors it used to attract 56 million travelers before the pandemic. Registered in 2019.
Hong Kong could use an economic boost. The city’s economy is projected to shrink 3.5% in 2022, yet the government said on Wednesday it expected to see a recovery in services activity in 2023, thanks in particular to an “expected strong return of inbound tourism” from mainland China. . As of Monday, people who have been in Hong Kong for at least seven days can now enter mainland China without any testing or quarantine requirements.
‘Hong Kong may not be their priority’
Hong Kong has lifted almost all of its travel restrictions in relation to the COVID pandemic. Visitors to Hong Kong only need to have a negative COVID test result before departure.
For most of the pandemic, Hong Kong had some of the world’s toughest rules for foreign arrivals. Authorities require most international arrivals to quarantine in a hotel for three weeks. At times arrivals from high-risk countries are completely barred from entering the city, forcing Hong Kong residents to “washing out” elsewhere.
The authorities also imposed heavy restrictions on airlines. If a given flight crosses a certain threshold of positive cases, the authorities will suspend flight routes for two weeks. There was also a risk of airline employees being sent into government quarantine if health officials found a positive case among them.
These regulations prompted several carriers such as British Airways and Virgin Atlantic to suspend flights to Hong Kong altogether. More than 40% of airlines that flew to Hong Kong before the pandemic have stopped south china morning post,
While some airlines have resumed flights, Lam acknowledged that progress was slow. “Many airlines have said that flights can come back only after March,” he said on Sunday. Lam said her team would appeal directly to foreign airlines, and “knock on their doors” to get them to get flights back on their schedules.
“Hong Kong may not be their priority,” he said.
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