In a bid to further attract visitation to the city, Hong Kong’s Chief Executive has announced that the city will be handing out 500,000 free airline tickets.

The tickets will first go to people in Southeast Asia, before the plan is expanded to other markets.

The SAR’s top three carriers – Cathay Pacific, HK Express and Hong Kong Airlines – will distribute the free tickets starting in March via their overseas offices and through games, lucky draws and “buy one, get one free” promotions.

Expectations are that each visitor with a free ticket will bring along two or three companions, with hopes the scheme will draw in 1.5 million visitors – or some 10 percent of the arrivals expected in the first half of the year.

Some 80,000 free plane tickets will also be given to Hong Kong residents in the summer, with another 80,000 destined for people living in the Greater Bay Area.

At least HK$100 million ($12.75 million) in another promotional campaign is scheduled, with at least 1 million vouchers to be distributed to tourists, worth HK$100 ($12.75) each.

The vouchers can be used for food and beverages, shopping or transportation.

Speaking of the promotional campaigns, the city’s top official noted it was “probably the world’s biggest welcome ever”. The move also bodes well for Macau, which doesn’t require testing measures or quarantine for those arriving from Hong Kong, mainland China or Taiwan.

Hong Kong will also be welcoming business professionals, politicians and media leaders as part of its promotional push.

“They will take home their fond experience and memories of Hong Kong, and share them with their personal and business circles. Like a ripple, our compelling appeal as a metropolis that is wide open for business and leisure will continue to spread and reach different parts of the world,” Lee noted.

The new promotional campaign bodes well for Hong Kong’s flagship carrier Cathay Pacific, which says that profitability could be back on the radar, despite expecting a net loss of HK$7 billion in 2022 ($890 million).

Improvement was seen in the second half of the year though, with the group’s CEO telling media that “I’m very confident that the trend will continue this year and we will see continuous improvement in our performance”.

Expectations are for the carrier to ramp up to 70 percent of its pre-pandemic flight schedule by the end of the year and be at full capacity by the end of 2024.

But some restrictions are hampering this, such as those implemented by Japanese authorities on Hong Kong flights, resulting in the company cutting 48 flights to and from Japan in the next two months. Expectations are for these restrictions to be lifted by March.