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Hong Kong to Give Away 500,000 Free Airline Tickets for Tourists: How to Enter | Frommer's Shutterstock / TTstudio

Hong Kong to Give Away 500,000 Free Airline Tickets for Tourists: How to Enter

Hong Kong, one of the most fascinating and coolest cities on the planet, has had a rough time of things lately.

The city, which was largely built by heady colonialism and international exchange but is increasingly under the control of Beijing politicians, has faced dire scenarios in the political, epidemiological, and economic realms. Smashed hard by the pandemic and the reactions to it, Hong Kong only recently recovered enough from its troubles to admit foreign tourists without a lengthy quarantine period.

To try to entice visitors back to the city, Hong Kong is using US $250 million of its Covid relief funds to give away some 500,000 free round-trip airline tickets to travelers.

"This, ladies and gentlemen, is probably the world’s biggest welcome ever," said the city's chief executive, John Lee, during the announcement.

The free ticket giveaway will be happen in stages, with locals from Asia (a core tourism market for Hong Kong) prioritized first.

On March 1, people in Southwest Asia can apply. Starting April 1, mainland China becomes eligible as an origin. 

Not until May 1 will residents from outside Asia be allowed to apply for the free tickets, along with people from Northeast Asia—so mark your calendar.

Authorities have not announced how many tickets will be set aside for each region.

The Hong Kong Airport Authority will cover the cost of airfare for selected winners—although passengers, if selected, must pay for taxes and fees themselves.

To learn the rules, visit the official information webpage, which will furnish additional details for each region in turn as the dates arrive.

Applicants will be able to apply for the free flights through the three participating airlines: Cathay Pacific, Hong Kong Airlines (which covers mostly Asian destinations), and HK Express (which also doesn't fly to North America or Europe, so it won't be of use to travelers from there).

Not everyone who applies will come away with a free flight. Instead, free tickets "will be given away by different type of activities such as lucky draw, first-come-first-served, or 'Buy 1 or more—Get 1 Free,' as arranged by the participating airlines depending on airlines’ plan and local regulations," the announcement said. "Further details will be provided by the respective airlines on their websites when launching the ticket giveaway activities."

Other destinations have announced smaller but similar subsidy programs for tourists, but to be honest, in most cases, their execution has turned out to be a mixed bag. In past cases, we have struggled to hear about any reports of success. So let's hope that deep-pocketed Hong Kong, which created itself as one of the most awe-inspiring urban environments the world has ever seen, has enough élan to actually pull this off.

It would certainly make a difference to residents of North America, where normal economy airfare to Hong Kong can easily set you back $1,500.

This time, I'm hoping to hear plenty of success stories from deserving winners, making this more than a headline-grabbing publicity stunt.