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Singapore next in line for Hong Kong’s airline ticket giveaway, but first-day chaos, lengthy online waits put some off

South China Morning Post logo South China Morning Post 3/1/2023 Laura Westbrook
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Singaporean Devi Rajaram is hoping to fulfil her dream of visiting Hong Kong for the first time and be among 12,500 people to score a free airline ticket in a giveaway campaign that launches for residents of the city state on Thursday.

The 33-year-old, who works in media, told the Post she and her husband were excited to try their luck when registration opened on carrier Cathay Pacific Airways’ website at midday in Singapore.

“If I win, I can finally meet my two really good friends, who are like family to me, in their home after over a decade of knowing them,” she said.

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Devi said if either she or her husband won a free ticket, the other would pay the fare for the second one so they could travel together – exactly what the government was banking on with its “Hello Hong Kong” campaign, which has tasked four carriers with handing out more than 500,000 free airline tickets.

Authorities hope the campaign will attract 1.5 million visitors and provide a much-needed boost to tourism.

Hong Kong’s airline ticket giveaway: chaos, long waits for Southeast Asian hopefuls

Cathay’s “World of Winners” campaign will hand out 80,000 free round-trip tickets to people in Southeast Asian countries in March.

The carrier opened up registration for 17,400 round-trip economy-class tickets to Hong Kong from Thailand on Wednesday. Another 12,500 tickets for travellers from Singapore will be up for grabs on Thursday, and 20,400 from the Philippines on Friday. Tickets will also be allocated for tourists from Malaysia, Vietnam and Cambodia.

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Hong Kong Airlines, meanwhile, rolled out 6,000 round-trip “zero-dollar” tickets to the city from Bangkok, Hanoi and Manila on Wednesday.

But not everyone was satisfied. The long waiting times on the two carriers’ websites on Wednesday, amid a surge in visitor traffic, left some tourists blaming the chaos for denying them the chance to snag a free ticket.

One 35-year-old tech worker who lives in Bangkok and asked to be identified only as Mike said he had hoped to win one of Cathay’s tickets and joined the online queue when the giveaway opened, but the campaign ended before he was able to register.

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News about airline websites crashing and long waiting times also turned off Singaporeans such as Vinice Yeo, 26, a senior marketer who gave up plans to participate in the lucky draw as the effort to enter sounded like too much trouble.

“I’m not even going to try … I don’t win giveaways with 100 other submissions anyway, so competing with millions of others for this campaign does not seem worth the effort,” she said.

Another Singaporean, Josephine Tan, complained she did not understand why each winner could only get one free ticket.

“Usually people prefer to travel in a group. They should give away tickets at least in pairs,” said Tan, a property agent in her 50s. “It’s so boring if I have to travel alone.”

Still, she sent details of the giveaway to her friends and relatives, in the hope they could win tickets together.

Hong Kong tourism picks up as mainlanders return, but no boom yet for hotels, F&B

Tommy Tam Kwong-shun, chairman of the Society of IATA Passenger Agents, a coalition of the largest travel agencies in Hong Kong, said the giveaways would be positive for rebuilding the local tourism trade.

“As far as we heard, [they] were the talk of the town in many countries like Thailand, the Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia. Some tourists may reconsider or even switch their next travel destination to Hong Kong,” he said.

He added winners were unlikely to travel alone, so friends and family would be encouraged to also buy tickets.

“Hence, there will be some multiplier effects with the incoming tourist headcount,” he said.

Hello China: the 4 classes of tourist in ancient times, from emperors down

But Freddy Yip Hing-ning, president of the Hong Kong Travel Agent Owners Association, said the giveaway campaign alone would not lure more visitors to the city.

“Lowering airfares and accommodation [prices] would help more,” he said.

Hong Kong air passenger traffic in January reached 32 per cent of its pre-pandemic levels, with the airport handling 2.1 million travellers.

About 500,000 people visited the city that month, an almost 7,000 per cent increase over a year ago. The figure included about 84,000 visitors from short-haul destinations excluding mainland China and Macau, such as Taiwan, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand. Only 552 people from those markets visited the city in January last year.

The city is on the path of recovery following the end of Covid-19 restrictions on international arrivals in December and the resumption of quarantine-free travel with the mainland the following month.

On Wednesday the city removed its mask mandate, the last major pandemic restriction, after nearly three years.

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