Airline websites swamped as Hong Kong ticket giveaway takes off

Airline websites swamped as Hong Kong ticket giveaway takes off

HONG KONG: People hoping to take advantage of a Hong Kong scheme to give away half a million free airline tickets faced hours-long online queues on Wednesday (Mar 1), as the Asian financial hub bids to woo tourists back.

The city last month launched a campaign to reboot its reputation as “Asia’s world city”, after years of strict pandemic-related travel restrictions and a crackdown on sometimes violent anti-government protests.

On Wednesday, Hong Kong became one of the last places in the world to drop its outdoor mask mandate, which city leader John Lee said was a sign that it was “resuming normalcy”.

Tourism once comprised nearly 5 per cent of the city’s economy, but visitor figures plunged last year to 600,000 – less than 1 per cent of 2018 levels.

Hong Kong-based carriers Cathay Pacific and Hong Kong Airlines were the first companies to launch the government-backed “Hello, Hong Kong” ticket giveaway, which will roll out over several months.

Social media users complained of long online queues to register, and an AFP reporter encountered wait times of more than two hours on the Cathay Pacific website.

More than 55,000 users were waiting to access the offer, according to the reporter.

Cathay Pacific said it had allocated all 17,400 round-trip tickets from Thailand to Hong Kong within the first hour of the giveaway, despite it being scheduled to last seven days.

“We are very encouraged by the enthusiastic response,” the airline told AFP, adding that its website had functioned well during the registration period.

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