‘Biggest giveaway ever’ gives way to rejuvenation

On Feb 2, when Chief Executive John Lee Ka-chiu posed on the stage to welcome tourists from all over the world as he officiated at the Hello Hong Kong campaign launch ceremony, the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region witnessed the first wave of its revival. 

Along with the half-a-million free air tickets — dubbed the biggest giveaway ever for the city to welcome its beloved tourists — came the unveiling of a series of promotional activities highlighting the many new attractions, developments and opportunities for visitors coming to Hong Kong. The rolling out of the free tickets starts on March 1 in Asia and in May for visitors from Europe and the United States; tips on how to win the free tickets, however, went viral on social media in mid-February.

Of the reopening of Hong Kong and its leap back to normalcy, officials and stakeholders in the city held that — despite criticisms of the delayed process compared with other Asian cities — “the timing was perfect for tourists, investors, entrepreneurs and innovators to come and experience the vibrancy of the city and seize opportunities to flourish”. 

Also, speaking at a news conference immediately after the launch ceremony, Financial Secretary Paul Chan Mo-po said the Hello Hong Kong campaign would tell people around the world that Hong Kong is “back again” through its HK$2 billion ($255 million) campaign to promote its bright economic prospects, fresh cultural vision and new tourism and mega event experiences. 

Hong Kong is definitely back on track. While the city started to reopen a few months ago, a full reopening was very necessary. Arrivals to Hong Kong in December last year were only 5 percent of those seen in the same month of 2019. According to data obtained from the Hong Kong Tourism Board, the city saw 3.2 million arrivals in December 2019, and only 160,578 last December. Cathy Pacific saw over 1.03 million passengers in January, a nearly fortyfold year-on-year increase and the first time that the number of monthly passengers has topped 1 million since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Promising as this looks, the momentum has still taken time to gather pace. The city’s economy had shrunk by 3.5 percent in 2022, yet the government said earlier that it hopes to see a recovery in services activity in 2023 thanks to “an expected strong rebound in inbound tourism”, particularly from the Chinese mainland.

In addition to this, the city has lost thousands of residents since the pandemic started (some perhaps due to the pandemic restrictions), which has put Hong Kong at risk of facing a talent shortage.

Is the situation grim? No, not at all.

Removing the travel restrictions and launching promotion campaigns like Hello Hong Kong will definitely reboot the city’s competitiveness, which will allow Hong Kong not only to maintain but also to enhance its role as one of the world’s most important financial centers.

Hong Kong undoubtedly offers many opportunities to companies and individuals, both local and from all over the world.

The city is currently involved in many projects that will strengthen its status as one of the world’s most important financial centers, such as the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area development. In China’s 14th Five-Year Plan (2021-25), the central government again recognizes Hong Kong’s potential at the national level and has reaffirmed its commitment to support the HKSAR in strengthening its status as an international financial, trade and logistics hub.

In addition to the huge importance that the GBA will play in Hong Kong’s future, we can also mention other opportunities such as fintech development in the city, the SAR’s entry into the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership trade agreement and the Connect Schemes.

Moreover, increasing the number of tourists from the mainland and overseas, as well as organizing more large-scale conferences and events, will definitely help Hong Kong not only regain its pre-pandemic glory but shine brighter.

Hong Kong has very wisely gotten rid of all the remaining entry restrictions, which will undoubtedly allow the SAR to make the most of 2023 after fully reopening again to the world.

To sum up, Hong Kong is currently involved in many projects that will not only help it maintain its status as one of the world’s most important financial centers but also enhance it, such as the GBA development, Hong Kong’s development of fintech and its new links with the mainland financial markets. Hong Kong still has some challenges ahead, but 2023 seems bright nonetheless, much brighter than the past three to four years.

The author is a fintech adviser, researcher and a former business analyst for a Hong Kong publicly listed company.

The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.