DestinationsThe big giveaway is working, but full recovery waits for more airline capacity from China.

No quick fix for Hong Kong despite free tickets

Adding back airline capacity, starts fast, slows quickly, says OAG.
Adding back airline capacity, starts fast, slows quickly, says OAG. Photo Credit: Adobe Stock/Skórzewiak

Giving away free tickets for flights may grab the headlines, but will the gimmick provide a quick fix to restore post-pandemic tourist arrivals?

Not necessarily so, says aviation data analyst OAG, which has taken a close look at Hong Kong’s visitor economy in the months since it removed barriers to entry in December 2022.

The Hong Kong Tourism Board gave away 700,000 free air tickets via Cathay Pacific, HK Express, Hong Kong Airlines and Greater Bay Airlines to travellers in South-east Asia, China, North-east Asia and Europe, in hopes the big giveaway will generate a faster recovery in tourist numbers.

Following its reopening, Hong Kong has rapidly added back more than half a million seats, growing airline capacity to 1.7 million in March 2023, 56% below 2019 levels.

However, as OAG notes, “We’ve seen from Asia’s slow reopening, adding back capacity to reach the mid-way point of recovery tends to be fast.

“But it is getting across that 80% recovery line that proves to be tricky, and with Hong Kong so reliant on Northeast Asia for its capacity, it’s going to be a slow burn to reach back to 2019 levels.”

Cathay Pacific has done its best to help the recovery by adding back capacity at a fast pace but OAG – and everyone else, for that matter – concedes Hong Kong's aviation recovery “is inextricably linked to Greater China's reopening”.

OAG’s forward-looking scheduled data doesn’t point to much of an uplift in seat capacity from China by June 2023, reaching 356k seats – “but we need to take that with a pinch of salt, as we know that China tends to adjust their airline schedules very late, and we expect to see much more additional capacity”, the data analyst suggests.

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