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(CNN) — Hong Kong attracted around 56 million visitors a year before the pandemic, and now the popular destination is taking significant steps to win tourists back after over two years of some of the world's toughest travel restrictions.
Just days after dropping its longstanding mandatory hotel quarantine requirement, Hong Kong has confirmed plans to give away half a million airline tickets in a bid to boost tourism.
The move, first announced two years ago, was confirmed to CNN by a spokesperson from the Airport Authority Hong Kong (AAHK), which said that the 500,000 tickets, worth around $254.8 million, would go to global visitors, along with residents.
"Back in 2020, Airport Authority Hong Kong purchased around 500,000 air tickets in advance from the territory's home-based airlines as part of a relief package to support the aviation industry," says the spokesperson.
"The purchase serves the purpose of injecting liquidity into the airlines upfront, while the tickets will be given away to global visitors and Hong Kong residents in the market recovery campaign."
Travelers in the departure hall of Hong Kong International Airport on September 26.
Further details will be announced once the relevant arrangements have been made with airlines, they said.
Hong Kong has been largely cut off from the rest of the world due to its Covid-19 quarantine rules, which at one stage required incoming travelers to spend 21 days in a hotel room at their own expense, with only Hong Kong residents permitted entry.
The quarantine period had been reduced from seven to three days when it was officially scrapped on September 26, prompting droves of residents to log on to airline websites to book flights.
Cathay Pacific, the city's flag carrier, set up a virtual "waiting room" to access its website at one point, while online travel booking service Expedia saw a nine-fold surge in search for flights from Hong Kong to Tokyo and 11-fold for flights from Hong Kong to Osaka -- although interest in flights to Hong Kong remained unchanged, according to Lavinia Rajaram, Expedia's Asia head of public relations.
"We hope to give the maximum room to reconnect Hong Kong, and to revitalize our economy," Hong Kong's Chief Executive John Lee said in a press conference on Friday.
But while the hotel quarantine may have been lifted, visitors to Hong Kong still face various rules and restrictions before and after arriving.
Incoming international travelers must submit a pre-flight vaccination certificate, as well as a negative PCR test and rapid antigen test, before entering.
Once they've been permitted to enter, visitors are required to undergo a three-day self-monitoring period, during which time they're prohibited from eating in restaurants or visiting bars.
Visitors also need to complete PCR tests on days 2, 4 and 6 after arrival, and a rapid antigen test every day for seven days.