A year later, the central government imposed a sweeping national security law that gave authorities wide latitude to criminalize speech and stifle dissent in a territory once known for its independent courts and freewheeling legislature and newspapers. Pro-democracy lawmakers were arrested in droves, and prominent media outlets were forced to close. (On Monday, several defendants will stand trial in the largest case yet involving the security law.)
Then, for most of the coronavirus pandemic, the government sealed the territory’s borders and imposed some of the world’s harshest restrictions on daily life.
Beaches were closed for weeks on end. Playground equipment was sealed off with police tape and chain-link fencing. Residential buildings were locked down because of a few positive cases. And, for a long while, almost everyone arriving in the city, including residents, faced a mandatory three-week hotel quarantine.
The announcements on Thursday were the government’s latest effort to rebuild Hong Kong’s cratered tourism industry. The city counted about 600,000 visitor arrivals last year, compared with more than 65 million in 2018, the year before the protests began.
In 2020, Hong Kong paid a public relations firm about $6 million to help it “reconnect with the world and relaunch as soon as possible,” as a senior official put it last year.
The government said this week that its six-month plane ticket giveaway, financed by a pandemic-era relief package, will initially target travelers from Southeast Asia and later those from the Chinese mainland and other locales. The majority of the tickets will be offered through airlines based out of Hong Kong, including Cathay Pacific, while others will be given away through tourism-related businesses.
Dino Chen, 26, who works in public relations in Hong Kong, said that while she thought the campaign could draw visitors in the short term, the “unclear” atmosphere in the city’s political and cultural spheres helped make the overall outlook for tourism uncertain. (One example: Before Hong Kong’s long-awaited M+ contemporary art museum opened in 2021, pro-Beijing figures criticized pieces in its collection as an insult to China and called for them to be banned.)