Cathay Pacific’s new country manager discusses expansion, their customer-centric approach and living a #lifewelltraveled

2017 may have been a difficult year for the aviation industry in general, but Cathay Pacific’s new country manager Lance Kwong has arrived in Vietnam to oversee exactly the opposite of what you’d expect at times like these—an expansion of the airline’s services. Last July, Cathay Pacfic (www.cathaypacific.com) added an extra flight to the 18 already departing weekly out of HCMC, while at the same time increased services out of Hanoi every week from 10 to 12. Many of the planes serving these routes have been upgraded during this period, bringing the average age of Cathay’s aircraft flying into Vietnam substantially below the fleet’s total average of 7.7.

“We do see very much potential for growth here in Vietnam,” says Kwong, “so that’s the primary reason why we’re adding all these frequencies and capacities. We’re still looking at some growth in terms of capacities and number of seats next year, pretty much reflecting our confidence in the market. This is not only happening on the passenger service side; we’ve also added one more freighter service per week out of Hanoi starting from September.”

Cathay’s broadening commitment to Vietnam is based on solid financial forecasts for the local economy’s likelihood of  sustained growth over the next five years and beyond. “We do see a huge potential here and continue to have very strong confidence in the Vietnamese market,” affirms Kwong, “including both outbound tourists, which is the major target audience we’re looking after, as well as passengers who are coming to Vietnam from other parts of the world. Tourist numbers have been on the rise for a very long time.”

Cathay Pacific

While competition from low cost carriers and other full service airlines is high in this market, Cathay Pacific’s premium long-haul network (reaching 198 destinations across the globe) continues to rate highly among increasing numbers of Vietnamese residents going abroad. The airline added connections to Tel Aviv and Barcelona this year, while services to Copenhagen, Brussels and Dublin are due to commence shortly.

Working with Cathay Pacific for the past eight years, Kwong’s previous posts in the US and China have given him plenty of opportunity to reflect on what is distinctive about the airline. “We launched a marketing campaign about two years ago, Life Well Traveled,” he remembers. “That really goes back to the values of the company. A life well traveled eventually leads to a life well lived.” “The question is, how do we enable a life well traveled?” continues Kwong. “The corporate, philosophical way is essentially how much do we understand our customers and how do we put them at the center of everything that we do? There are different aspects, starting from the hardware—it’s a really young fleet. When you go into the cabin, it’s well-maintained. More importantly, the maintenance and reliability of the aircraft is much better, meaning more reliable operations. Then there’s the software, the service. If you talk to any service staff from Cathay, they’re all working around our principle of Service Straight From The Heart. It’s not only about fulfilling a job, it’s more about delivering the service, not just following the standard operating procedures. If you treat people the way you would like to be treated and are able to take care of the passengers even during very difficult situations, that is really key.”

Kwong’s tenure in Vietnam coincides with a moment of change and transformation for Cathay Pacific, a strengthening of its customer-centric approach. With such unreserved confidence in the Vietnamese market, passengers can expect to see services continue to expand in this country and an increased focus on flyer comfort and convenience.

“A lot of things are related,” says Kwong. “The way we maintain our aircraft, how we do the checks, maintaining a very good safety record—the best among all the airlines. And even for the very small things that we do in-flight, no matter whether it’s our entertainment system, our cuisine partnering with hotels and chefs to make something different and special for the passengers, we don’t give in on any single detail. We just make sure it’s a great journey experience for customers, so that they’re well taken care of and travel well, in order to live life well.”

Portrait by Ngoc Tran