With a 53-year history in Japan, Cathay Pacific is certainly one of the best known foreign airlines. Although it has been a tough two years for airlines flying to and from Japan since the March 11, 2011 disaster, load factors are recovering.
Overseeing Cathay Pacific’s operations in Japan is General Manager Clarence Tai. Tai first came to Japan as a student when he was 18. He studied for four years at International Christian University in Tokyo. He joined Dragonair in 1995. After Cathay Pacific bought into Dragonair in 2006, Tai has worked in Taiwan, China and Japan. He has been in his current position for just over a year.
Japan Today visits Tai in the airline’s offices in Shiodome to hear more about what the airline is doing and to get a great view of the Rainbow Bridge.
How many flights does Cathay Pacific operate to Japan each week?
We have 120 flights a week from six cities, seven airports. – Haneda, Narita, Osaka, Nagoya, Fukuoka, Sapporo and Okinawa.
How are load factors?
Load factors are getting better so far this year compared to the last quarter. But it is still not up to our expectations. Last year’s island dispute between Japan and China had some impact, both inbound and outbound.
How popular are Haneda flights?
Very popular, but Narita also holds up well. We expected that after the launch of our Haneda services, Narita would drop. But that hasn’t been the case. A lot of travelers from Chiba and other parts of Japan use Narita.
How would you describe the airline’s image in Japan?
We are very well known because we have a 53-year history in Japan. Our market research shows the image of Cathay as being professional, an international airline and that it is an airline of choice for business people and OLs.
How do you market the airline?
We are a premium carrier selling not just a seat on a plane, but also a destination. We have tried a lot of different ways to advertise. We have some billboards at Haneda and a lot of newspaper and magazine ads. We don’t do any TV ads these days. We also use Facebook, Twitter and our own website.
The important point is that we are selling a destination, not just a seat on a plane. So the Hong Kong Tourism Board is a major partner when we run campaigns.
What campaigns are you currently running?
We are promoting Europe at a fare of 48,000 yen (without fuel surcharge added on) to six destinations until early August.
We have also started a "Dangan fare," which is a special 18,000 yen (excluding fuel surcharge) fare for a one-day trip to Hong Kong. It is applicable on flights departing from Narita, Osaka or Nagoya in the morning on Saturdays and Sundays until July 7, and departing from Hong Kong to Japan (only Narita or Osaka) late at night on the same day you depart from Japan.
For instance, if you depart from Narita at 9:40 a.m. on CX509 and arrive in Hong Kong 13:25, you then spend the afternoon and evening in Hong Kong and return on board CX524 that departs from Hong Kong at 01:00, arriving at Narita 6 a.m. the next day.
Are there any plans to include the fuel surcharge in the advertised fare?
Fuel prices are still very high, about 10% higher than last year, but we want the fare structure to be transparent and we want our customers to know what the proportion of the fuel surcharge is. However, fuel surcharges change quite often and because of the frequency of change, it is quite difficult for us to show a total fare.
Are online bookings increasing?
Online bookings are increasing in Japan but at a slower pace compared to other countries. People here still like using travel agents to manage their bookings and having face-to-face contact. Our relationship with travel agents is very important. Our sales team work closely with them on summer and winter group packages – 3-4 months in advance.
What would you say are Cathay Pacific’s strengths?
Our people and services make the difference -- not just in-flight, but the entire experience from when a customer picks up a phone to inquire about our flight schedules. That’s when we start serving our customers. Another advantage is our network – Hong Kong is a convenient hub for flights to Australia, Southeast Asia and Europe.
What is the average age of your aircraft?
About 10 years.
Is there still a demand for first class?
I think so. From Hong Kong, we fly to London, New York, Tokyo, Singapore and Australia, and on all those routes, there is still a demand for first-class products.
How do you think low-cost carriers (LCCs) will change the industry in Japan?
They are here to stay in Japan. It is a fact of life and we have to deal with it as we have everywhere else. They are competitors just like any other airline. What I would like to see from the Japanese government regarding LCCs is more transparency and fairness in terms of airport user charges, future development plans, priorities.
How do you get feedback from passengers?
We have a call center and we do inflight surveys. We keep track of all the results each month and spend a lot of time reviewing online comments, both complaints and compliments.
Could you give us some examples of complaints?
Recently, we had a complaint from a passenger out of Osaka. He said our food in the Osaka lounge was not hot enough. The he said: “When I checked in my bags on my return flight, your staff at the airport didn’t help me put away the trolley after I had checked in my bags.” The expectations from Japanese customers are quite high.
Service straight from the heart is something we talk about every day and include these elements into our training for staff, especially ground staff who are on the frontline whenever something happens.
What is a typical day for you?
I show up about 8:30 a.m. I try to minimize meetings and encourage staff not to become slaves to emails. I go to Haneda and Narita airports at least once or twice a month. Sometimes, I do secret visits to observe the operations.
When you’re not working, how do you like to relax?
I like to ski and go snowboarding in winter and play golf in summer.© Japan Today