There’s plenty of Cathay Pacific-branded products and partner merchandise you can buy at the boutique Cathay retail store on the second floor of Hong Kong’s Cityplaza mall, located in the city’s eastern suburb of Quarry Bay.
But you can’t buy the thing for which Cathay Pacific is best known – a plane ticket.
And that’s with good reason, explains Paul Smitton, Director of Customer Lifestyle at Cathay Pacific.
Everyone already knows Cathay Pacific the airline; Smitton’s job (well, part of it) is to transform the Cathay brand into a ‘super-brand’ in Hong Kong, not to mention across Asia and even beyond.
This included the simplified Cathay name replacing the Marco Polo Club when the airline’s entire rewards and loyalty platform was relaunched in August 2022.
“We thought long and hard about that, and in the end we realised that ‘Cathay’ is often how people refer to the airline… they don’t necessarily say Cathay Pacific, they just say “I’m flying Cathay,”’ Smitton tells Executive Traveller.
“So for a frequent flyer to become a Cathay member was a nicer, stronger way to have that brand affinity.”
“And we are an airline, we’re Cathay Pacific, but we’re also many other things: shopping, holidays, wellness etc, which are all essentially extensions of that master brand.”
Part of Smitton’s efforts to burnish the Cathay brand’s mainstream appeal has seen the airline open a retail store at Hong Kong’s Cityplaza mall.
The carefully designed boutique store doesn’t look out of place alongside the efforts of Apple, Aesop, Nespresso and co, and takes some subtle cues from Cathay’s latest lounges such as The Pier (no coincidence that Ilse Crawford, who crafted Cathay’s new lounge look, also developed the Aesop store concept).
“It’s all about engaging with members in their everyday lives and making the Cathay brand relevant beyond flying, which actually helps reinforce that loyalty and the wider brand affinity.”
Visitors can purchase from the selection of “curated” products – and yes, do so using Asia Miles – as well as order them online and collect from the store as an alternative to home delivery.
“Obviously there’s only a limited number of products in the store, just around a hundred, whereas there’s several thousand online.”
As far as Smitton is aware, this is the first ‘airline loyalty’ store located in a shopping mall; even Lufthansa’s well-established WorldShip outlets are found only at a handful of airports in Germany.
“We saw an opportunity to go beyond that,” Smitton reflects, and after successfully trialling a pop-up store at Hong Kong’s Pacific Place mall “we looked at the demographics of our membership base and chose what would probably be described as a ‘mass affluent’ mall in Cityplaza” (it also didn’t hurt that Cityplaza is owned by Cathay parent Swire Group).
“It was positioned as a ‘brand experiential’ concept store, to use retail jargon,” Smitton says.
“There’s no point just being at any old shop so we had to think about our point of difference, part of which means we’ve gone for a really strong design aesthetic.”
“We’ve also got a really interesting range of products in the store, there’s Cathay-branded merchandise and also curated design-led products which fit that vibe.”
The store also provides Cathay with an additional showcase for promoting its own-branded credit cards issued through Standard Chartered, which not only earn Asia Miles for everyday spending but offer lounge passes and up to 100 Status Points per year to help members retain their Cathay status or climb another rung on the frequent flyer ladder.
Smitton is well aware that some long-time Marco Polo Club members have a dim view on the prospects of earning Status Points on the ground, fearing this could lead to over-crowding in lounges and reducing the ‘earned’ appeal of Cathay Gold and Diamond tiers.
For Smitten, it’s simply a way to acknowledge customers who despite high spending on Cathay credit cards, earn Asia Miles but no “recognition” from the airline – the recognition that status brings.
“But we’re also cognisant of flying as being the most important thing from a status perspective, so the number of Status Points you can get for non-flying activity is more of a booster as opposed to something that'll get you status in and of itself.”
Are more Cathay stores on the way? “Absolutely,” attests Smitton.
“Of course we’ve got to walk before we run, so now we’ve got the first one up and running, let’s see how that goes.”
“But on weekends, which are peak footfall, we’re already getting 4,000 to 5,000 people through the store just on a Saturday, and around a thousand people daily coming through midweek, placing an average order value of around 600-700 Hong Kong dollars… so it’s raced out of the gate really well.”
“So we’ll absolutely be looking at the airport terminal, looking at Pacific Place (also owned by Swire) and other locations around Hong Kong.”