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Cathay plans promotions to woo public


CATHAY Pacific is poised to launch two major promotions to get the Hongkong public flying again after the 17-day flight attendants' strike.

Now that employees are back, management said it was focused on winning back public sentiment and regaining lost market share.

''The message is, we're back in business, the same if not better than before, wiser and more anxious to serve,'' said Mr Arthur Bullard, general manager for marketing and passenger product.

''We want to put the strike behind us and if people want to complain about disruption caused to them during the strike, then please call us.'' Cathay was tight-lipped yesterday about precise details of the promotions for fear of tipping off the competition, but hinted they would be spring-holiday orientated.

It did reveal that there would be a competition and holidays could be given away.

But ticket discounting was ruled out. ''We don't want to start a price war with our competitors because that would do long-term damage to our business,'' said Mr Bullard.

One promotion will target frequent fliers, while another will be more broad-based.

The promotions, which could begin in two weeks, will be restricted to Hongkong and Taiwan, the two markets most damaged.

Cathay emphasised it first wanted to resolve any remaining differences with the Flight Attendants' Union.

''Things have returned to normal and it is in our interest to restore harmony,'' said Mr Bullard.

The airline still has not worked out the direct cost of the strike, but estimates it ranged between $5 million and $25 million a day, depending on the number of flights it was able to operate itself.

The company wants to keep its regular customers, especially the 15,000 local and 40,000 worldwide who belong to its Marco Polo Travellers' Club, many of whom flew with rival airlines during the dispute.

Cathay is tracing all Marco Polo customers who had bookings during the strike to find out what disruptions they encountered, credit them with lost special-offer travel miles and compensate them where necessary.

Letters were sent to Marco Polo club members during the strike explaining the airline's position.

Two market surveys have been commissioned since the strike to determine the effects on both the public and travel agents.

Research was also carried out during the strike.

Cathay said it wanted to know what problems were encountered and how they were handled so it could learn for the future.

The company began advertising its newly expanded complaints telephone hotline on Monday.

As of yesterday, Cathay said it had received only 10 complaints.

Mr Charlie Stewart-Cox, passenger marketing and sales manager, said Cathay had no plans to increase its advertising budget to get passengers flying again.

However, he said the campaign would be changed from concentrating on long-term image to regenerating interest in flying.

It is hard to tell how much market share Cathay has lost.

It has been flying between 9,000 and 11,000 passengers a day this week, not much lower than normal for this time of year.

But advance bookings are down, partly because Cathay asked travel agents not to take any new bookings during the two weeks of the disruption to January 31.