CATHAY Pacific Airways is to give away 500 flight tickets to get the Hongkong public flying again following the airline's 17-day strike - small beer compared to the 50,000 tickets offered worldwide in British Airways' (BA) massive give-away after the GulfWar. Cathay management had considered launching a much larger promotion immediately after the January strike, but changed its mind fearing that the plan could backfire if seen as insensitive. Since then, the airline has found that business has not been as badly damaged by the flight attendants' strike as initially expected, and it has diluted its promotion plans accordingly. Cathay expects to spend about $2 million on the promotion, which begins on Monday, compared with the GBP6 million (about HK$67.26 million) forked out by BA in its special offer extravaganza in 1991, which did a lot to kick-start the aviation industry again worldwide after the Gulf War. If BA's experience was anything to go by, it will be money well spent. Mr Rob James, BA's regional marketing manager, said the airline estimated the highly-publicised promotion had generated GBP50 million worth of free publicity worldwide. More than five million people around the world tried to win the free tickets. Cathay's promotion, ''Spring Around the World'', will be restricted to Hongkong residents. Anyone buying an outward-bound ticket on any class between March 15 and April 30 will qualify for an entry form, which they must return with the boarding pass and a copy of the ticket to the airline. The prizes are 100 double long-haul tickets to Europe, Australia, New Zealand, North America or South Africa; 100 double short-haul tickets to northeast Asia, southeast Asia, India and the Middle East; and 50 Discovery Tour holidays for two to a variety of beach destinations in Asia. The lucky draw winners will receive tickets on the same class as the boarding pass submitted, which will be valid for a year. All entrants will receive a Cathay travel bag. In addition, members of Cathay's Marco Polo Club for regular fliers will receive 50 per cent extra bonus miles for their privilege travel scheme during the promotion period. Cathay believes these promotions will serve as a good build-up to its forthcoming frequent-flier programme, to be run in conjunction with Singapore Airlines and Malaysian Airline System later this year. Trade is slack for Cathay at the moment, which general manager Raymond Yuen put down more to the time of year and worldwide recession than side-effects of the strike. The passenger load factor out of Hongkong was 65 per cent last month, just three per cent lower than in the period after last year's Lunar New Year. The period is traditionally a slack time for all airlines operating out of Hongkong. Mr Yuen said Cathay had been talking to travel agents and other airlines and come to the conclusion that the market was quite soft for everyone. He said bookings were coming in for the next traditionally busy period, Easter, but not as fast as had been expected. ''If we had really been hurt by the strike, we would have had to do something more dramatic,'' said Mr Yuen. ''We did look at a kick-start operation straight after the dispute, but we thought people would think it was strike-related. ''If we overdo it now, that might cause a strong reaction from the trade.'' The management has been treading a fine line, anxious not to lose any more customers.