VANCOUVER – The crowd was buzzing with anticipation. Music was playing. And a large piece of Hong Kong was on display in the form of a large cake featuring the iconic buildings of Hong Kong’s skyline.
It was a party mood at Gate D65 in the International Terminal at Vancouver Airport (YVR), as Hong Kong Airlines made its inaugural flight into Vancouver on June 30, marking the airline’s first route to North America. On board was the airline’s Brand Ambassador, Jackie Chan, the Hong Kong-born martial artist and celebrated actor.
After a 12-hour flight across the Pacific, Hong Kong Airlines flight HX80 landed at YVR on runway 26R, and while taxiing to the gate, was welcomed with a water cannon salute.
With the sounds of Carl Douglas’ 1974 hit “Kung Fu Fighting”, YVR’s President and CEO, Craig Richmond, was the first of the special guests to deplane. Chan followed soon after.
Richmond is proud of the role that Vancouver plays in connecting Asia with North America. It’s a strategy that has taken off in recent years. The number of Asian carriers serving YVR is impressive, especially considering that Vancouver’s population is relatively small at just 2.5 million.
There are eight carriers alone serving YVR from Mainland China and Hong Kong.
“This latest offering by Hong Kong Airlines provides more opportunity for business and tourism,” Richmond said at the launch press conference. “And the large number of flights between Vancouver and Hong Kong is good for consumers because it keeps fares low.”
With Hong Kong Airlines’ daily flight, there are now three carriers providing 24 flights a week between the two cities. Hong Kong Airlines’ rival Cathay Pacific alone operates 17 of those flights.
George Lui, Chief Marketing Officer for Hong Kong Airlines, isn’t afraid of the competition and points to the capacity on this route as proof of a mature market with a lot of demand. In fact, Canadians make up the largest expat population in Hong Kong, and according to Lui, more than 400,000 Canadians travel to Hong Kong annually.
A few days before the launch of the Hong Kong Airlines’ service, YVR’s Communications department released a clever video trailer they produced titled Rumble at YVR, a takeoff on Jackie Chan’s 1995 film Rumble in the Bronx (which ironically was filmed in Vancouver).
In the YVR version, the airport’s CEO is seen running, doing chin-ups and push-ups, and lifting bags, as he prepares for a kung fu battle with the legendary Chan.
Richmond talked about going to Hong Kong in search of a kung fu master. He found Jackie Chan, who much to the delight of guests exited the aircraft and was now center stage with the airport CEO. Chan still has the moves, and sensing he was no match for the master, Richmond quickly raised a white towel, and ceded this battle to Chan.
Later, he and Chan, along with other dignitaries assembled in front of some small cement blocks where they each kung fu chopped a plastic board. And with that, Hong Kong Airlines’ vision of expanding to the lucrative North American market began. The airline has said they will soon announce a second destination to North America.
While committed to its Hong Kong roots, the airline has gone to great lengths to position itself as Vancouver’s local airline. By partnering with Dynasty, an award-winning Chinese restaurant in Vancouver, passengers will be able to experience signature dishes prepared by the restaurant’s Chefs.
Hong Kong Airlines’ philosophy is to deliver more for less—competitive fares, yet with high standards. For example, the airline offers several unique amenities not offered by other carriers on the Hong Kong-Vancouver route. This includes its Skybar in business class, which offers wine, beer, and cocktails served by an attendant. A self-serve bar offering water, soft drinks, and light snacks are also available in the Economy cabin.
And on some of the airline’s routes, including Vancouver, if you let them know in advance that you’re celebrating a special occasion, whether a birthday, anniversary, or engagement, they will bring you a cake, and make your flight that much more memorable.
On the Vancouver route, Hong Kong Airlines is operating a 264-seat Airbus A330-200, with 18 in business class, and a 246-seat economy cabin. The airline was established in 2006, as a full-service carrier and over the past decade its network has grown to 30 destinations, including service to Australia’s Gold Coast, and Auckland, New Zealand.
While most of us know kung fu as a martial art, in Chinese the words have the connotation of an accomplishment achieved by great effort. An appropriate metaphor for Hong Kong Airlines, as it expands across the globe.