There’s a new acronym in town: GBA, or Greater Bay Area. More commonly known as the Pearl River Delta, it refers to the cluster of nine cities in China’s Guangdong province plus the Special Administrative Regions (SARs) of Hong Kong and Macao. Spread across 56,000 square kilometres, the GBA has become a thriving industrial, technological, financial and logistics powerhouse that’s home to nearly 70 million people.
In February 2019, the Chinese government published its blueprint for the region, underlining the importance of Hong Kong as one of its critical transport and logistics hubs.
These developments have already had a major impact. A number of important recent openings include the extension of the high-speed rail service from mainland China to Hong Kong and the new Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge (HZMB), which has opened up the western part of Guangdong, reducing the time it takes shipments to get to Hong Kong from a whole day to a few hours.
For people flying out of Hong Kong, transport time is even quicker – the journey from Zhuhai to Hong Kong is around 45 minutes, while it’s quicker for those based in Shenzhen’s Futian district to get to Hong Kong International Airport (HKIA) than Shenzhen’s own Bao’an International Airport.
Speaking at the Business Check-in Forum in February, Cathay Pacific’s Chief Executive Officer, Rupert Hogg, said: ‘We want to work with the government, the airport and aviation authorities, and everyone to make it easy for people to get into the GBA and out from it. We will keep building our network – not just our big hub and spoke air network with the rest of the world, but also to every point in the GBA.’
Hong Kong is not the GBA’s sole hub; and the region’s development also means increased competition between Cathay Pacific and HKIA and the developing airports in the region, particularly Shenzhen and Guangzhou, and their rapidly growing airlines, including China Southern, Hainan Airlines and Shenzhen Airlines.
Patricia Hwang, Cathay Pacific’s General Manager Sales and Distribution Hong Kong and GBA, says: ‘Cathay Pacific and Cathay Dragon will be able to thrive as competition increases. As an airline, we have a basket of advantages. First and foremost are our network and frequencies. We operate around 110 flights to North America each week, with multiple frequencies to the main centres. That’s a key strength.’
That is on top of strengthening the network of 220 destinations – with 10 new cities added in 2018 not previously served by Hong Kong. These were typically global fintech centres with an additional leisure element, such as Dublin and Brussels.
Hwang adds: ‘There is the efficiency and seamlessness of the airport experience at Hong Kong. The other GBA airports have good hardware in terms of grand buildings and so forth, but the soft side – the flows, efficiency and overall passenger experience – gives us a real advantage.’
This is reflected by HKIA winning Best Airport for Transit Passengers in the 2018 SkyTrax Awards. General Manager Airport Service Delivery Patrick Yu says: ‘While it’s an award for HKIA, we are the biggest airline group at the airport. So you are talking about our airlines, and we should be proud of that.’
Another aspect of the airport’s connectivity is its transport links, the most visible of which are the HZMB and ferries from across the Pearl River Delta. ‘We are aligned with the Airport Authority in supporting Hong Kong as a hub,’ says Hogg. ‘We launched new routes and will continue to do so to support the hub – and we will make it multi-modal with the new connectivity to the region.’
We will hear the term ‘multi-modal’ a lot in the future. It means using the various transport options across the GBA – road, rail and sea – which will help customers start their journeys on Cathay Pacific and Cathay Dragon closer to home. So far, this has included bundling fares and ferry trips through codeshares with ferry companies for trips from Guangzhou, Humen, Macao, Nansha, Shenzhen, Zhongshan and Zhuhai.
Some of these ports also offer upstream check-in to make travel to HKIA and beyond more straightforward and contained in a single booking. There is also a desk at the new high-speed rail station in West Kowloon that allows travellers arriving from the GBA to do in-town check-in or transfer to the Hong Kong Airport Express.
‘These are already seamless connections for people coming in from the GBA, and we will keep looking at how we can do more and better,’ says Hwang. ‘From the commercial side, we are trying to have joined-up fare products for customers.’
This includes a new initiative that gives GBA customers – depending on cabin class – a QR code with bookings that lets them board a coach or Skylimo from Zhuhai to cross the HZMB to HKIA. By 2021, when a new spur of the bridge is complete, passengers will be taken from check-in at Zhuhai directly to HKIA airside within 45 minutes.
At the Leadership Conference, Chief Customer and Commercial Officer Paul Loo said: ‘Our competitors in the GBA are growing in strength and quality, but because of our brand, history and expertise around the world, we feel we are in the best position.’