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Inaugural Cathay Pacific 24-hour Hackathon brings out the best in tech-savvy youngsters

Around 120 technology-savvy and business-minded youngsters put their talents to the test at the inaugural Cathay Pacific 24-hour Hackathon this past weekend at Cathay City, the airline’s headquarters at Hong Kong International Airport. Tasked with developing innovative and practical technological solutions aimed at enhancing the travel experience of airline customers at every stage of their journey, the participants impressed the judges with their imagination and technical know-how.

Aside from experiencing the thrill and excitement of working with – and being mentored by – a number of aviation and technology experts in producing solutions for a real-life business scenario, participants competed for a range of prizes, including airline tickets and Asia Miles.

The Hackathon’s initial announcement generated significant interest across Hong Kong, attracting more than 250 applicants, of which less than half were shortlisted to compete. Successful entrants were largely drawn from local universities who specialise in software, design and business development. Together with teams formed by staff from Cathay Pacific IT Department and Engineering Department, about 120 young people across some 30 teams participated in the fast-paced and intense challenge.

Cathay Pacific Director Corporate Development and IT Paul Loo said: “We have been both delighted and excited by the overwhelming response to our very first Hackathon, in addition to seeing the extremely high calibre of participants involved.

“The Cathay Pacific 24-hour Hackathon truly underlines our commitment to providing the very best service to our customers and to contributing positively in the Hong Kong community. Technology and innovation are essential components in creating a “Life Well Travelled” experience for our passengers – and also crucial in supporting the rapid growth of the aviation industry as a whole. With this event we wanted to provide a platform for young, talented people to showcase their skills, foster innovation and inspire them to join our exciting industry.”

Joining the participants for the inaugural event were more than 50 staff from across the Cathay Pacific Group, including around 20 volunteer mentors each possessing a wealth of aviation and technical experience. The mentors provided practical workshops and offered useful advice to the participants over the course of the 24-hour challenge.

Towards the end of what proved to be an exhilarating Hackathon, six teams were selected to present their solutions to a judging panel comprised of senior Cathay Pacific executives. Such was the quality of the solutions provided by each team, a process that included a practical demonstration and thought-provoking pitch, the judges deliberated long and hard before making their choices.

The event’s guest of honour, Dr David Chung, Under Secretary for the HKSAR Government’s Innovation and Technology Bureau, was joined by Mr Loo to officiate at the award ceremony and present the prizes to the winning teams.

Inspired by Cathay Pacific’s inflight publications, the winning concept was an e-magazine app called “cxDiscovery”, which uses big data technology to create a personalised and dynamic reading and shopping experience based on each passenger’s individual interests and preferences.

The solution has the potential for Cathay Pacific to engage its customers more effectively and also allows vendors to be more targeted in their inflight offerings.  This has the dual benefit of enabling the airline to enhance the “Life Well Travelled” experience of its passengers, in addition to increasing the amount of advertising revenue it is able to generate.

The winning team  comprised five members from a variety of backgrounds, and included one of the Hackathon’s youngest participants – a 15-year-old secondary school student.

“It was very challenging yet exciting to pitch our idea in just two minutes to a panel of experienced professionals from a commercial organisation!” said the team. “We really appreciate the invaluable advice we received from our mentors and the organisers. Overall it was a highly rewarding experience, one which enabled us to learn more about the aviation industry and compete against many great teams.”

Members of the first and second-placed teams each won a return ticket to a destination of their choice on the Cathay Pacific and Dragonair networks respectively, while the third-placed team earned a total of 50,000 Asia Miles.

The Cathay Pacific 24-hour Hackathon is part of the airline’s ongoing commitment to developing local talent across various sectors of the aviation industry, including technology and business development.

Among its many other successful youth initiatives, Cathay Pacific runs an IT Graduate Trainee Programme. Over the course of the two-year programme, trainees work with the latest technologies and contribute to major projects that make a visible impact on safety, customer service and operational efficiency. Applications for the 2017 programme are now open.