Cathay Pacific 24-Hour Hackaton: technical innovation & customer travel experience


On 22-23 October, I had the privilege to work with an amazing team in a Hackathon at Cathay Pacific City in Hong Kong, and we won! A Hackathon, if you are not familiar with the concept, is a gathering where programmers collaboratively code in an extreme manner over a short period of time. This first Cathay Pacific 24-Hour Hackaton gave the participants the opportunity to design and develop an application, by using technological innovation to enhance the customer travel experience.

Hackaton proceedings

This Hackaton spanned over two days, with the first twenty four hours being dedicated to developing the final application, and because having no sleep is not stressful enough, the teams had only two minutes to pitch their ideas to a panel of professionals and executives from Cathay Pacific and Asia Miles. If successful in round one, your team was then selected to be part of the Top-6 from a total of 23 teams, after which each of the finalists demonstrated their solution on the main stage. With Cathay Pacific’s multinational scope of operations, it would seek solutions which address the issue at hand while being integrable and profitable. This was integral for our success, as we tackled all issues. Unlike most of the finalists, our application had a well-thought-out revenue model.

I will discuss the application in further detail later. But to give you an idea, our solution, dubbed “cxDiscovery”, was an attempt to digitalize Cathay Pacific’s in-flight magazine, traditionally called Discovery. The app was designed to provide the end user with tailored articles to their preference. At the same time, Cathay Pacific would benefit from being able to view trends and understand their customers more sophisticatedly. This, of course, also allows for a more targeted advertisement, whether native or commercial, and negotiations alone can decide how much that is worth for Cathay.

Our team


Applicants were asked to apply for the role of either Developer, Designer or Entrepreneur. As each team should gather together 5 members, I sought to involve my business-oriented friends from university. Quickly, Joey Lee and Thasbeeh Mohamed volunteered to be our 2 Entrepreneurs. During the first day of the Hackathon, I met Cynthia Lo early on and she became our team’s Designer. Shortly after, we approached Daniel Hsing who joined us as a Developer. Team 14 was hence born! Interesting fact, we had both the youngest and the oldest members, and 4 nationalities!

Our idea

After being joined by my first 2 teammates, we shuffled through various ideas for our application. Finally we settled on an electronic replacement for the inflight magazine. Initially we understood the lack of user engagement in the current product and hoped to create something more tailored and personal. But not until the Hackathon did we realize its potential as a Big Data-driven advertisement platform. We divided the problems of the current platform into something like this:


In the current model, the reader is exposed to a limited number of generic magazine content that is refreshed once a month, and therefore any flights during that period will contain the same magazine issue. This is due to Cathay Pacific not having enough information to filter its news according to individual interests, nor do they have the resources and platform to do so. On the last end, vendors are unable to deliver the same type of precision as in online advertisement. In the end, only a selected view get advertised in the magazine, and for very high prices.

Our solution

In our model, everyone benefits. The each reader receive news of interest, and maybe in the future become a contributor. Cathay Pacific can now access a broad range of analytical data, and the platform is open for as many vendors as possible, with various pricing options for ad space. The following is an example of possible analytical data the system can generate.


Harry’s is a German men’s shaving product manufacturer who we used as an example for our possible sponsored ad. Much like Web advertisements, these ads could be promoted for a premium price:


This is possible because the application first starts by syncing with the reader’s Asia Miles account, or a possible QR code on the ticket. Once identity is verified, the users can filter by selecting their preferred categories and viewing those. In addition, they can also save an article to view later offline. The application tracks three behaviors, opening an article to view its full form, the time they spend reading said article, whether they completed scrolling, and whether they saved it. Cathay Pacific then has enough information to couple it with the demographic details they already have on their users to generate all kinds of useful data about individual preferences to general trends. The airline company can then employ either a Onclick, or AdSense type of revenue model.


To conclude

The application we proposed would become an interesting inflight entertainment platform, at the same time providing Cathay Pacific of the much needed Big Data they have been lacking about their readers, as well as being an ads platform that can generate enough money to be self-sustaining. Overall, it was a great experience with many lessons learned and laughs shared. Although winning a free airplane ticket is an amazing bonus, it is nothing without the process!

If you want to get more technical information about the application we developed, stay tuned!



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