Finding hidden gems in urban planning

A city has many faces; their allure touches different hearts. As a Guangdong native, real estate professional Dlysia Cai (MScRE 2016) relocated to Hong Kong after graduation from the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) Business School. From Sun Hung Kai Properties to the Wharf Group, she has charted an extraordinary career path scouting retail spaces with great potential in the Greater Bay Area. Guiding her all the way is a curious mind that helps her feel the city and the business opportunities in it.

Intrinsic ties with Hong Kong

Born and raised in the Greater Bay Area with proficiency in both Mandarin and Cantonese, Dlysia feels at home in Guangdong cities. She interned in hotel management after undergraduate studies in Guangzhou, until 2015 when, out of her passion for the hospitality industry, she made a decision that would change her life for good: to pursue a master in Real Estate and Hospitality Assets at CUHK Business School. Dlysia has become a real estate professional ever since. “The programme afforded me a lot of fieldwork experiences. It even invited executives from the likes of Hang Lung Properties and Sun Hung Kai Properties for in-depth exchanges. In the course of this enlightenment, I developed an interest in the real estate industry, which spurred me to make the fated decision,” says Dlysia.

From a newbie to a knowledgeable local through and through, Dlysia attributes her successful acclimation to her career instincts. “As a real estate specialist, I need a sharp eye for the development of commercial districts in town. Whenever a new shopping mall or a new store pops up, I would check it out. I would stick my nose into the background of the new brand, its target audience, its brand position and matching visual merchandising style.” This inquisitive approach offers a vessel for her to learn about the city. “I can have a firm grip of the dynamics of the neighbourhood, which is why I remain curious about work and life in Hong Kong.”

Finger on city’s pulse

Dlysia always shows enthusiasm at the mention of her real estate job. She makes it clear that retail leasing is essential in real estate, and that different markets ask for different positioning strategies. “For well-developed malls, we focus on merchant mix upgrade or zoning, while in new and developing districts, we involved in the planning from scratch.”

Years of participation in retail leasing of varied scales and locations has instilled in Dlysia a thorough understanding of the ties between commercial space and daily life. “Social distancing measures during the pandemic had hit hard on brick-and-mortar stores. As consumers become more concerned about health, stores selling light meals or yoghourt mushroom. Similarly, the work-from-home practice gives rise to household products such as scented candles or home appliances,” says Dlysia. To her, it is market research rather than cold hard numbers that offers a more “grounded” way to understand customer behaviour and the business microcosm, allowing her to keep a finger on the pulse of a city.

City hopping across the Greater Bay Area also allows Dlysia to observe the increasingly frequent mobility of population between Shenzhen and Hong Kong. With the resumption of travel between Hong Kong and mainland China, many Hong Kong people visit Shenzhen or even explore the business potential there — a sight which Dlysia looks at with elation. She points out that shopping centres across the borders have their own characters – there are giant complexes and laidback neighbourhood or waterfront malls in Shenzhen, whereas in Hong Kong, shopping malls like K11 MUSEA or Harbour City remain the preeminent indicators of trends. “Driven by curiosity, exchanges between people in the two cities will continue to deepen, which is a positive sign of the integration of the Greater Bay Area,” Dlysia comments.

Chart the uncharted with an open mind

The massive influx of mainland immigrants reminds Dlysia of her relocation eight years. As a pioneer, Dlysia encourages these newcomers to venture into their new life and embrace the local lifestyle of Hong Kong. Learning Cantonese, developing hobbies, participating in local activities…these are some of the ways to make local friends, Dlysia says. “For years, I have explored many places in the city; I have ridden on the Star Ferry to go to dine with my friends on the other side of the harbour; I have seen Hong Kong Island on a tram and concluded the trip with a delectable brunch; I have soaked up the panorama by the sea in Kowloon West; I have even enjoyed getaways in the outlying islands. These little things have instilled in me a strong sense of belonging. You can truly admire the charisma and diversity of Hong Kong if you feel the city with your heart.”


First published in the CUHK Business School Alumni Website on 4 December 2023, this article was republished with permission from the School’s Alumni Affairs and Development Office.