As Covid-19 continues to wreak havoc on the travel sector, tour operators in Hong Kong have re-strategised their business in recent months, pursuing unique offerings in preparation for the resurgence of international visitors.
Adventure and eco-tour operator Wild Hong Kong used to offer mostly kayaking tours "until business fell from the protests," said founder Rory Mackay. New mountain biking tours have since been added, as well as bespoke outdoor activities and teambuilding sessions for corporate clients including dam building exercises and scavenger hunts — which have helped put them in a better position for Covid and beyond, noted Mackay.
Laura Blackhall from Hello! Hong Kong, a culture-focused tour operator with offices in Hong Kong, Tokyo and Singapore, explained how the company altered its tour itineraries since the outbreak. “We put together some of our city experiences in private vehicles, and added some lesser-known but fascinating locations in rural areas."
Packages comprise “scenic viewing points, farms and gardens and rural villages” all built around core topics of history, culture, local life and food — which Blackhall believes "will be a popular choice in the coming years”.
She noted too that having a private small group structure has put them at a great advantage during Covid times, for clients seeking seclusion.
Reviving its most unique packages, Hong Kong Greeters’ recent offerings include an in-depth walking tour of Aberdeen with a Zoom RIB ride around the Southside of Hong Kong Island, a Tai O tour which includes a local lunch and boat ride, a visit to the abandoned island of Yim Tin Tsai, as well as a vegetarian food tour in Kowloon. A new cycling route in the New Territories is also in the pipeline, just in time for the cool weather in spring.
Hong Kong Greeters also launched its virtual tours to appeal to tourists missing the city. Programmes include the Old Hong Kong experience for US tourists via Amazon Explore, while Aberdeen and Wan Chai tours are conducted via Zoom for all other regions.
Virtual tours by Hong Kong Greeters.
“What makes our virtual tours so unique is that we have tried to make them as fun, dynamic and interactive as possible, supplementing experiences with historic images, or videos to support interesting facts and to make it a really entertaining 60 minutes of someone’s day”, said Amy Overy, founder of Hong Kong Greeters.
Immersive experiences take visitors through the Aberdeen harbour, on a sampan ride and even a fortune reading from Man Mo Temple. The initiative will hopefully ramp up tourists ready to travel and visit the destination in person when travel resumes.
Cultural heritage experiences have seen an upsurge in locals rediscovering their new backyards, and Seayou Explorer’s Aberdeen1773 – Fishing Heritage Sampan & Houseboat Tour has followed suit. The Aberdeen-based company hopes to preserve the region’s fishing heritage and culture. “The tour aims to tell the stories of how the old fishermen and Tanka people contributed to Hong Kong’s economic development, giving the public [a chance] to explore hidden gems of Hong Kong”, said Lawrence Kwan, assistant manager of Seayou Explorer Travel.
To capture a greater crowd, Kwan is working with hotels to curate staycation packages incorporating the heritage tour, and with schools so students can include the tours as a future extracurricular activity. “This makes people's staycation more meaningful as they can learn and experience something in return."
Cultural heritage experiences have seen an upsurge in locals rediscovering their new backyards, and operators such as Wild Hong Kong are adding new tours such as biking. Photo Credit: Wild Hong Kong
Hopeful for international rebound
“Typically our tours are booked by visitors to Hong Kong which we hope to receive again later this year, once travelling is permitted again”, said Gabi Baumgartner, founder of guided walks and hikes tour operator Walk Hong Kong. There was a notable pent-up demand by locals for themed tours including birding, nature and heritage walks.
Wild Hong Kong's Mackay said that they will remain vigilant for when travel does resume. “When there are tangible indicators of outbound tourism, we stand ready with staff currently working freelance to be called into more regular service if required."
Hong Kong Greeters' Overy said that while they continue to project to the local market for now, they anticipate future travel bubbles will reign in overseas customers. “We will likely concentrate on participating countries [such as the proposed Singapore bubble last November] for future targeted marketing."
On that note, Blackhall of Hello! Hong Kong predicts that "when travel returns later this year, there will be a stronger demand for private experiences and experiences in less densely populated areas”.