Meet Kenny Chan, a Hong Kong-born native who wants to revive the humble sampan, a small wooden traditional Chinese boat once the main mode of transport back when Hong Kong was still a thriving fishing port.
He founded Seayou in 2018 as a yacht charter platform for corporate events and wedding venues before expanding into cultural and heritage appreciation to celebrate Hong Kong’s roots as a fishing village. Aberdeen tours were established in 2019.
“We want more people to learn about the region’s roots, hence we came up with the tour Aberdeen 1773 so people can relive the historical side of Hong Kong,” said Chan, who grew up in the Aberdeen Fishing Village.
Witnessing the transformation of the fishing community he grew up in was an emotional journey for Chan, as valuable cultural heritage like the Tanka dialect, fishermen crafts and techniques, and the sampan rides gradually diminished over the years.
In a bid to preserve the past, he created a tour that incorporates the cultural elements using an audio-guided sampan tour to bring participants around the Fishing Village and a visit to a Chinese-style houseboat.
Chan personally led the team in researching and confirming the historical and factual accuracy of the audio guide, refurbished and painted the sampan, and converted the houseboat into a floating cultural exhibit centre.
Guests will learn all about the landmarks that played a significant role in Hong Kong’s development, like Jumbo Kingdom.
Floating down history lane
The tour begins in Ap Lei Chau, a rustic and slower-paced neighbourhood of Hong Kong. Guests embark on an authentic sampan boat that tours around the Aberdeen Fishing Village with an audio guide playing stories and historical facts of 13 different landmarks that played a significant role in Hong Kong’s development — such as the Aberdeen Fish Wholesale Market, Shipyard and Jumbo Kingdom.
Following the audio tour, guests are invited to visit a Chinese-style old houseboat which used to house families of fishermen. “We have renovated the houseboat and infused it with both modern and vintage elements to make it more appealing to the youngsters but also kept its originality,” said Chan.
“We have also sourced different artefacts that allow you to experience life as a fisherman in the past”. The tour ends with a traditional boat noodle lunch.
In terms of bookings, interestingly, there has been an influx of youngsters — local and expat — looking to re-discover their own backyards from a cultural perspective, Chan explaining that "there are various chic spots for photo opportunities too”.
But more importantly, this tour is all about pushing the awareness of disappearing traditions. “More and more youngsters are interested in cultural preservation as they realise the gradual fading of local characteristics due to gentrification — this is also one factor that brings youngsters to our tour and the neighbourhood."
Chan's childhood passion led him to create a platform to share his love for the sea and Hong Kong’s longstanding but disappearing sampan tradition.
Chan also credited social media as a key factor to luring the younger age set.
“We worked closely with various online travel agencies and established travel agencies when the tour first started, we also promoted our tour through different social media platforms.
“But what really made our tour popular was through word-of-mouth," said Chan, who shared that participants would leave positive comments on platforms like TripAdvisor and Klook, and recommend their families and friends to join the tour. Some even rejoined the tour to gain a deeper understanding of Hong Kong’s roots.
This has even caused Seayou to receive recognition by Hong Kong Tourism Board as Hong Kong’s new attraction in Southern District, amongst other giants like Jumbo Kingdom and Ocean Park. International and local news outlets have similarly picked up on the company's offerings.
Seayou started preparations back when the first Hong Kong-Singapore bubble was set for November 2020, including a multilingual audio tour.
Chan isn't too worried about competition in Hong Kong, as promoting Hong Kong and the city's vibrant culture is his ultimate goal.
“We want more people to know about Aberdeen and Ap Lei Chau (the neighbouring districts of the Fishing Village) and increase visitors to these two places as there are actually many old specialty stores here,” said Chan. “Our goal is also in line with the government’s plan to invigorate Island South, so we hope to collaborate with other companies such as Big Bus Tour to bring in more local and international tourist to Island South.”
As a rather new company, however, Seayou has inevitably faced a few challenges in the midst of Covid. “Since local tours have yet to receive the green light to operate, we’re still waiting for the government to relax regulations.”
Moreover, the drop in tourists led the company to shift its focus to local citizens to educate them on cultural preservation. “However, as the pandemic situation grew worse in Hong Kong last December, we’ve once again faced the situation and had to halt all our tours or limit the number of participants,” said Chan. The company has been ensuring social distancing and practicing hygienic measures including full sanitisation after every tour session and providing alcoholic wipes and gels to participants.
With the recent Singapore-Hong Kong travel bubble announcement, Seayou has been preparing to welcome inbound tourists. All audio and materials for instance are multilingual, available in English, Cantonese, Mandarin and Japanese.
Lawrence Kwan, assistant manager at Seayou, told Travel Weekly Asia that back in November, when the Singapore-Hong Kong travel bubble was first introduced they were already receiving enquiries from Singapore travellers. The tour was also listed in the Singapore-Hong Kong Attraction Scheme by the Hong Kong Tourism Board (HKTB).
For corporates, Seayou Explorer prides itself as a company that owns an event ‘venue’ boat specifically designed to host events at sea, whether it be a MICE meeting or a night cocktail cruise for corporate clients. The brand is gradually transforming into a Yacht Event and Adventure Booking Platform that extends from its cultural tour to various outdoor activities like rock climbing and canyoning to push the boat out further. “We have been working closely with various local travel agents and HKTB, in which they have close connections with overseas travel agents, providing inbound services," said Chan.