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Monday . June 26 . 2017
         
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Old 'hoods, new buzz
Prudence Lui
 

Hong Kong’s traditional enclaves are now a breeding ground for new tour ideas centring on its heritage and culture.

What was once perceived as Hong Kong’s historic enclaves are now seeing new life as tourism hotspots, as the Hong Kong Tourism Board (HKTB) becomes the latest to jump onto the neighbourhood tourism bandwagon with its five themed Old Town Central walking routes.

Covering Central and the adjacent Sheung Wan neighbourhood, outlined by Wyndham Street, Caine Road, Possession Street and Queen’s Road Central, with Hollywood Road running through the middle, these self-guided walks are targeted to help travellers discover the heritage, cuisine and art in the area’s streets and alleys by spotlighting colonial monuments, temples, hole-in-the-wall local eateries and restaurants.

A spokesman elaborated: “HTKB will also work with trade partners to promote guided tours that focus on the richness of Central, and its locals and expats, (to publicise) the district’s charms and hidden gems through PR campaigns and on digital platforms.”

The spokesman added that HKTB “will continue to explore similar tours in other historic areas such as Wanchai”.

The Hong Kong trade sees HKTB’s latest initiative as a good effort to create more experiential travel opportunities in Hong Kong.

Walk in Hong Kong’s co-founder and CEO, Paul Chan, remarked: “HKTB realised that it can’t compete with other destinations in theme parks; but city culture, living history and heritage are something we have and shouldn’t waste.”

The walking tours operator has more than 20 routes in its portfolio, ranging from market food tours in Kowloon to old trades and artisan tours in Sheung Wan.

However, walking tours of Hong Kong’s cultural neighbourhoods require special expertise and cater to just a niche segment, explained Chan. “Neighbourhood tourism is still in its infancy as it’s not a mainstream product like bus tours. It requires experts, R&D as well as a strong local network.

“What’s more, this type of tour can’t accommodate big groups so growth is organic, not explosive. It needs someone with social pride and passion to run it. The lack of quality tour guides is the biggest crunch,” Chan lamented.

When asked if Airbnb Trips, which has been launched in several cities in Asia-Pacific to focus on local experiences, poses a threat to the future prospects of tour outfits specialising in neighbourhood tourism, Chan said: “We don’t treat it as competition, but a large platform to drive more inbound traffic for such a niche experience. Frankly, the pie is small and it would be great we can learn how other players run such operations.”

To stay sustainable, Walk in Hong Kong has trained its sights on high-value segments like FITs as well as working with luxury hotel concierges to provide special experiences for their VIPs and business travellers, Chan added.

As well, more support from HKTB is required to grow and develop neighbourhood tourism, trade players pointed out. 

Via Vai Travel’s director, Sef Lam, said: “I believe most visitors come (to Hong Kong) for business while others come to shop, eat and sightsee. Not many may want to spend their time exploring local neighbourhoods, but if these tours are offered free, it might be a good start.”

She added: “Recently, I joined a Lei Yue Mun walk organised by the Maritime Museum with resources from the Society of Hong Kong History. HKTB can certainly do more by liaising with the different museums and hotels and offering these as free tours.”

 

 

This article was first published in TTG Asia June 2017 issue. To read more, please view our digital edition or click here to subscribe.

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