After launching in 2013, Walk In Hong Kong carved out a successful niche with its tours on foot through some of the city’s interesting but less well known districts. Then the Covid-19 pandemic hit.
But while physical tours have been greatly limited, the company continues to operate and innovate, finding new ways for people to experience the city’s unique culture, as Paul Chi Yuen Chan, Co-founder and CEO of Walk In Hong Kong, explained.
Chan is himself is an avid traveler. “I have visited over 80 countries around the world, so I have ample experience as a tourist,” he said.
This gave him a good idea of what might appeal to visitors to Hong Kong. With his own travel experience as a foundation for the business, he and his colleagues then researched the sort of things travellers were interested in seeing.
“We understood the benchmark, and then we had to find out what tourists prefer and what they expect from the walking tours,” Chan explained. “We designed our tours around some interesting themes, so that the tours are more local, authentic and entertaining.”
These themes include exploring street food in Kowloon, and a ghost tour of Wan Chai.
Chan explained that the company’s overseas clients often want to see aspects that are not typically found in guidebooks. For example, for visitors interested in experiencing the daily life of Hong Kong people, options include visiting a wet market, a local public housing estate, or a busy old neighborhood like Sham Shui Po.
Being on foot means that the visitors are immersed in the sights and sounds of residents’ day-to-day lives. “The walking culture shows how welcoming Hong Kong is when you arrive in the city.”
Customers’ expectations vary, he added, and the company caters for various interests. Some tourists are interested in the city’s movies and other popular culture, so the team can arrange visits to performance venues and locations from famous Hong Kong movies.
Crucial to a great experience is the company’s staff, Chan said. So the tour guides are locals who are passionate about the city and who are skilled storytellers. The guides also source experts and long-term residents who can share their insights and experiences with the participants.
“In general, our customer base is broad, from young professionals to the retired,” explained Chan. The majority of foreigners are from the United States, Europe, Australia and Southeast Asia. Clients also include overseas businesspeople visiting the city for conferences and meetings. Often, these travellers become repeat customers, bringing their friends and families along when they come back to Hong Kong on vacation.
Walk In Hong Kong’s tours are also popular with locals. This may seem surprising, but as the company is focused on the hidden gems of Hong Kong’s history and culture, it is likely that even local people will learn something new.
“Sometimes, local participants say they feel like they are visitors to Hong Kong,” said Chan.
In addition to public tours, Walk In Hong Kong also has a corporate programme and designs tailor-made tours for companies and their staff. Corporate clients include the major universities in Hong Kong, non-profit organizations, five-star hotels and some large non-profit groups.
Changing business model
As a major tourist destination, Hong Kong is not short of operators, so new businesses face strong competition. Walk In Hong Kong’s business model has been recognized for its achievements, winning the Gold Award in 2017 in a contest for young entrepreneurs.
“We won the HSBC Youth Business Award,” said Chan. “This award is a significant recognition of our decision to take risks and to find a new model for cultural tours.”
But everything changed with the arrival of the pandemic. With borders effectively closed, tourism has ground to a halt. Given that Walk In Hong Kong’s operating model relies on physical activities and real-life interactions, the social restrictions could have been a death knell for the company.
However, Walk In Hong Kong did not give up. In fact, even before the pandemic, the team had already been considering virtual tours. The tourism shut-down encouraged them to follow this route.
“We started to roll out virtual livestreams and bring back some of our previous customers. And we were also able to sell our virtual tours to corporate clients and institutions,” Chan said. “After months of experiments, Walk In Hong Kong is now one of the leading companies providing virtual tours.”
In November, for example, the team ran 20 virtual tours, which has helped to ensure the continuation of the business.
Community work is also a key part of Walk In Hong Kong’s ethos. Hong Kong is one of the greatest tourist cities in Asia, Chan said, so it is important to protect the unique cultural traditions and heritage buildings.
For instance, in 2016, Walk In Hong Kong successfully campaigned to save the historical State Theatre in North Point. The building has been conserved, and hopefully will become a tourist destination in the future. “We are very proud of this campaign,” Chan added.
Since the pandemic, the company has also teamed up with charities and corporates to offer virtual tours to the elderly residing in care homes, so they can enjoy exploring Hong Kong in a safe and healthy way.
The long-term impact of Covid-19 on tourism remains to be seen. But when travel resumes, Chan predicts that the environment for operators will have changed. In particular, he expects that there will be a stronger emphasis on health and hygiene.
“I am sure it will be very challenging, especially after the pandemic, as everyone will need to make changes to attract more customers,” said Chan. However, he remains hopeful for the industry when life returns to normal. “I am still optimistic about the future of the tourism sector after Covid, because that is what we do.”
Company： Walk In Hong Kong
HKGCC Membership No. : HKW0552
Established : 2013
Website : https://walkin.hk/
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