Tour guide Amy Overy (left) with guests in Tai O.
Hong Kong’s tourism industry has suffered a particularly rough ride over the last year. There were the months of turmoil caused by anti-government protests, and then salt was thrown onto the wound with the arrival of COVID-19.
Amy Overy has worked as a tour guide in the city for almost a decade. She founded tour company Hong Kong Greeters in 2012 and offers curated tours to overseas visitors keen to get a glimpse of the territory.
Business was brisk for the first few years, but slowed down in summer 2019 when the anti-government protests broke out. And it came to a crashing stop earlier this year when the coronavirus pandemic took hold.
“We first started sensing trouble ahead when we began processing cancellations last year for visitors who had broken off their trip entirely or had decided not to lay-over in Hong Kong,” Overy told Asia Family Traveller.
“We work on a seasonal basis and most of our bookings are for September through to March, usually made quite a while in advance. But after the protests started, and as each headline made international news, we were seeing those bookings trickle away. Cancellations peaked when the airport shut amid anti-police protests last August, as travellers didn’t want to run the risk of missing their onward flight.”
There was still a clutch of visitors, however, and Overy and her team carefully modified itineraries and dates where necessary. They ran more tours to ‘safer’ areas such as Lantau, Cheung Chau, the Southside of Hong Kong Island and Victoria Peak and offered free upgrades to car tours for visitors who were nervous about riding on public transport.
“We had to be on high alert at all times should anything change quickly," said Overy. "Fortunately, we have a great network with other tour guides and that really helped; we were all sharing information as events unfolded. This meant we were able to contact customers in advance of their arrival to advise them. If they then needed to change an aspect of their trip, they were able to do so.”
The visitors continued to arrive until the coronavirus hit Hong Kong at the beginning of this year.
“We ran our last tour on February 5 and then the world shut down,” said Overy, admitting that this was a “scary” time for the business. “Even with the protests, we were able to manage. But it was February 2020 when things got really bleak. Nobody had any idea what the future was going to look like and worst case scenarios were just too frightening to contemplate.”
She and the team took time out to regroup, apply for government subsidies and they then began a review of website content, SEO and booking systems. “To be honest, we had never had the chance to conduct such a review all in one go and we didn’t want to miss this opportunity,” she said.
After toying with virtual tours, Overy decided to put something together for Hong Kongers. She has now collated a range of summer expeditions suited to local families in places they may not have visited before.
Fun on the water in Aberdeen, Hong Kong Island.
Lantau’s Tai O village in the New Territories was top of the agenda. “This is my favourite place in Hong Kong,” enthused Overy. “We first ran a group tour there in 2017 and we have been welcomed back with open arms ever since. Another reason we’ve included it now is that around 90% of people who joined us 2017 were local residents, not tourists. It’s a fascinating corner of Hong Kong and it's amazing that it exists less than an hour from one of the biggest financial centres in the world.”
Tai O fishing village sits on Tai O island on the western coast of Lantau. It boasts a rich history of pirates and smuggling and is also famous for its salt production. In the 1940s, salt marshes covered around 70 acres of the local area. Salted fish and shrimp paste are still sold at storefronts in the village today. Tai O grew up on the banks of the Tai O River and is known locally as the ‘Venice of Hong Kong’. Traditional pang uks, or stilt houses, can still be seen.
Shrimp paste-making in Tai O.
“This summer we will leave no stone unturned,” said Overy. “Guests will be able to meet the local community and hear their stories, too.”
Further child-friendly explorations include speed boat rides around the beaches of Southside and tree-top canopy walks on Cheung Chau.
“We’re a very family-focused team (Overy is a mother herself) and we wanted to provide trips that will be fun and entertaining for everyone, but where people will walk away having learnt something new about the city we live in.”
What’s on offer
The day starts with a look at the early beginnings of this small settlement on Hong Kong Island and its related sea-faring activities. The tour continues with a super-fast RIB boat ride around Deep Water Bay, Repulse Bay and Stanley, before returning to Aberdeen.
This trip is led by tour guide Stephen, who grew up on Cheung Chau. It’s a walking tour but can also be done on bicycles if guests prefer. It includes a trip to the Pak Tai Temple, a sampan ride and a visit to the Cheung Po-tsai pirate caves. Optional extras include lunch (caught by the guests) and visiting Sai Yuen Adventure Park for a tree-top canopy walk or ‘climbing monkeys’ experience.
A deep-dive into the local community on this fascinating island. The tour is an in-depth walking exploration of the village, including local stories, home-made snacks and a hidden waterfall.