Tourism Lab Blog
Jessica Leung｜“本地旅遊實驗室” 實驗室團隊成員
COVID-19 has striked all of us — fear of getting infected, endless lockdown, emotional downturn, and losing the taste of traveling around the world. Tourists are gone and cities become quiet. While the majority of us are giving a low moan of despair, I have taken a step back and a deep breath to rethink the equilibrium of the travel economy — what and how should it be, instead of what it has been?
Hong Kong has always been deemed an international city, with a diverse range of tourists visiting and spending during their stay. Despite being a top travel and shopping destination, it started to lose its authenticity and appeal for failing to promote an in-depth understanding from both locals and tourists on its culture and heritage. Instead of taking instagram-able photos and doing shopping, have tourists and us ever tried to really learn and understand the city’s stories? What is the city’s history like? And what key elements are fading away and worth conservation? How might we empower locals and tourists alike to discover and experience Hong Kong’s authenticity, and spread the words around? How might we collaborate with key stakeholders and overcome current challenges?
With fellow changemakers, I am fortunate to join MaD’s tourism lab as a labber to explore the topic below:
How can local tourism foster a symbiotic relationship between tourists and locals, forge meaningful connections and deliver memorable experiences?
Cycle 0 — The Appetizer
Thanks to MaD, I made my second visit to Sheung Shui in life and Yin Kong Village — the focus area of the project. When the Lab began, we joined a few mini tours to get to know the village’s landscape and culture, and had the chance to talk to Mr. Hau, the village head, and Uncle Robert, who were both spending their lives there. They passionately shared their childhood and village stories so we began to understand how the village has evolved over time and what traditional customs and artefacts are gradually vanishing, posing a threat to the continuity of its history and culture. Despite their enthusiasm, we found it quite challenging to come up with ways to promote Yin Yong due to its “lack” of uniqueness.
After joining a few workshops, my teammates and I identified several areas which, when the stories are dug out and promoted, could be the selling points of Yin Kong VIllage, namely agriculture / farming, history and culture. At the same time, we were all struggling to verify whether they matched the needs of the inhabiting villagers, since Uncle Robert and Mr. Hau were the only contacts we had talked to in depth. Other villagers, we found, were rather indifferent when it came to co-imagining how the village should be developed.
As we analysed further, the lack of economic incentives, meager opportunities to connect with one another and build intra-village synergy, as well as an unclear direction to optimise resource utilization strategies seemed to be the root causes underlying such a nonchalance.
Therefore, our team envisioned to empower local villagers as ambassadors by enhancing their sense of belonging to and understanding of the village, so that over time and collaboratively, they can contribute their knowledge and share their personal stories with a wider group of audience.
Cycle 1- The main
After the first round of trial, teams have gained further insight from the local tour operator’s comment on what should be the key design questions to consider. We have narrowed down to 3 main themes for cycle 1 prototype- (1) Farming/ agriculture (2) Eco-system (3) History and culture. I have joined the Cultural group with Vincent, Joey, Martin, Jen which we started to brainstorm ways to nurture public awareness on the fading history/ culture of local villages. Challenges are limited resources and history/ culture is always deemed “boring” or difficult to be conveyed, so how might we bring the message out with a casual, fun approach?
We first talked to Uncle Robert who is always passionate to share with us his childhood story, including traditions to make lanterns for weddings, DIY toy with raw materials around the village and the fun of speaking Weitou dialect (圍頭話)。He even demonstrated to us how to DIY toy with bamboo. As such, our group thought it may be a good idea to target the younger generation who loves game or art& craft.
Struggling between the themes of “tradition” and “childhood”, our team finally decided to go for the latter as it is more audience-friendly and contents are easier and casual to digest. With a short preparation time, our team has targeted families with kids as the audience and run prototype 1 with sessions including mini-tour, make village toy with raw materials, and treasure hunt to DIY their own toy. The overall experience seemed to be fruitful for most of the families, yet we have reviewed and learnt that younger-age audience i.e. children, are indeed difficult to control and require solid experience in handling the time and designing an appropriate agenda so that children won’t be exhausted. We also found that some of the sessions do not excite or interest the audience, which reminded us of the importance of relevance of contents and empowerment to audience. Another area of improvement is how should we engage our stakeholders, where Uncle Robert and Mr. Hau appeared not to be highly engaged in neither our preparation nor our tour.
Nonetheless, it was a highly remarkable and valuable learning experience where we can further understand and identify the challenges in fostering a symbiotic relationship between tourists and locals and making it scalable to rest of the community. Looking forward to working on cycle 2!