By Carol Mang and Yoyo Chow
HONG KONG, Aug 24 (Reuters) - A Hong Kong tourism company has moved its walking tours online to reach a travel-starved audience unable to explore new places due to coronavirus restrictions.
The company, Walk in Hong Kong, runs free online tours in Cantonese focussed on local history and culture, with help from government subsidies and private donations. While bookings for its regular in-person tours typically took a week to fill, one recent virtual tour filled 70 spots overnight.
It now plans to run such tours in English for an overseas audience on a permanent basis. It expects to start charging around HK$100 ($13) per person from next month.
The tours are filmed with a phone and a gimbal and are interactive, with specialist guests such as architects available to answer questions. Eight people are working in two teams, one on the ground, the other interacting with the audience from a studio in between tour stops.
"We are thinking about turning it into a program that appeals to overseas guests, for example talking about Hong Kong's history and Hong Kong's current events, to explain what is happening to the city," said managing director Olivia Tang.
"We can have hundreds of people from all around the world attend at the same time."
Tourism in Hong Kong has been crippled in the past year first by pro-democracy protests, then by the pandemic. Many countries have also issued travel advisories after Beijing introduced a sweeping national security law last month that tightens the central government's grip on China's freest city.
Tourist arrivals plummeted 99.7% in June from a year earlier to 14,606.
Julianne Chan, 27, joined a recent tour about architecture in Kennedy Town, the neighbourhood where she grew up, after having to cancel a trip to London due to COVID-19.
"During the pandemic ...there's not a lot you can do," she said.
"With these constraints, I would still go on a virtual tour, but if I can choose, I would always opt for just going abroad myself and seeing with my own eyes."
($1 = 7.7501 Hong Kong dollars)
(Reporting by Carol Mang and Yoyo Chow; Writing by Marius Zaharia; Editing by William Mallard)
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