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Breaking Travel News interview: Iris Wong, Hong Kong Heritage Conservation Foundation
Iris Wong, project committee member, Hong Kong Heritage Conservation Foundation, right, celebrates with World Travel Awards vice president Chris Frost

Breaking Travel News interview: Iris Wong, Hong Kong Heritage Conservation Foundation

Tai O Heritage Hotel Hong Kong, managed by Hong Kong Heritage Conservation Foundation was recognised as Asia’s Leading Heritage Hotel by the World Travel Awards earlier this year.

As the organisation continues on its mission to revitalise and maintain heritage buildings in Hong Kong, Breaking Travel News here catches up with project committee member Iris Wong to discuss what the organisation brings to hospitality in the region.

Breaking Travel News: Thanks for taking the time to speak to us. Could we begin with an overview of Hong Kong Heritage Conservation Foundation? What is it you bring to the hospitality market in Asia?

Iris Wong: The Hong Kong Heritage Conservation Foundation is a non-profit organisation set up by the Ng Teng Fong family in March 2008.

The primary objectives of the company are to revitalise and maintain heritage buildings, as well as to promote the conservation and appreciation of heritage and historic places and their importance in community life.

Hong Kong Heritage Conservation Foundation’s management team has solid experience in heritage revitalisation and has previously participated in a number of heritage projects in Singapore, including The Fullerton Hotel Singapore, The Fullerton Waterboat House, Clifford Pier and Far East Square.

Tai O Heritage Hotel is a non-profit social enterprise initiated and operated by Hong Kong Heritage Conservation Foundation.

BTN: How would you describe the hospitality market in Hong Kong toward the end of 2016? Is this a buoyant time for the destination?

IW: As 2017, or the year of the rooster, is an auspicious year for getting married according to the Lunar Calendar, many weds-to-be are looking for a ‘hidden gem’ to stage their dream weddings.

Century-old fishing village Tai O witnessed hundreds of thousands wedding couples to tie their knots with elaborate folk rituals and processions that took place for two to three days.

Weds-to-be are well blessed by all the fisher folks right from their doorsteps, water alleyways, stilt houses, town hall square and village landmarks.

Perched on a small hill of the waterfront sidewalk of Shek Tsai Po Street on Lantau Island of Hong Kong, Tai O Heritage Hotel Hong Kong is a sustainable wedding destination for all weds-to-be to celebrate their memorable weddings.

Weds-to-be are welcomed to capture their wedding and pre-wedding moments at the hotel as well as the century-old stilt houses and tranquil water alleyways in this sustainable fishing village, one of the oldest in Hong Kong.

A lush wedding venue setting at Tai O Lookout of UNESCO-awarded Tai O Heritage Hotel Hong Kong

BTN: Tai O Heritage Hotel was recognised as Asia’s Leading Heritage Hotel earlier this year by the World Travel Awards. Could you tell us a little about this property?

IW: Initiated and operated as a non-profit social enterprise by Hong Kong Heritage Conservation Foundation, Tai O Heritage Hotel Hong Kong is one of the six projects under Batch One of Hong Kong SAR Government Development Bureau’s ‘Revitalising Historic Buildings Through Partnership Scheme’.

Graded as a Grade II historic building by the then Antiquities Advisory Board in 2010, the hotel was revitalised from the Old Tai O Police Station, a history-steeped building that dates back to 1902.

It is now home to nine colonial-style rooms, a Heritage Interpretation Centre and a glass-roofed open view restaurant Tai O Lookout.

Since its opening in February 2012, the hotel has received over 940,000 visitors in early November 2016.

As a non-profit social enterprise, the hotel has received a total of 21 accolades, recognising its devotion in heritage conservation, service excellence, corporate social responsibility and eco-tourism.

Showcasing East-meets-West, wed-to-be posed at Kat Hing Street in culture-rich and historic Tai O fishing village in Hong Kong

BTN: Who do you tend to welcome to the hotel? Is it mainly visitors from Asia, or do you see a lot of guests from Europe? How is this changing over time?

IW: In 2016, our visitors mainly are from Asia and many of them are residents from Hong Kong which have a good international mix of Chinese and expatriates community.

The tranquillity of Tai O and Tai O Heritage Hotel differs from the hustle and bustle of Hong Kong, which attracts lots of local expatriates to visit us during weekend and have a relaxing getaway.

We have been dedicated to engaging the public in bolstering Tai O’s local economy and promoting heritage conservation, thus we organise cultural tours to visit the idyllic village lanes, ancient temples and the iconic stilt houses for visitors to learn more about the stories and the rich heritage of Tai O fishing village.

The hotel is also open from 11:00-18:00 for public’s visit and there are three daily hotel guided tours conducted by hotel’s docent team.

As the hotel has been up and running, we witness a healthy trend of overseas visitors, a good mix of short haul and long haul feeder markets such as Mainland China, South-east Asia, Taiwan, Australia, New Zealand, Europe, US and Canada.

BTN: How did it feel to be recognised by the voters from World Travel Awards? Are the trophies and title of use to your brand for marketing purposes?

IW: We are highly grateful to learn that Tai O Heritage Hotel Hong Kong was voted as the Asia’s Leading Heritage Hotel by the industry professionals, this prestigious honour is a great encouragement to us.

We will continue our efforts in promoting heritage conservation and sustainable tourism.

The hotel has dedicated effort to both hardware conservation led by architectural consultants, interior designers and landscape experts to conserve extensively the Old Tai O Police Station’s original architecture and significance, as well as the software conservation by engaging the Hong Kong community, overseas travellers, conservation enthusiasts harmoniously at large while enhancing social and economic opportunities provided by the conserved heritage boutique hotel.

As a non-profit social enterprise, all proceeds of the hotel deducting operational costs would go to support heritage conservation and the Tai O community.

BTN: Finally, what do you have on the agenda for 2017 to ensure you remain ahead of the chasing pack?

IW: We will continue to welcome and serve the public, visitors as the steward for the 115-year-old historic architecture in 2017.

We also aim to dedicate an important segment – weds-to-be or guests who are planning for their celebrations.

To showcase Tai O Heritage Hotel Hong Kong as a sustainable wedding destination with the panoramic sea-view and refined charm of a historic setting, the hotel hosted the first-ever ‘Sustainable Wedding Destination @ Tai O Heritage Hotel – A Wedding Interlude’ in early November 2016.

The hotel offers customised western wedding packages with a capacity of 60 persons at the glass-roofed Tai O Lookout, while introduces the traditional Chinese marriage rituals and folk customs of Tai O fishing village to all weds-to-be, inspiring them to embark on a romantic voyage, symbolising the fulfilling journey of love.

The pre-wedding photography of Hong Kong celebrity and wed-to-be Corinna Chamberlain and Eddy Cheng taken at Tai O Heritage Hotel and Tai O fishing village by Hong Kong renowned wedding photographer Chan Kit are on display at Tai O Lookout, signifying timeless serenity and intimacy of Tai O.

All proceeds of the historic celebration of weds-to-be deducting operating cost will support local heritage conservation and the Tai O community.

Chris O’Toole