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Hong Kong Tramways: West Island MTR Line opportunity to grow ad revenue

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With most of the West Island MTR line running from Sheung Wan to Kennedy Town set to open next month, trams are expected to be one of the most hard-hit modes of transport. Tram bodies also double as advertising spaces.However, Emmanuel Vivant, managing director at Hong Kong Tramways, an exhibitor at the 'So French. So Innovative' exhibition running at Central Market until 23 November, sees the West Island line opening as an opportunity."The new MTR line will represent more competition and it will certainly affect our business. But the construction of the MTR line is already changing the landscape of Kennedy Town. We see potential for the value of ad spaces in tram shelters there to go up," he said.He predicts that with high office rental rates in Central and Quarry Bay, Kennedy Town could become another prime location for offices in the future. This could bring more foot traffic to the Kennedy Town part of the tram corridor.Secondly, the new MTR line may entice private car drivers to take the MTR instead of driving, which when combined with the future Central-Wanchai Bypass diverting traffic towards the harbourfront, will help free up space along the tram corridors."Private cars and congestion are more of a real threat to us than the MTR. We hope to regain the priority in the tram corridor that we've lost in previous years which has increased traveling times," Vivant said.Shorter travelling times will help keep this iconic mode of transport competitive and for marketers, this means tram bodies that can cover more ground as they carry ads and have greater visibility.Growing ad revenue with a limited number of tram shelters and tramsVivant said bare shelters, which mostly inhabit the eastern part of the Kennedy Town to Shau Kei Wan tram corridor, could be converted into tram shelters with billboards.Tops of shelters also present opportunities for marketers thinking outside of the box of traditional display advertising while digital displays is another idea on the table.Tram advertising is less affected by the internet compared to other forms of offline advertising, said Vivant."The internet is more of a challenge to TV and print. For us, as long as people still go out and there are people on the street, tram ads are still relevant," he said.Marketing a traditional mode of transportAs for marketing themselves, traditional advertising is too costly for a low-cost mode of transport such as the tram.Vivant said, "Traditional ads don't make sense for us.  Why would you spend HK$2 per customer who will pay HK$2.30 for a trip?""But we still need to market ourselves because there are so many other alternative modes of transport."This is mostly done through below the line campaigns and events open to the public such as spray art workshops, turning trams and tram shelters into art galleries and asking bands hold concerts on board trams.Hong Kong Tramways has also held open days and movie screenings at its Whitty Street depot as well as community tram tours."These public events and campaigns help keep our trams interesting and build up our image by engaging the community," Vivant said.On the digital front, the company opened a Facebook page last year and is now on Weibo and Trip Advisor. It has revamped its website and set up a Next Tram app.The company's content marketing strategy for the Facebook page has been all about leveraging the history of trams and their emotional weighting in people's collective memories - by posting photos of trams, tram memorabilia and stories.More recently, due to Occupy Central, its Facebook page has been mostly filled with service announcements for passengers.To help attract more young passengers, in the past, it has held a Facebook and Instagram photography competition where passengers are asked to submit a photo of a tram and a short story.There are two potential growth areas for trams - the tram as a tourist attraction and as a venue for personal and corporate parties.A tourist-oriented tram product and marketing strategy"We want to develop products that are relevant to tourists - dedicated sightseeing trams with special services," Vivant said.He hopes that these will be rolled out next year and believes the key point of differentiation from existing sightseeing modes of transportation like the Rickshaw bus will be the tram's status as an icon of Hong Kong.Over the past year, Hong Kong Tramways has also been stepping up its communication strategy geared towards tourists.Vivant said, "We are making sure we are where the tourists are, whether it's Facebook, Weibo, Trip Advisor or Hong Kong Tourism Board guidebooks."Tram PartiesSix months ago, the company introduced online booking for its tram party service, which has been around for a whopping 25 years.This is a growth area for the brand, with tram parties experiencing double-digit growth over the past four years.However, Vivant is cautious of growing this part of the business too quickly."We don't want to grow that part of the business at the expense of passenger service, which is our core focus," he said."We may consider growing our tram parties business if we add more trams to the fleet."Tram parties are mostly marketed through direct sales although the company sometimes receives bookings by travel agencies.

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