By Deena Douara
Today, Wong’s Toronto tourism videos run in ten hotels – including the Sheraton Centre and the Chelsea Hotel – and he anticipates a five-fold growth in the run-up to the PanAm Games this summer.
The videos, Wong explains, are beneficial for everyone involved. Shops, restaurants and museums reach visitors; tourists get an overview of the city, and hotels get more access to their guests.
According to his research, only one per cent of guests typically watch more than a minute of the hotel channel. “It’s a dead medium.”
He explains that the numbers change drastically if the channel also churns out tourist-friendly info: “About 68 per cent of people are willing to watch a hotel tourism TV channel for up 22 to 26 minutes.”
Wong graduated with an International Relations degree from the University of Toronto in 2008 – an inopportune time to try to be a diplomat. Instead, he worked at a bank and at the Apple store.
Then he got a call that he would have to go to Singapore on three days’ notice for family reasons and wanted to make sure he saw some highlights while there.
“I really didn’t like the whole process of researching travel. There must be an easier way to do things…. Reading about stuff isn’t all that interesting.”
So he searched for videos and found “a crazy tourism video from the city of Singapore highlighting everything you needed to know about the city, the attractions, everything under the sun. Then when I got to Singapore, it was the same video in the hotel and I thought, ‘That’s odd. Why doesn’t anyone else do this?’”
He researched what cities had similar videos and was surprised at how many didn’t.
When he returned, he quit his job and got started on VaycayTV.
With no experience, he filmed a pilot with friends using his point-and-shoot. He was told by a Tourism Toronto executive that he wasn’t ready and admits the pilot was amateurish.
But he forged ahead anyway.
Using the same video, he got support from the City’s Economic Development & Culture Division as well as the Sheraton Centre and Chelsea hotels. He explains that one of his supporters intended to do the same thing 20 years ago and thus, really believed in the idea.
Wong takes a native advertising approach: he hired two hosts (after receiving “a thousand” applications) who experience the retailers or activities being highlighted. Occasionally he hires professional videographers and new compilations are produced each month.
After using his own wits to get by for the first year, Wong stumbled on the Starter Company program offered by Enterprise Toronto while searching for grants.
When I ask Wong what information he lacked prior to the program, he laughs. “I was lacking in a lot of things.”
He says the greatest benefit has been the mentorship and he emphasizes their importance to entrepreneurs.
“Grab as many mentors as you can, experts in different roles…. There’s always going to be someone willing to help.”
“It’s been very, very helpful. It’s given me a clear idea of how to run a business versus making it up as you go along.”
He says he realized he was doing everything himself. “That’s not how a real business is run. You have to delegate, you have to build systems, you have to trust people.”
You can’t blame him though for thinking he could do it all himself. After all, Wong has no business partners and learned to do video and production by utilizing YouTube tutorials and the Apple store’s one-to-one program.
“We want to make sure everyone leaves Toronto thinking we’re 10 out of 10…. There’s so many wonderful things to do in the city, we just haven’t done a good job of promoting it.”
Despite his love for the city though, Wong’s ambitions don’t end with the Gardiner.
He’s aiming to be in New York City by the end of year.
“Ultimately we want to be in every city in North America with the goal of reaching Tokyo before the 2020 Olympics.”