Alumnus Bernard Pak has devoted over 20 years of his life to the tourism sector, experiencing its ups and downs, witnessing how times have changed. Even when the industry hit rock bottom, Bernard never gave up – he kept on learning and equipped himself with new skills and knowledge, in anticipation of new opportunities and challenges on the horizon. He exudes strong market sense and forward-looking vision, which made him a highly regarded talent of employers.
As he was climbing the hierarchal ladder, Bernard resolutely resigned to start his own online travel agency known as MyFamiGo. Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, he responded to the crisis calmly and switched to focus on the local glamping market, thereby keeping his business afloat and making a name for it. In the post-COVID era, he is ready to make some big moves again. That being said, his passion for the industry and his philosophy of always putting people first remain the same. Embarking on his journey, he wants his clients to enjoy the splendid vistas, have lots of fun and the ultimate peace of mind along the way.
Career move inspired by travel experiences
Most Hong Kong people enjoy overseas travel as a way to take the edge off. So does Bernard. He has been determined to launch a career in the tourism industry ever since he was a child. The reason couldn’t be any more straightforward. “I really wanted to explore the world,” he said. Upon graduation from secondary school, he flew to Japan on a group tour. It was his very first overseas trip and it truly opened his eyes. “The tour leader took care of the whole itinerary and every matter on the tour, big or small. He got to travel around the world. How amazing! I was truly jealous of him and curious about this occupation.”
Right then, he was about to decide for post-secondary schooling. Bernard was enrolled in the Certificate in Tour Co-ordination at Haking Wong Technical Institute, the predecessor of IVE (Haking Wong). The programme covered training for professional tour guides and tour leaders, as well as the operation of travel agencies and the workflow of business collaborations. Upon completing the programme, Bernard was hired right away by the company where he had worked as an intern. As a local tour guide, he was able to apply what he learned, mostly taking care of tour groups from Europe. Bernard admitted that he had little confidence in English communication at first, but he never stopped learning to boost his English skills. Eventually, he managed to become a capable and eloquent tour guide.
SARS outbreak; career breakthrough every 10 years
When the outbreak of SARS began in 2003, most tourists stopped coming to Hong Kong. The local tourism industry was hit hard and suffered a temporary downturn. However, Bernard did not just sit there and wait for it to end. Instead, he took the opportunity and re-considered his career – what if there was another epidemic? Where should he be heading with his career? Being a passionate traveller, Bernard chose to stick to his job. But he reckoned he needed to expand the scope of his career. During those months when he had no work, he signed up for a diploma course in human resource management, so as to boost his knowledge on the subject and business operation. That gave him an opportunity to transfer to another job of administrative nature within the company.
Despite drastic changes in the business landscape, Bernard still hanged in there persistently. It was because of the advice he got from a senior co-worker. “You’d get phased out by the market quickly if you don’t keep upskilling yourself and make progress. That’s why I’d set a goal for myself since I had my first job – I want to achieve a career breakthrough around every 10 years. And I kept working towards that goal in every stage.”
After SARS, the mainland government launched the Individual Visit Scheme, allowing travellers from mainland China to visit Hong Kong on individual basis, as opposed to group tours. Chinese tourists flocked to Hong Kong and Bernard was busy booking accommodations and local tours for them, helping his company revive. Travel agencies are closely related to the hotel industry. With his eagerness to learn, Bernard pursued a bachelor's degree in tourism and hospitality that built tremendous momentum for the first 10 years of his career. Anticipating the internet to be the mainstream for all businesses, he foresaw the need to upgrade himself with theories and knowledge related to creative thinking, multimedia and online engagement. As a result, he went on to acquire a master’s degree in multimedia and entertainment technology, fully preparing himself for a take-off in the second decade of his career.
Motivated to tread on online travel business
In the age of wireless connectivity, one can order flight tickets, book accommodations, and personalise travel experience with a few clicks on a smartphone app. That has substantially revolutionised travel behaviours and the tourism industry. In the early 2010s, the popular online travel agency in mainland China known as Ctrip (now renamed to trip.com) decided to expand its business to the Hong Kong market. With Bernard’s profound experience in managing travel agencies and his extensive network in the hotel industry, he was hired by the Hong Kong and Macau branch of Ctrip, in charge of deal-making with hotels. His job was to negotiate with hotels to secure the most rooms at the lowest price possible for their online customers. Competition was keen and he had to work day and night to formulate collaboration plans according to different hotel market segments. Under his shrewd stewardship, his team secured substantial market share in the Hong Kong and Macau markets. His outstanding performance also earned him much recognition, and he was promoted to General Manager within five years.
Starting his own brand to target the family market
Working in a pioneering online travel agency, Bernard discovered a niche market. “Most mainstream travel booking sites were not family-friendly. For example, there were seldom options for parents and children to stay together in one room.” He spoke as a parent in a family of four who came across such hurdles first-hand. Based on his familiarity with the industry landscape, Bernard figured that large-scale platforms prioritised efficiency and tried to minimise the room types to streamline the whole process. Most online travel agencies made customers choose between double and twin rooms, simply ignoring the travel needs of families with younger children. Identifying the business potential therein, Bernard quitted his high-paying job to cofound an online travel agency with a few partners coming from an IT background in 2019. His venture MyFamiGo targets family travellers and it was the masterplan for the third ten years of his career.
Coping with COVID; tapping into new concepts
However, shortly after MyFamiGo opened its doors, COVID-19 took the world by storm and put international travels to a standstill. Meanwhile, people looked inward for local travel experiences and that resulted in a camping boom throughout the world. Hong Kong was no exception, and Bernard’s company responded swiftly to offer glamping experiences for families with kids. They collaborated with outdoor gear brands for all-in-one stress-free camping trips – from the rental of camping supplies and booking of camp sites, to the set-up of tents and venue decorations, everything was taken care of. Customers just needed to show up with their luggage to enjoy the nature. They also opened concept stores in WM Hotel to combine staycation with sea-view camping. Amid the pandemic, they went to great lengths to promote their services and at one point, all tours they offered were fully booked. They generated overwhelming buzz around their business and attracted numerous customers amid the tourism downturn.
On the other hand, the success of glamping business didn’t distract Bernard from his core business. When overseas travels weren’t possible, he wrote codes with his partners to develop a new booking system in preparation for the post-COVID roaring return of travellers when travel restrictions are lifted. The new system is a one-stop travel service hub for travelling families. As the pandemic eased off in early 2023, borders were opened again and Hong Kong welcomed the arrival of international travellers once more. Right then, MyFamiGo launched its brand-new family-friendly booking service for hotels in Japan, while also recommending itineraries for families with kids. The thoughtful planning helped them travel at ease and it was extremely well-received. Bernard’s forward-looking vision turned challenges into opportunities.
People-oriented mind-set makes for quality travels
We travel to take in the unfamiliar scenery; we travel to unwind and revitalise. Bernard believes tourism is a sector that pivots around people. He advised all younger VTC students interested in joining the industry to figure out customers’ needs with all their hearts. No matter they are interested to be tour guides, tour leaders or working for online travel agencies, there will be much room for career development. As long as they put themselves in customers’ shoes and take care of every detail meticulously, they can provide every traveller with remarkable services and make sure every trip exceeds customer expectations.