The 135-year-old Peak Tram, one of the world’s oldest and most famous funicular railways, has transformed itself from an essential mode of transport into one of Hong Kong’s most popular tourist attractions.
Prior to COVID-19, the tram drew more than six million people annually.
Peak Tram passengers can enjoy panoramic views of Victoria Peak (known as The Peak), Hong Kong’s skyline, and Victoria Harbour. The Peak is a major destination combining the landmark Peak Tower, shopping, dining, attractions, and woodland walks.
“The Peak Tram has served Hong Kong citizens since 1888, from the first-generation steam-powered Peak Tram, which could accommodate 40 passengers, to the sixth-generation, state-of-the-art Peak Tram, which can now accommodate 210 passengers,” says May Tsang, general manager at The Peak Tramways Company. The funicular railway rises 396 meters above sea level along a 1.4-kilometer track with a gradient of 4 to 25.7 degrees.
The Peak Tram’s popularity was one of its challenges as demand created long queues. Last August, the Peak Tramways Company completed a HK$799 million upgrade, boosting the ride’s capacity and cutting wait times. In addition to introducing the larger tram cars—along with revamping the boarding platform to improve capacity, comfort, and accessibility—the project embraced entertainment in five engaging zones.
“The new-look Peak Tram offers visitors a multitude of sensory experiences, and ushers in a vastly improved passenger experience all around,” explains Tsang.
The new entertainment and art installations greet visitors, build anticipation, add storytelling in the queuing and waiting areas, and facilitate better throughput.
Australian artist Lindy Lee’s Eye of Infinity sculpture shimmers with starry lighting at the Central terminal entrance. The Beating Heart installation breathes new life into the Peak Tram’s existing historical haulage equipment display. Projection mapping and lighting effects conjure the illusion that the machinery is again pulling the tram up the mountain. A short film shows how the tram’s technologies have evolved.
Guests can climb aboard one of the first wooden tram cars at An Icon is Born. Once Upon a Tram charts key moments in the history of Hong Kong and the Peak Tram through a scrolling digital timeline (in English and Traditional Chinese). Go Wild At the Peak is a wraparound hyperreal video experience that immerses guests in The Peak’s fauna and flora. The mesmerizing sequence previews The Peak’s diverse wildlife from dawn to dusk. Dreamlike 3D digital animations play across floor-to-ceiling LED screens for eight minutes. Each show is timed and synchronized to the tram’s timetable.
Strategy Behind the Content
Design and production company Sarner International was a consultant on the project, helping deliver the experiential entertainment and media content, which was designed and produced remotely during the pandemic. Sarner collaborated with Squint/Opera to create the immersive digital media. “Audio System Consultants (Asia) Ltd delivered the hardware and our partner on the ground was Dino Tech Ltd,” explains Alex Prescott, lead designer at Sarner.
Sarner’s managing director Ross Magri says the project struck “a fine balance between doing something that is an attraction in its own right, but not overtaking what visitors go to The Peak for.”
The immersive displays entertain, but, “primarily for the client, it’s all about getting footfall through,” Prescott says. The team had to be mindful that the exhibits didn’t impede that process. The dynamic displays help to manage queues by pulsing visitors through the terminals and are designed to slow them from rushing onto the tram.
Vadim Charles, creative director at Squint/Opera, says one of the challenges was to produce a close-to-final experience before the LED walls and ceilings were built on-site and available for testing. So, Squint recreated everything in its Virtual Twin platform and simulated various crowding conditions to understand how the experience might be affected by different visitor numbers. This insight influenced the animations for Go Wild at the Peak; flying and climbing animals were ideal because they could be easily seen by visitors on the upper LED panels.
The immersive media enlivens the venue while being sympathetic to the Peak Tram’s heritage. It also allows for flexible content, such as highlighting special events.
“We have worked hard to integrate technology and engaging interactivity, giving passengers an immersive Peak Tram-themed experience at all guest touchpoints,” Tsang says.
“The reason for all this effort is that we put our visitors at the heart of everything we do. With every question we asked ourselves—and every challenge and design consideration that came up—we circled back to how we could better serve passengers and bring more joy and fun to everyone riding on the Peak Tram.”
Benefits that Produce Visitors
Now that Hong Kong is open again to visitors worldwide, the Peak Tram is ready to welcome an increasing number of visitors. “The expanded Central terminus with five entertainment zones will help to reduce passenger waiting times by over 70%. People no longer need to wait for over 90 minutes outdoors to get on the tram. They can stay in the covered, temperature-controlled queueing and waiting areas and learn about Hong Kong’s culture, history, and nature,” Tsang says.
Tsang praises the Peak Tram’s partners and team for achieving the colossal redevelopment. “With a brand-new passenger experience, enhanced technology, and a spectacular experiential journey on the new tram cars, the Peak Tram can proudly take its place amongst the world’s best tourist attractions.”