Chance to combine work and leisure

by Marc Yannick Ceyton

Brian Ho, human resources manager, Ocean Park

Internships provide the perfect opportunity to learn about the tourism industry

Besides providing entertainment and excitement for millions of visitors over the years, Ocean Park has also been making a valuable contribution to the community through its initiatives to promote education and conservation. One of these is a highly regarded internship programme, which was established more than a decade ago and provides a unique opportunity for local students of hospitality, tourism and the leisure industry to gain practical work experience.

Brian Ho is the human resources manager at Ocean Park and is justifiably proud of a progamme which has led to close collaboration with some of Hong Kong's leading educational institutions and has already enabled hundreds of students to get on-the-job insights into what makes the business tick. One clear sign of success, particularly in the last two years, is that Ocean Park has received numerous requests from colleges and universities wanting to realign their own courses to include the option of an internship. "That is because we offer a unique and incredibly diverse working environment and have people working as everything from accountants to zoologists," Mr Ho says.

The management of Ocean Park is now cooperating with various institutions, including the Chinese University of Hong Kong, the Institute of Vocational Education and the Hong Kong Polytechnic University, and is offering tailor-made programmes for each of them. There are obviously mutual benefits: students can provide additional manpower in key areas during peak visitor seasons and those who impress may be considered for future full-time positions; Ocean Park is able to help both the academic community and the individuals concerned.

The various programmes run from a full-year "sandwich" course, which is part of a three-year university degree, to others of just several weeks' duration. The shorter programmes are sometimes harder for department managers to organise since there is limited time to get the students up to speed. They require much closer supervision, but Ocean Park accepts this as part of their commitment to providing educational opportunities for the younger generation. Also on offer are placements and facilities which allow biology and zoology students to observe the park's numerous animal species up close.

Different mentality

Though regular requests for internships are received from all parts of the academic community, Ocean Park's policy is to accept predominantly students taking tourism-related courses. While those in other disciplines may be well qualified, there is a feeling they may not have all the personal attributes and people skills which are such an integral part of the hospitality and leisure sector. "Even other parts of the service industry operate with a different mentality," says Mr Ho. "Whichever way you look at it, this is a tough industry, working during holidays, weekends and often late into the night."

One factor that also sets Ocean Park apart is that much of the work is out of doors. Especially during the summer season, this is can really test the mettle and the energy levels of members of staff who cannot always retreat to the cool of an air-conditioned environment. For example, booth attendants, entertainers and ride operators must be fully prepared to cope with whatever the weather brings.

Any student hoping to land an internship should have an outgoing and positive disposition. "We try to engage happy people because it's very difficult to teach people to smile, and that is a vital trait when you run a theme park," says Mr Ho. Besides that, applicants should have good conversational Cantonese, Mandarin and English, plus an innate ability to connect with people. They must also be willing to work long hours whenever necessary.

New challenges

In recent years, Ocean Park has seen a steady increase in the number of visitors from mainland China and tourists from overseas. These two groups now make up about 60 per cent of the approximately four million visitors a year and bring new challenges in customer relations. Tact, caution and meticulousness are needed to deal with the myriad incidents that may happen on any day of the week. "Therefore, we train our interns to deal with all kinds of potential problems," explains Mr Ho.

One area of constant demand is for stage performers to take part in the park's variety shows. "Good stage performers are hard to find in Hong Kong as the entertainment industry is geared towards film and television," Mr Ho says. As a result, Ocean Park has had to recruit abroad to find the range of talent needed.

With increased competition and a generally stronger economy, Mr Ho knows that recruiting experienced staff will not get any easier. Ocean Park is itself planning to expand and introduce new attractions by 2010 and aims to become the world's best marine-based theme park in the process. Tied in with a massive redevelopment of the surrounding area, this could mean as many as 30,000 new jobs for Hong Kong.

Inside knowledge

  • Long-running internship programmes tailor-made to meet the requirements of local tertiary-level institutions
  • Internships range from several weeks to one year and provide clear benefits for all parties
  • Ocean Park sees providing educational opportunities as one of its duties to the community
  • Internships are usually offered only to students taking hospitality-related courses and may lead to the offer of full-time positions
  • The park has plans for redevelopment with new attractions to open by 2010

Taken from Career Times 27 May 2005
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