Upbeat over the past years as a result of a robust economy and developments in technology and transport infrastructure, the local tourism market now offers a plethora of affordable travel options.
Steve Huen, executive director of EGL Tours Co Ltd points out that modern lifestyle preferences, such as retirees living as quasi-tourists, exemplify the fact that what was once a luxurious commodity is now a viable choice for many.
Figures from the Travel Industry Council of Hong Kong reveal that total levies collected from outbound travellers' receipts for package tours sold by travel agencies in 2007 increased by 20 per cent over the past year.
"This indicates that the number of holidaymakers is rising and the price tags for trips are increasing. In fact, overall demand for travel products has followed an upward trend," Mr Huen says.
It is true that the rising values of many major foreign currencies may account for the escalating amounts Hong Kong people spend on travel sprees. However, another reason Mr Huen suggests for increased tourist expenditure is the greater demand for quality travel products which are either highly sophisticated, novel, or a blend of both.
To this end, EGL has introduced new modes of travel, exclusive itineraries and exotic destinations. At the beginning of the year, the company began offering a cruise service, providing more options for travellers wishing to include a deluxe liner journey in their travel plans.
Unlike commission-based sales practices which are commonplace in the travel industry, EGL operates its cruises incorporating a unique feature, which combines the luxury of the liner with the company's professional level of service.
Clients can maximise days at sea with facilities and activities designed to delight all age groups, such as indoor and outdoor swimming pools, whirlpools, rock climbing walls, a spa and fitness centre, shopping arcade, casino and youth amenities.
"Throughout the entire journey, EGL customers are pampered by our staff both onboard and offshore when visiting ports. At each destination, be it Shanghai, Taipei or Fukuoka, clients enjoy adventures meticulously planned by EGL. Escorts are bilingual, speaking both Cantonese and the destination language fluently to ensure client dining and sightseeing experiences are first rate," Mr Huen explains.
In his opinion, clients are now more sophisticated as they have accumulated extensive travel experience. To cater to transforming customer tastes, EGL is constantly updating its products to maximise customer satisfaction.
Although he expects the increasing number of outbound guided tours to plateau in the near future, Mr Huen is optimistic about the growth in air-and-hotel packages in the local market as more customers prefer the flexibility offered.
To streamline the flow of telephone inquiries, EGL is currently setting up a call centre in Kwun Tong. By dealing with all telephone inquiries under one roof, the company will continue to streamline its operation which will eventually benefit end users of EGL services.
"We plan to keep the number of branches unchanged at the moment as the volume of walk-in customers to our branches remains steady. Enhanced services such as ticket delivery direct to customers' doors will be our main focus as we are receiving mounting demand for greater levels of convenience," Mr Huen notes.
"However, fundamental in tourism, or in any people industry, is the human touch which can only emanate from individual staff members. To attract and retain people with the right personality, EGL has invested heavily in training and career development for staff as well as offering financial incentives," Mr Huen adds.
A tour leader novice at EGL receives a HK$3,500 basic salary plus multiple bonuses linked to the overall performance of the company.
In the long term, staff are given several opportunities to build on their competences. New recruits undertake a nine-day training programme. Individual learning programmes are also devised for established staff. In some cases, talented people are sponsored to stay overseas for language enhancement and cultural exposure.
EGL also adopts a promote-from-within policy, encouraging advancement and improved personal performance. "To succeed in this profession, you must be outgoing and sociable, almost like the host at a party. It is important that tour leaders create an atmospheric journey to make it pleasurable and memorable for everyone in the group," Mr Huen concludes.