With Hong Kong Disneyland operating at full swing, the redevelopment of Ocean Park in the pipeline, and new attractions like a cable car on Lantau Island and the opening of a wetland park in Tin Shui Wai, Hong Kong is hoping that the influx of overseas tourists will continue to break records.
In fact, according to certain estimates, the city is on track to become the world's fifth most popular travel destination by 2020, attracting around 57 million visitors a year and taking the hospitality industry to dramatic new heights. For that to happen, many new recruits will be needed which is why the Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU) has announced plans to invest HK$500 million to build the territory's first hotel dedicated to training industry newcomers by 2008.
Located in Tsim Sha Tsui East, the proposed complex will consist of a main hotel, conference facilities, restaurants, research centres, classrooms, offices, staff quarters and 300 guest rooms. "It will be like a living laboratory," says Professor Kaye Chon, chair professor and head of the School of Hotel and Tourism Management. "Students will be able to obtain first-hand experience in a practical environment, which will enhance work-related education and research in hospitality management."
PolyU currently offers three-year degree and diploma courses in hotel and tourism management. It was recently ranked fourth globally among schools with similar courses in a study published by the Journal of Hospitality & Tourism Research.
Professor Chon says the teaching hotel will attract high-calibre students and that the 45 members of faculty will be from around the world. "Students will be exposed to a wealth of knowledge and best practices unmatched by any other schools," he notes.
One of the advantages will be having research laboratories in which to experiment and research on areas of design, infrastructure and services including, for example, room layout, wiring and ducting.
He adds that leadership in hospitality education has shifted from the traditional European and American institutions to those in Asia. Hong Kong, as home to some of the world's best hotels and airlines, has emerged as a centre for excellence in the tourism industry. Students and graduates benefit greatly by having the chance to gain work experience or take on full-time positions with these organisations.
Professor Chon predicts that job prospects for course graduates will be promising but challenging. He says that many Hong Kong-trained managers in the hospitality sector have accepted jobs in Macau and mainland China, resulting in faster promotions for more junior staff. With both new tourist attractions and new hotels being planned, he foresees increasing demand for employees with experience and management skills.
Also essential for success are a multi-cultural perspective, good communication skills, and a passion for offering the highest levels of service. "Graduates must realise that the work can be tough, but that gaining on-the-job experience is the best way to learn," he says. This lesson was brought home to him when, as a trainee hotel manager, he was asked to put on an apron and cut up carrots in the kitchen. Feeling insulted, he asked his trainer why he had to do this apparently low-level chore. The answer he received then still holds truth today: no hotel manager is fully competent without understanding exactly what every member of staff has to do.