Graduates / Trainees

Putting out the welcome mat

by Mabel Sieh

Grace Lee, deputy executive director, Hong Kong Tourism Board

The Tourism Orientation Programme is providing participants with the skills and experience needed by a sector which is booming once again

Each year, Hong Kong attracts millions of tourists from all over the world. Many of them see the city not only as a shopping paradise but also as a destination which provides great hospitality and a diversity of cultural experiences. This image, projected internationally, has been carefully developed over the years and much of the credit for its success goes to the Hong Kong Tourism Board (HKTB).

One of their initiatives, introduced to create a culture geared towards providing excellent service and to develop a professionally trained workforce, has been the Tourism Orientation Programme (TOP). Since 2002, this has offered participants, known as tourism hosts, a structured one-month induction training course followed by a one-year programme that teaches skills in the tourism trade and includes placements in the field.

"Through TOP, we are helping to raise service standards so that tourists will enjoy our hospitality and make return visits," says Grace Lee, deputy executive director of the Hong Kong Tourism Board.

Employers give priority to TOP graduates

Tourism hosts start by learning basic information about the most popular visitor destinations such as the Peak, the big Buddha on Lantau Island and the escalator in Central. They are taught about the key aspects of customer service and effective communication and given language training in English and Mandarin. Female participants are also given tips about styling and the use of cosmetics. Most important of all, however, is the chance to gain frontline experience with TOP partners in the airline, hotel and retail sectors.

A total of more than 70 TOP partners serve as placement providers and offer coaching and mentoring throughout the programme. Their role is to provide day-to-day supervision and guidance for the tourism hosts. During any placement, continuous support is also provided by the HKTB to upgrade general competencies and equip hosts with information on the latest developments in the tourism industry. This is done through regular updates, review workshops, seminars and the designated homepage for tourism hosts at TOP partners are asked to take part in performance appraisals and, upon successful completion of the programme, certificates are awarded to participants.

Anyone welcome

So who can become a tourism host? According to Mrs Lee, "It is open to anybody. However, priority is given to full-time degree or diploma holders in tourism-related courses and to part-time graduates with three years' work experience in tourism or the service industry." Graduates in other disciplines, who have completed a travel and tourism certificate course, are welcome to apply and those with significant service industry experience will also be considered. "Above all, what you need is an excellent attitude and the right personality," Mrs Lee adds. "To do the job well, you need to be sincere and outgoing. You must enjoy communicating with people and have good language skills."

Major duties involve greeting and welcoming visitors to Hong Kong, providing destination information and advising proactively. Practical assistance must be offered, comments collected and frontline work performed for TOP partners. At all times, the objective is to project a warm and helpful image on behalf of Hong Kong.

Each year, there are as many as 3,000 applicants with selections and interviews done jointly by the HKTB and TOP partners. Mrs Lee notes that the overall quality of applicants has increased and believes that the tourism industry offers a good career with great prospects.

Wide recognition

"Tourism has always been one of the most competitive university courses," she notes. "Now, in TOP, participants have the opportunity to gain systematic, comprehensive training with authentic frontline experience in one of three different fields which will often lead directly to a full-time employment contract."

The programme is widely recognised in Hong Kong and has received excellent feedback. "Employers indicate they will give priority to TOP graduates and over 80 percent have found a job in the industry. Some have even been recruited before graduating," says Mrs Lee. Demand in the different sectors tends to be steady but, recently, there has been an increase in the openings offered by hotels.

Mrs Lee believes tourism can definitely be classified as a feel-good profession. "You meet people of different nationalities, get a chance to help others and get instant feedback when you deliver good service," she says. "And, what is better than promoting your home to foreigners?"

During her 18 years in the field, Mrs Lee has seen many positive changes. "Society now recognises the value of tourism more than before," she explains. "There is greater support from the government and better funding for things like the TOP programme."

With exciting projects ahead, such as the opening of Disneyland, and closer cooperation with China leading to an influx of mainland visitors, Mrs Lee is hopeful that tourism will continue to boom. "We must, though, keep raising our standards," she says, "and remember that, when we serve tourists, we are also serving Hong Kong!"

Entry requirements for TOP

Preference will be given to candidates with relevant education and training, including:

  • those with full-time degrees, higher diplomas or diplomas in tourism-related studies;
  • graduates in part-time tourism-related courses with at least 70 contact hours, plus three years' work experience in the tourism or hospitality field; and
  • graduates in other disciplines who completed travel and tourism courses at school certificate level.
Anyone with previous work experience in the service industry will also be considered.

Tourism Hosts should possess an excellent service attitude, an outgoing personality, and be fluent in spoken English, Putonghua and Cantonese.

Taken from Career Times 16 July 2004
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