The tourism industry was exceptionally buoyant in 2007. As salaries increase and international perspectives broaden, ever greater numbers of people are taking advantage of more exotic travel opportunities. A key one-stop travel company has envisaged this boom and is pulling out all the stops to ensure customers enjoy the most dynamic travel experience on offer.
Travel growth is not a new phenomenon. Indeed, according to statistics from the Tourism Commission, the value of outbound tourism from Hong Kong amounted to a massive HK$10.3 billion in 2006, increasing at an average annual rate of 3.3 per cent from HK$8.8 billion in 2001. Meanwhile, the number of people engaged in outbound tourism in 2006 was 31,700, increasing at an average annual rate of 5.6 per cent from 2001, according to figures published in the March 2008 issue of the Hong Kong Monthly Digest of Statistics by the Census and Statistics Department.
Susanna Lau, general manager, Hong Thai Travel Services Limited has witnessed this growth first hand. "The tourism industry in Hong Kong has experienced a healthy recovery since 2003. As a result of increased economic stability, the travel expectations of Hong Kong residents have shifted upwards," she notes.
Nowadays, travellers seek more innovative and creative products. To meet customer demand in this mature market therefore, outbound tour operators have begun launching both thematic and cruise tours to attract new business. New excursions are also launched from time to time to suit customer needs. "For example, in spring and summer there are flower blossom tours; and in winter, spa and skiing trips," Ms Lau says. Hong Thai also offers international cruises to nearby destinations.
Naturally, this greater momentum is creating more diverse opportunities for career growth in the field. In the immediate future alone, Ms Lau anticipates a huge demand for both ticketing officers and travel consultants.
Despite the demand and supply discrepancy, to truly succeed in the profession requires a certain mind frame and particular approach. Employers in the industry tend to favour candidates with experience as well as outgoing personalities —p eople who possess excellent communication skills, and display pleasant and responsible personality traits. "In addition, we also consider candidates with the passion to serve and the ability to embrace challenge," Ms Lau notes.
She also points out that the recruitment and retention of quality staff are always a major headache for tour operators. "Our strategy is to implement effective and clear recruitment plans to find suitable candidates. We use group interviews to screen candidates. In the process, interviewees are given a topic on which they are invited to present their opinions and discuss viable options. During these exercises, we can closely observe individual performances," she reveals.
Hong Thai understands the fundamental value of staff. Ms Lau says, "As our brand is positioned as a one-stop travel department store, we offer a broad spectrum of unique travel products and superlative services to our customers. In order to do so, we organise a wide range of classroom and on-the-job training initiatives for all our staff."
She explains that new employees undergo an intensive, comprehensive orientation training programme in order to better understand overall business procedure, company culture, products, services and necessary skills. Additionally, every member of staff undertakes 35 hours of training annually to focus on service enhancement, product familiarisation, market trends and communication skills.
Aside from training, regular meetings between senior management and operation staff are held to exchange ideas. "Our staff turnover rate is relatively low, partly due to our utilisation of different platforms for internal communication," explains Ms Lau. Regular contact includes the company's quarterly booklet Hong Thai Blog, which keeps staff up to date with the company's latest news.
Hong Thai also structures opportunities for lateral and vertical professional development. "We provide various channels for career progress. For example, some frontline staff may choose to relocate to the back office, and we encourage this lateral movement if our personnel feel they would fit better in an alternative role," Ms Lau stresses.
She adds that Hong Thai is fully committed to career development and growth opportunities for its staff and the company offers challenging new opportunities to existing employees. This strategy not only benefits staff but also the company and customers, as the former retains experienced, loyal people and the latter receive competent, professional service.
Regarding advice to those considering entering the sector, Ms Lau encourages candidates to demonstrate their passion for the industry and display a positive mindset to truly stand out from the crowd.