Taking the hassle out of overseas travel

by Christina Tai

Jo Jo Chan, deputy general manager, Wing On Travel

A new range of tours is catering for people with special interests

The tourism industry contributes billions of dollars a year to Hong Kong's economy, but companies operating in the sector are well aware that nothing can be taken for granted.

"There are continuous developments, so we must be endlessly innovative and keep enhancing the professionalism and quality of our services," says Jo Jo Chan, the deputy general manager of Wing On Travel. "That goes together with our goal of creating pleasurable and memorable trips for all our customers."

Ms Chan points out that many Hong Kong people have had the opportunity to travel widely in the last few years. When planning holidays now, they do more research, perhaps using the Internet, and want to do something more than just visiting the "usual" tourist sights.

"If they have already been to Thailand a few times, they probably don't want to visit the shrine of the four-faced Buddha again," she says. Therefore, new tours are being devised, built around different themes. Currently, these include photography, spas and tranquillity, and cooking demonstrations by well-known chefs. More recent options are trips to South Korea to visit movie locations and spots frequented by film stars, as well as summer educational tours in mainland China, chosen by parents who want their children to learn self-discipline and independence.

Safety first

A good travel experience depends on excellent safety and security. So, the company's representatives will do an extensive advance check of key arrangements. They will, for example, review the number of life jackets available for a sightseeing cruise, the crisis management and first-aid procedures in case of emergencies, and local SOS support. Each tour also takes full account of the likely interests of the targeted age group and what they will and will not want to do.

If there is a mishap involving theft, injury or the loss of travel documents, family members back in Hong Kong will be notified immediately. Ms Chan says this provides peace of mind for both those travelling and those at home, and makes it much easier to relax and enjoy the trip.

For people planning to try higher-risk activities like mountain climbing, skiing or white-water rafting, tailor-made insurance is available. Wing On Travel's team regularly reviews policies and, if necessary, can negotiate insurance cover with additional benefits and longer periods for follow-up treatment in Hong Kong.

Ms Chan is particularly appreciative of the ways the government has supported the tourism industry. In particular, this has led to the opening of special aisles at the airport and better liaison between the various authorities when unexpected problems occur.

Professional training

The positions most often available in the industry are for frontline tour guides, branch managers and ticketing officers. Since tourism is very much a "people business", candidates should be energetic, outgoing, patient and excellent communicators both in person and by phone. It is also important to be flexible, either to handle shift duties or to make frequent overseas trips accompanying tour groups. Ms Chan says this can have an impact on family life, so anyone thinking of applying should give it careful consideration.

Degree holders are generally preferred as trainee escorts for long-haul tours, since they often have better language skills and are more adept at handling crises. However, applicants who have completed any tourism-related course also get full consideration. The career path can lead from tour guide to more senior positions with responsibility for tour planning, marketing or product development.

New recruits receive full training and must pass the Travel Industry Council of Hong Kong's certificate examination before being allowed to guide tours. The in-house training programme covers everything from hotel check-in procedures to crisis management. Ms Chan says the feedback from trainees is very positive because they learn so much practical information in a relatively short time. She is always on the lookout for enthusiastic individuals who can bring new energy and inspiration to the industry. "We also expect newcomers to contribute to the continuous improvement of our services," she says.

Outstanding features

  • Comprehensive service offered by dedicated travel staff and tour guides
  • Increasing range of travel options from which to choose
  • Special attention to safety measures and insurance packages
  • Professional training programme for all new recruits

Taken from Career Times 04 August 2006
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