Learning to serve
The number of arrivals to Hong Kong in 2011 hit a record high of almost 42 million, according to figures from the Hong Kong Tourism Board (HKTB).
This is encouraging news for the hotel and tourism industry. More visitors mean more hotel rooms are needed. Several new hotels are expected to open their doors in 2012, while according to HKTB, the total number of local hotels is expected to rise to 231 in 2016.
There seems little doubt that Hong Kong's tourism and hotel industry will remain robust, and there will be plenty of job opportunities for young people who are interested in the industry.
The School of Hotel and Tourism Management (SHTM), part of the Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU), offers various courses to those who are eager to join the industry. In 2009, the school launched a BSc (Hons) programme in convention and event management. It is currently the only school in Hong Kong that offers a course in this area.
The programme covers all major aspects of the conventions and events industry. This includes planning corporate events, festivals, conventions, meetings and special events; how to meet logistical and site-selection challenges when organising events and exhibitions; and to understand the relationship between hotels and other venues in the conventions and exhibitions industry.
'We launched the course because we saw the need,' says Pauline Ngan, marketing manager at SHTM. 'There was a strong voice from the conventions and exhibitions industry that demanded we launch a programme to help them train talent. There was even an advisory committee formed by people from the industry to help us design the programme.
'It was launched three years ago and it has proved to be a huge success. It is very popular with applicants, while the industry also welcomes it because it helps solve the problem of talent shortage in the industry,' Ngan says.
The course is self-financed and lasts for two years. Students who possess a higher diploma or associate degree in either tourism management or hotel management are eligible to apply.
Students who have taken their A-level exams and have a strong interest in the hotel and tourism industry can apply for either a BSc (Hons) in hotel management, or a BSc (Hons) in tourism management. Both programmes are multi-disciplinary and prepare students for management-level positions in the hotel, catering, tourism and related sectors.
The programmes run for three years, with an optional 'sandwich' year involving extended workplace training. This takes place between the second and final years at Hotel Icon in Tsim Sha Tsui, which operates both as a working hotel and a training school for SHTM.
Dr Barry Mak, undergraduate program director, SHTM, is confident about the prospects of the hotel and tourism industry in Hong Kong. 'The city enjoys the geographical advantage of being close to the mainland. This undoubtedly benefits Hong Kong's tourism industry,' he says.
'The hotel industry is always short of manpower, especially front-line staff,' he adds. 'Graduates definitely don't have to worry when it comes to seeking employment.
'Macau also provides lots of job opportunities for Hong Kong graduates as more and more hotels are built there. Sometimes, the hotels in Macau offer even higher salaries than local hotels. This is no doubt very attractive to local graduates.'
He offers some tips for applicants who are invited to attend an interview at SHTM. 'We will pay special attention to their communication skills. This is because the hotel industry is a people industry, so possessing good communication skills is highly important,' Mak says.
'To look straight into the eyes of the person you are talking to is also important because it shows that you have good manners,' he adds.
As the tourism and hotel industry remains positive, Mak says graduates of the school faced little difficulty in finding employment. 'The unemployment rates of graduates are generally very low - close to zero,' he adds.