Push to promote the paths less travelled
ECO-TOURISM AND visits to leading heritage sites are among the fastest-growing trends in global travel and Hong Kong has taken steps to cater specifically for those interests.
New attractions have opened in recent years, including the Hong Kong Wetland Park and the Dr Sun Yat-sen Museum, and special attention has been given to promoting the city's temples, marine parks, historical sites and countryside.
These attractions are drawing overseas visitors and many Hong Kong residents keen to take advantage of short tours organised by China Travel Service and smaller local operators.
The tours now available range from dolphin watching off Lantau to bird watching at Mai Po or Tsim Bei Tsui, and sea cruises to Sai Kung and the northeastern New Territories.
There are also tailor-made visits to traditional villages in Yuen Long and Tai Po.
One direct result has been increased demand for guides trained to lead eco-tours and explain key heritage sites.
According to Wendy Fung Shuk-man, business development manager for the Hong Kong Travel and Tourism Training Centre, it is important for professionals in the sector to upgrade continuously and maintain a competitive edge.
The centre provides government subsidised training for industry employees and courses for people interested in broadening their career prospects.
Only people already working in the travel and tourism industry can receive subsidies.
'We have many teachers taking heritage and eco-tourism training so they can teach their students or even work as part-time tour guides to earn extra income,' Ms Fung said.
'The working tour guides taking our courses mainly want to enhance their specialist skills.'
The certificate course in heritage and eco-tourism is run quarterly and emphasises the need for sustainability and responsible practices. It teaches students how to plan itineraries and deliver informative commentaries in a professional manner.
Comprising six four-hour sessions, the course also covers theoretical aspects of nature appreciation, the roles and responsibilities of a tour guide, suggested routes and attractions for different types of groups, and a run-through of Hong Kong's history. It also includes outings and opportunities for students to exchange ideas and experiences.
'It is not enough for a tour guide just to introduce an attraction. They also need to learn how to manage the expectations and behaviour of their tour members and to uphold basic good practices and respect for the heritage or natural attraction being visited. This is not always easy to do,' Ms Fung said.