A strikingly modern 28-storey building adjacent to the Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU) campus in Hung Hom is home to two sites important to the hotel industry: the eponymous university's School of Hotel and Tourism Management (SHTM), and Hotel ICON, a five-star hotel managed by a team of hospitality 'professionals' - most of them students. The HK$1.3 billion initiative serves as the university's teaching and research hotel.
What do hospitality students gain from working at a training hotel? The school's dean, Professor Kaye Chon, says that hotel management is a practical field and so it's important that students get the chance to apply concepts in the real world. By studying in such an environment, students can learn - and then apply what they have learned - in real-life situations.
This helps students understand all aspects of hotel management, such as marketing, finance and human resources management.
The SHTM runs a formal 'Work-Integrated Education' internship programme, or WIE. This offers students the opportunity to benefit from Hotel ICON's transparent operations and gain a holistic understanding of the industry by participating in the day-to-day running of various departments in a real-world hotel environment. The programme includes a rotation scheme, with student interns placed in different departments over a period of time. They are guided by the department heads to further expand their skill sets through first-hand experience of the industry. Students work, pick up ideas and later apply them in the classroom.
For the most outstanding students, the Elite Management Programme provides an opportunity to gain solid industry experience by shadowing a Hotel ICON manager for a full year during their internship.
Richard Hatter, general manager of Hotel ICON, points out an important difference from other on-the-job training - unlike working in a big hotel chain, the management is not trying to please an owner, and so more focus can be placed on the needs of staff development.
The Hyatt Regency in Sha Tin has a similar arrangement with the School of Hotel and Tourism Management of the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Basic training is mainly on campus, but being connected to an operating hotel affords some benefits, such as sharing sessions, the 'Executive in Residence' programme and practical advice on training materials.