Ongoing training ensures that tour guides can offer the complete visitor experience From July 1, all tour guides serving overseas tourists in Hong Kong will have to carry the Tourist Guide Pass, a practising licence issued by the Travel Industry Council of Hong Kong. Tour guides with a minimum of one year's experience in the trade will have to attend special training programmes and take written and practical examinations to qualify for the licence. The travel industry believes the accreditation will help boost professional standards in Hong Kong's hospitality services. At Hong Kong Wing On Travel Service, a travel and tourism pioneer in Hong Kong, some of the tour guides have obtained the licence, while others are preparing to train over the next two weeks. 'February and March are usually a slow season, and therefore a good time to send our staff for training,' says Wing On Travel deputy general manager Jo Jo Chan Shuk-fong. Wing On Travel, which celebrates its 40th anniversary this year, is constantly looking to improve its services and upgrade the work skills of its staff. 'People are our most valuable asset,' Ms Chan says. 'We do not have aircraft or hotels to serve our clients. What we have are our travel consultants. Service is the key. We have to maintain a high level of professionalism and ethical standards. We invest significantly in training resources.' The company runs more than 50 courses for staff. These include soft skills training, product training, crisis management, grooming, reservation system operation and stress management. Back in 1994, the company sensed there was a need for an 'upgrade' across the travel industry, and Wing On decided to introduce a 'long-haul escort trainee' programme, which attracted a large number of quality graduates to join the company. 'The programme is very attractive to young people because of the extensive travelling involved. More than 20 per cent of our tourist guides are university graduates. In time, they get promoted to department-head level. The heads of our customer service, human resources and front line training all attended the trainee programme.' Showing visitors the city is an ideal job for young people who have no family commitments. When tour guides reach an age when they wish to marry and settle down, they can ask for an internal transfer, which offers opportunities in branch management, itinerary planning, marketing, customer service and training. Any secondary school graduate who has one year of work experience can apply for an escort trainee position. The company recruits only those with a tertiary education for its long-haul escort trainee programme. Dick Chun Ngai-ming, an in-house trainer, is a good example of a trainee-turned-executive. Soon after completing his accounting degree studies, Mr Chun decided he would rather work with people than with numbers. From starting off as a long-haul escort trainee, he worked his way to trainer level. At present, he is responsible for organising all training programmes for Wing On Travel's front line staff or tour guides. 'I very much enjoy the job,' Mr Chun says. 'Our responsibility is to make sure our customers enjoy their visit and take back home some sweet memories. As tour guides, we have to be responsible and caring. Today's tourists are hungry for information. They want to understand the local lifestyle, the culture, the history. We have to be able to answer their questions. The most rewarding, and challenging, part is to turn a busload of strangers into a bunch of good friends after a seven-day or 10-day trip.' The tourism industry is taking heart from a reviving Hong Kong economy, and the government is increasing its investment in the industry by launching more training programmes. 'We get a wider choice of candidates now,' Ms Chan says. 'At least, we can save on training time and resources. 'More important is that we know these young people are committed and serious about pursuing a career in this profession.' Good tourist guides should be analytical, knowledgeable and have a desire to serve. They should also enjoy meeting people and understanding different cultures. 'We need a travel expert, not someone who treats this like just another job,' Ms Chan says.