Charming his way into the hearts of the city's tourists

William Chu Wai-ming, freelance tour guide for Swire Travel, enjoys meeting people from all walks of life and showing them what the SAR has to offer

I HAVE BEEN a tour guide for 11 years. I handle English-speaking inbound groups, so English speaking and listening skills are essential. Having some knowledge of other languages is useful.

On a normal working day, the first thing I do is meet and greet the tour group at the airport or train station. On the coach, on the way to the hotel, I give them information on the various interesting aspects of Hong Kong airport and the transport links. At the hotel, I provide some suggestions about nearby restaurants, convenient locations to shop and money changers. The schedule of my job varies, but that is expected because tour groups arrive in Hong Kong at various times of the day or night. Sometimes I join the group for dinner. I try to manage a work schedule that will give me time to spend with my family.

I meet the tour group again the next day. Mostly, tourists like to take the half day Hong Kong Island tour. I have to make the tour entertaining with my narrative. For example, the escalator link is simply an alternative route to get from Central to Mid-Levels for Hong Kong people. But for tourists, it is unique, with a number of background stories related to it. I will make the uphill experience interesting and tell them about the places around the escalator, like a visit to the former governor Chris Patten's favourite egg tart shop, or the temple and antique shops while explaining the practice of Taoism. I have to equip myself with enough knowledge of Hong Kong so that if I am asked questions I am able to answer them.

I need to read a lot and keep up to date with essential facts about Hong Kong, including the politics here. You never know what a tourist might ask. I have to provide an informative narrative which could be on historical, geographical and cultural aspects of the city.

Working as a tour guide in Hong Kong requires professional training and endorsement. In 2003, I sat for two examinations, theory and practice, to qualify for the Tourist Guide Pass. This licence is necessary for all tour guides. The two-month course prepared me for theoretical and practical knowledge. For the practical examination I had to give a tour commentary on a bus and the examiners checked how I presented myself. In this job, a pleasant personality and a smiling face are important.

There was a significant drop in the number of tours after the handover because many overseas agencies sent tourists to other Asian and mainland cities which offered more attractive tour packages. Tourists prefer to travel to the mainland and then to Hong Kong as a stopover destination. Hong Kong has a lot of great places to visit but the attention is now on China.

Besides being courteous, a tour guide must always welcome with a smile. Sometimes we forget that a simple smile from the heart can make a difference. For me, job satisfaction comes from knowing that the tourists are happy with the tour and my arrangements.

I receive positive feedback and this makes my hard work worthwhile. Sometimes tourists invite me for a drink. During one of the half-day tours, I met a Swiss couple. They were polite and always smiling. Their warm attitude was like sunshine. It is such a wonderful experience for me to meet people from all walks of life and learn from them. I deal with diverse personalities and age groups with different interests. I offer advice so tourists can have an enjoyable time and return to this charming city we call Hong Kong.