Uncertainties associated with the global financial crisis are painting a gloomy picture for Hong Kong's tourism and hospitality industry. A World Tourism Organisation report released this year stated that the global tourism industry in 2009 could experience negative growth of 1 to 2 per cent. And, while visitor arrivals to Hong Kong grew 4.7 per cent year-on-year to 29.5 million last year, a detailed breakdown showed a decline of 0.9 per cent in the fourth quarter due to the global financial crisis. The Hong Kong Tourism Board has projected a decline of 1.6 per cent in visitor arrivals this year, with growth of 4.1 per cent in the mainland market and 0.4 per cent in short-haul markets offset by a sharp decline of 12.4 per cent in long-hauls. It will probably be a challenge to achieve the projected figure because the economic picture has worsened since the November forecast. In his annual report statement for 2007-2008, Hong Kong Hotels Association chairman Mark Lettenbichler stated that while the year ahead would undoubtedly be more challenging, 'the strength of our industry will continue to lie in our ability to deliver superior service'. James Lu, the hotel association's executive director, said: 'We're still reasonably confident that there will be business around. We'll just have to work a bit harder, which means we'll have to increase our service levels and service quality.' In practical terms, a push towards superior service would mean better anticipating customers' expectations and how to exceed them. Kaye Chon Kye-sung, chair professor of hotel and tourism management and director of the School of Hotel and Tourism Management at the Polytechnic University, said: 'This level of interaction will require a lot of creativity and personalised attention to different services.' Professor Chon said that Asia in general and Hong Kong in particular had been blessed over many years because the hotel and tourism industry had been well developed and the territory was home to some of the world's best hotels, its best airlines, even one of the region's best airports in Chek Lap Kok. 'All these things come not only from good, well-designed hardware but from the people, who are more innovative and service minded, and the culture, which is conducive to these kinds of superior services,' he said. For those wishing to pursue a career in the hotel and tourism industry in Hong Kong, developing and improving their skills to provide superior service is crucial to their future success. Good language skills, a service-oriented way of thinking, the ability to innovate and be more entrepreneurial are essential. These are the personal attributes common in every hotel job, a willingness to interact with other people, the interpersonal and intrapersonal skills that are as important as qualifications. Mr Lu said there were three main routes to joining the industry. The first was to get vocational training through an institution such as the Vocational Training Council or Hong Kong Institute of Vocational Education before looking for an opportunity to apply for specific jobs. The second would be to attend university and graduate with a higher diploma or bachelor's degree from one of the two schools of hotel and tourism management. The third was for people who possessed a certain skill that a hotel would want. 'Some people have a particular advantage in holding a skill that makes them acceptable in the hotel industry,' Mr Lu said. 'For example, the Landmark Mandarin Oriental Hotel has several staff who came from other industries. 'The hotel requires people who can communicate exceptionally well. I was told, for example, that someone who had worked as a DJ before was recruited as a hotel employee and given the sort of job that used his ability to communicate and interact with people. This is an illustration of the theory that the quality of the person is just as important as the hard core knowledge and the vocational training.' Many of the job opportunities in future would be in frontline positions, dealing with customers, Mr Lu said. Front office, check-in and check-out, club floors, housekeeping and food and beverage outlets account for up to 40 per cent of the staff of the hotel and that would not change in the future. 'A hotel is a people business. It's all about people and if anyone tells you that it's possible to use technology to reduce face-to-face contact, it can happen for a while but guests will eventually go someplace else to feel more welcome. 'One of the things that is important in our industry is the ability to listen. We have to understand what the guest really means and that is not just about knowing the language; it means having the intelligence to hear something, respond to it right away and match the guest's expectations and needs,' Mr Lu said.