Hong Kong's hotel and tourism management students will be assured of a bright future with the scheduled change in the higher education system, which will give them more time to hone their skills and understand the industry. Local universities are recalibrating their undergraduate programmes to cope with the future needs of students. Polytechnic University and Chinese University now offer degree courses and programmes in hotel and tourism management at undergraduate and graduate levels. By adding a general education component at PolyU, first-year students will be able to refine their skills and be exposed to more areas of study, such as humanities and psychology. 'It essentially means transferring [the Form Seven education] to a university level and [enabling students to focus on] where their career path is going to be a year earlier,' said Dr David Jones, associate professor and undergraduate programme director of the school of hotel and tourism management at PolyU. The change will give students more freedom and flexibility to discover their interest and focus on their ideal career path. According to Jones, Hong Kong students will have to learn to be more independent earlier because they will enter university at a younger age and will be exposed to more areas of study. 'The change isn't going to dramatically affect our department in terms of the number of faculty,' said Jones, who has more than 30 years of experience in the hospitality industry and has taught at Cornell University in the United States. 'The impact will be greater in some of the general education areas that haven't been offered at PolyU before.' Those who worry that the industry will not be able to cater for many more students should not be concerned. 'Everything is directly correlated to demand and all you have to do is look north,' Jones said. 'You saw 40 million people travel outside of the mainland last year, which is more than [those who travel internationally from] South Korea, Taiwan and the Philippines combined - and that is just the tip of the iceberg.' Expecting a surge in student numbers by at least 30 per cent in 2012, Lee Kam-hon, director of school of hotel and tourism management at Chinese University, said the school had been planning for the growth mode for some time and was confident about recruiting qualified academic staff to meet the need. In strengthening Hong Kong's edge in tourism and hospitality, Chinese University will be focusing on grooming talent in meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions, and cruise tourism and management, among other areas because 'they are the two key areas that will see a shortage of talent', said Lee, who is also a professor of marketing. 'We identified these two sectors a number of years ago and we have managed to recruit academics who specialise in these sectors. And we are going to offer students more electives in these two areas.' According to Lee, companies in the hospitality industry expect their new blood to be equipped with leadership skills, be able to think critically, demonstrate the ability to see through the complex business and management issues, be armed with the academic training to develop a conceptual framework and set a proper direction for others. So these objectives need to be considered in course development. 'Concepts in service marketing, human resource management, and real estate and finance, are especially important,' Lee said. 'The students should master the skills and turn these concepts into best industry practices.' It is also important that students need to have the right personality to succeed in the hotel and tourism industry. Jones said: 'Students [now] are expected to have the ability to follow instructions and orders. Even at the lowest level of the organisation, staff need to have the ability to see a situation, react to it and handle it. 'We are trying to educate managers. We're not educating people to start at how to check a guest in a hotel. 'They need to understand the procedures but that's not what we are teaching.' Lee said the most important platform for Hong Kong's hotel and tourism industry in the next three decades would be the mainland. Jones also saw the potential that the China market would continue to hold for this industry in years to come.