Even as retailers whine about falling visitor traffic and shrinking tourist spending, a growing number of Hongkongers are opting for overseas vacations and outbound tourist firms are busier than ever.
Low jobless rate of around 3 percent is part of the reason for the growing travel demand.
High work pressure and the city’s overcrowded living environment are also driving locals out to “breathe some fresh air”, Michael Wu, chairman of Travel Industry Council of Hong Kong told the media recently.
And a more recent boost is the currency strength. Pegged to the greenback, the Hong Kong dollar has been appreciating against all major currencies like euro, yen and Australian dollar.
Not surprisingly, Europe, Japan and Australia are among the most popular destinations for Hong Kong tourists.
“Tours to Japan and Europe grew more than 30 percent, tours to Australia also expanded 20 percent,” a Wing On Travel official told JobMarket. Miramar Travel too has pointed to similar trends.
Middle-aged and the elderly tend to join group tours but the younger people might want to travel on their own. Whatever they prefer, tourist firms stand to gain.
While winning business is not a problem, manpower is however a constraint for the tour operators.
Since a tour guide can only take care of so many customers (usually one guide for each tour bus), if tourist firms want to expand their offerings, they need more guides.
“We used to train our guides internally, but now we have to hire other experienced guides to meet the shortage,” an EGL Tours executive said.
Given the shortage of manpower, it is a great time to join the industry and become a tour guide.
But first the industry has to convince young people of the career prospects and dispel the negative image.
“Young people don’t like to join our industry because of the long work hours and seasonal fluctuation,” Wu said.
Graduates with a degree in hotel management or travel and tourism usually prefer airlines as the first career choice, followed by hotels. Tourist companies are last on their list.
Wu says that if a person is prepared to rough it out initially as a tour guide, he can expects good rewards later.
“The promotion prospects in our business might be better as long as you can tough it out for 3-7 years,” he says.
While tour guides are sought after, tour consultants are also in increasing demand.
Related positions have increased about 20-30 percent in recent years to serve the growing segment of people traveling on their own.
Helping people plan their tour itinerary and offering assistance in ticketing and hotel booking is something the segment needs.
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