To Build the School of Hotel & Tourism Management (HTM)
at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University into
the Cornell or Lausanne of Asia
Hotel Asia Pacific
Cornell, Lausanne … Hong Kong? The city’s School of Hotel & Tourism
Management is determined to become one of the world’s top-five seats of
learning for the industry. Steve Shellum looks at its report card
It was also recently accepted into the World Tourism Organisation’s travel and tourism education network - one of only 16 hotel schools worldwide to qualify. And, last month, it scored a major international coup by being named world headquarters and secretariat of the prestigious International Academy for the Study of Tourism (IAST), an elite organisation of tourism scholars.
Competition for the honour was intense, particularly among leading hotel schools in Europe and North America.
“We were able to convince IAST of our vision in promoting research, as well as our strong links with the industry,” says Chon.
The designation has put HTM firmly on the map as a hospitality and tourism educational facility that is up there with the very best.
Chon’s vision is brought into clear focus with HTM’s new mission statement: “Leading Asia in Hospitality and Tourism”. It’s a concise, simple motto that perfectly underscores his ambitious agenda.
“We have the opportunity to develop a school of hotel and tourism that can really stand out in Asia Pacific, and I came here with a vision of developing it into the most internationally renowned school in its field,” says Chon.
“Hong Kong is home to some of the finest hotels in the world, and is full of innovative ideas in hotel, tourism and food-service management. It has all the hardware and enormous potential, particularly with its connections with the mainland.
“Our vision for five years from now is to be recognised as one of the top five hotel schools in the world. And it is one that we will achieve.”
Since its establishment in 1979, about 10,000 students have graduated from HTM. For the current academic year, about 1,000 students have enrolled in its programmes, including Higher Diploma, Bachelor's and Master's degree, as well as MPhil and PhD research degree programmes.
There were an incredible 18,600 student applications for the 70 places available on this year’s BA course, and 17,000 applications for the higher diploma course, which had 120 places available. Those figures were by far the highest of any department of any university in Hong Kong.
“We got the highest level of A-levels – the cream of the crop. It’s exciting, but also scary,” says Chon.
With such an impressive pool of talent clamouring to join his courses, how did he and his team make the final selections?
“We interviewed the top 10% who looked the best on paper and asked them why they were interested in joining the hospitality industry.
“We all know that, to succeed in this business, there are certain basic elements that go beyond good exam results. The industry is people oriented, and there are a number of dynamics involved, like being able to work with others and to interact with customers from different backgrounds.
“We liked those that could look us in the eyes, had good grooming and proper career aspirations.”
One of the problems is that many young people attracted to the hospitality sector are afflicted with what Chon describes as the “glass-door syndrome”.
“They look through the doors of a hotel and see the glamour. They want to be a part of this glamorous world and to be surrounded by all this luxury.
“A major part of our job is to ensure that we show them the good and the bad. Yes, there can be some kind of romance associated with the hotel industry, but it’s better for them to know the realities before deciding to make a career of it.”
The school has launched a full-time Master of Science degree programme in hotel and tourism management, which begins in September.
“We have offered part-time MSc courses for several years for hotel and tourism professionals working in Hong Kong, but we are confident the new full-time programme will cater to the needs of students both in Hong Kong and other Asia Pacific countries,” says Chon.
Pursuing a full-time MSc degree is a major undertaking that demands a great amount of professional commitment, and there is intense competition among the world’s major hotel schools to attract top-quality students.
Chon believes Hong Kong has many advantages, particularly for students from the region.
“Our curriculum is most up to date, yet flexible to suit the needs of those who aspire to advance in their careers. At the same time, our tuition fees are among the lowest compared to major hospitality and tourism programmes in North American, Australian or European universities. One of the problems in the past was the high cost of accommodation in Hong Kong, but rentals have gone down significantly.
“We have 41 full-time academics from 15 countries and all courses are conducted in English. The hardware and infrastructure are in place, but we cannot be complacent because this is an internationally recognised course, and we have to work and think internationally.”
The HTM has partner institutions in France, the Netherlands, the US and Japan, and students from the Philippines and Korea – as well as one Swiss national - have already enrolled in the PhD course.
According to Chon, many hotel schools have the philosophy that anyone with a modicum of business sense can run a hotel.
“Ours is different,” he says. “Our guiding principle is that you need hands-on experience and to understand the basics. Somebody who parachutes into a top hotel position just because he or she has an MBA cannot gain the level of respect from their staff that is essential to managing a successful hotel.
“When you reach a certain level in the industry – whether as a GM or the president of a company – you may no longer be directly involved in the day-to day, hands-on operations, or know how it works at every level.
“That is why we believe it is crucial to emphasise the practical – and not just the theoretical – aspects of every facet of the industry on our courses. It’s about building respect.”
Chon has the support of a strong advisory committee, comprising leaders from diverse sectors of the industry and chaired by Cliff Wallace, MD of the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre (HKCEC).
“Needs are changing all the time, and we want to teach courses that are needed by the industry,” says Chon.
He is also keen to expand the school’s strategic partnerships with the industry, which already include Disney, Century International Hotels, the HKCEC, Wing On Travel and McDonald’s.
“It is very important for our students to receive practical, on-the-job training, and it gives our partners the opportunity to observe our students in action, and to give us valuable feedback.”
Last year, HTM sent 70 students for placement, lasting from three months to a year, to 55 hotels or restaurants in the US, the UK, Singapore and mainland China.
“We have just sent two exchange students to the Netherlands for six months and, although they were a little nervous before going, they will come back with a great deal more experience and confidence.
“China is also becoming increasingly attractive as it gives our students experience in a fast-developing market, while also improving their Mandarin skills.
“The hotel industry is becoming increasingly attractive as a career choice, especially with Disneyland opening up and excellent prospects for employment in Hong Kong and the rest of the region. The future is in services, not manufacturing.”
Unlike some other hotel schools – including Conrad Hilton College of
Hotel and Restaurant Management at the University of Houston, where Chon
was professor before moving to Hong Kong – HTM does not have an on-campus
“As we all know, you can immediately tell a Hyatt man or a Hilton man as soon as they step into a room. That’s fine, but I don’t want to mould our students into any particular style or philosophy.”
Hotel Asia Pacific
15B Casey Building
38 Lok Ku Road
Tel: +852 2882-7352
Fax: +852 2882-2461