Hong Kong Tourism Board - Meet the Hong Kong Pals
Name of Organization / Company: Hong Kong Tourism Board
Category: J01 - J02 Award for Innovation in Customer Service > J02. Award for Innovation in Customer Service Management, Planning & Practice > All Other Industries
Entry Title: Meet the Hong Kong Pals
BACKGROUND AND OBJECTIVES
The world of tourism has evolved rapidly in recent years. Nowadays, many visitors want an authentic experience that takes them ‘under the skin’ of a destination.
To better engage visitors and help them build deeper connections with the local people and the city, the Hong Kong Tourism Board (HKTB) set up a unique volunteer programme called ‘Hong Kong Pals’ in 2009. The programme offers tourist advice from people who know the city best: its residents.
The volunteers, called ‘Hong Kong Pals’, come from all walks of life. They are stationed in HKTB visitors centres to provide sightseeing advice to visitors from a local perspective. Some have a special interest or experience that relates to the city, which they can share with visitors. Visitors can make an online appointment to sit down with a volunteer at an HKTB visitor centre to get practical insights on a range of interesting places and topics.
1. Finding great storytellers. The personality of the volunteers is the driving force of this Programme. The HKTB undertakes extensive recruitment activities to gather a diverse group of enthusiastic locals with two things in common: a passion for Hong Kong and a desire to show visitors a side of the city they might not otherwise experience.
2. Extensive training. Once recruited, the Hong Kong Pals undergo a series of training activities covering a broad range of topics, including local culture and history, shopping and dining, architecture, attractions and green tourism. This equips the volunteers with tourism product knowledge and enriches their personal experience, so that they can share their recommendations confidently with visitors.
3. Quirky perspectives. The HKTB encourages volunteers to share their special interests that relate to Hong Kong with visitors. Twelve eclectic topics are available in the Programme.
KC, for instance, offers a talk titled ‘Exploring Hong Kong history through its cemeteries’, shedding intriguing light on how these final resting places reflect some of Hong Kong’s customs, beliefs and multicultural heritage.
Terina, meanwhile, tutors visitors on the city’s more than 280 butterfly species, many of them rare or very rare. She teaches visitors how to spot them and where to find them in ‘Watching butterflies’.
For visitors intrigued by Hong Kong’s traditional customs, Chinese handicraft expert Eva explores the elaborate traditions of paper lanterns and figurines that brighten up the city during festivals in a talk titled ‘Hong Kong festivals recreated through colourful paper’.
4. Sustainability. Although the programme runs on an annual basis, the HKTB welcomes volunteers to continue serving in the programme if they passed the performance review. This helps retain a team of devoted and experienced volunteers with insight on how to effectively engage visitors.
The programme continues to attract growing interest from visitors. Interacting with Hong Kong Pals gives them a deeper understanding of Hong Kong and allows them to explore the city like a local.
• The volunteers have provided over 10,200 hours of service to visitors and conducted over 220 meet-up sessions.
• The programme has earned hundreds of compliments from visitors, many of which can be found in public forums such as TripAdvisor. Some visitors say the service standard of Hong Kong Pals is the highest they have encountered anywhere in the world.
• Forty-two of the 65 volunteers have served on the Hong Kong Pals team for over five years. Highly experienced Pals have taken on more responsibilities, such as mentoring new Pals. The team has great morale.
The HKTB will continue to expand the programme and invite more enthusiastic locals to promote their home to visitors.