Alumni Main Headline

Alumnus Benjamin Iong’s inspiring journey from IFTM to UNWTO

中文摘要 / Summary in Chinese
Mr. Benjamin Iong Kuok Un, a former student at IFTM, is representing Macao on the global stage as a Junior Professional Officer at the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO). He says his path from IFTM to UNWTO is a testament to the power of education, dedication, and seizing opportunities

It has been a long journey experience-wise from IFTM’s Mong-Há Campus to the headquarters of the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), in Madrid, Spain for IFTM alumnus Mr. Benjamin Iong Kuok Un. He graduated from the Institute in 2010, and is now serving as a Junior Professional Officer (JPO) at UNWTO. His story is one of striving to make a meaningful impact, fuelled by a willingness to contribute to the development of tourism in Macao.

In 2021, Mr. Iong became one of the first Macao civil servants to participate in the JPO Programme of the United Nations (UN). His involvement stemmed from a scheme initiated by China’s Central Government in 2019, to enhance the skills and experience of young professionals from Hong Kong and Macao.

The JPO Programme supplies officials for a variety of UN agencies. It offers participants hands-on experience – for periods ranging typically from 1 year up to 3 years – in activities requiring multilateral international cooperation.

Mr. Iong was nominated for the programme by the Macao Government Tourism Office (MGTO), where he worked as a Tourism Executive in its Tourism Product Division. After concluding his JPO role in January 2024, he will return to his position at MGTO.

His initial selection as a candidate to apply to be a JPO was the result of a rigorous process, including several interviews. This culminated in a 7-day intensive training programme in Beijing, alongside JPO candidates from Hong Kong.

His educational and career background paved the way for him to complete successfully an interview with UNWTO for a JPO role. His assignment had been scheduled for 2020, but the COVID-19 pandemic necessitated a delay, and Mr. Iong officially joined UNWTO in 2021.

The UN agency is dedicated to the promotion of responsible, sustainable, and universally-accessible tourism. The organisation is proving to be a “unique platform” to enhance his knowledge, expand his international network, and gain “valuable skills and hands-on experience in the field of multilateral and international cooperation,” says Mr. Iong.

The JPO Programme “represents a pioneering endeavour designed to accelerate the professional growth and development” of young civil servants, states Mr. Iong. “Personally, it has been a transformative journey.”

Due to initial challenges posed by the pandemic, he started his JPO assignment working remotely. As the situation improved, Mr. Iong moved into his physical office at UNWTO headquarters.

Building bridges, fostering collaboration

As a JPO, Mr. Iong has been working as a programme analyst in the Regional Department for Asia and the Pacific. His responsibilities include coordinating, following up, and executing activities aimed at benefitting UNWTO Member States in the Asia-Pacific region. It involves “active collaboration” with tourism ministries in various countries and other stakeholders in the region, he explains.

Mr. Iong also plays a part in securing funding and sponsorships for special projects by engaging with potential donors. He additionally manages and updates promotional materials relating to relevant UNWTO activities.

Mr. Iong’s placement at UNWTO has helped to boost collaboration between the UN agency and MGTO. His time as a JPO means he has developed a comprehensive understanding of UNWTO’s operations. This “enables me to swiftly disseminate the latest tourism insights, extend immediate support to Macao, and establish crucial connections with relevant contacts within UNWTO,” he says. “As a passionate advocate for Macao on the global stage, I remain dedicated to enhancing its international reputation and visibility.”

Mr. Iong underscores the importance of quality education for his career advancement. As an IFTM graduate with a bachelor’s degree in Hotel Management, he credits the Institute for providing him with a “vast reservoir of invaluable knowledge” and practical skills that have significantly contributed to his personal and professional development.

The diverse yet inclusive environment at IFTM refined his ability to “collaborate effectively with colleagues representing a spectrum of cultural backgrounds”. His time at the Institute also nurtured his awareness of cultural diversity and enhanced his communication skills, Mr. Iong points out.

He highlights the wide array of exchange programmes and internships available to IFTM students. According to him, such experiences not only broaden students’ horizons, but also contribute to “ongoing development and readiness to navigate the professional world” after graduation.

Mr. Iong encourages current IFTM students to explore learning another language, to keep up with international news, and to “embrace the prospect of failure as a stepping stone to growth”. Diverse challenges and stepping out of one’s comfort zone are also keys to success, he stresses.