South African tour guides learn Mandarin and Chinese customs – for better visitor experience



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  • Sixteen South African tour guides from the Free State, Northern Cape and Northwest will spend the next six weeks learning Mandarin and Chinese customs.
  • This is part of the curriculum developed by the Confucius class of the Chinese Cultural Center and the South African Tourism Department.
  • It was launched in 2019 to prepare for an influx of Chinese travelers.
  • Then the Covid-19 pandemic arrived and stopped international tourism.
  • But the program still has merit, and Chinese visitors will continue to play an important role in reviving South Africa’s tourism industry.
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South African tour guides have been enrolled in a six-week program that teaches Mandarin and Chinese customs in anticipation of an influx of spendthrift tourists.

Nearly 100,000 travelers from China visited South Africa in 2019, making it one of the country’s main sources of international tourists, rivaled only by India in the Asian market. South Africa expected an even larger influx of Chinese travelers in 2020.

This expectation marked the launch of an apprenticeship program – Mandarin Language Training for Tour Guides – which aimed to provide Chinese visitors with a richer tourism experience in South Africa.

But soon after the program was launched, the Covid-19 pandemic struck, crushing the tourism industry’s hopes of an influx of travelers.

The stoppage of international travel did not prevent the program from registering tourist guides. A total of 40 tour guides have successfully completed the course since 2019. The class of 2021 – 16 tour guides from the Free State, the Northern Cape and the Northwest – were inducted on Monday, September 27, which is also recognized as World Tourism Day.

The program is an extension of the Chinese Cultural Center program Confucius classroom in South Africa – in collaboration with the Ministry of Tourism – which was established in 2014 to offer language and culture courses.

This year’s guides will spend six weeks at the Aha Kopanong Hotel and Conference Center in Benoni, with the first part of the course scheduled to end on November 6.

“The first phase of the program is aimed at providing basic language skills to HSK1. Learning Mandarin is very difficult, so the training is continuous and in-depth over a period of six weeks,” the spokesperson told Business Insider. of the Tourism Department, Blessing Manale. South Africa.

“Those who pass HSK1 [the most basic level of Mandarin] will be eligible to move on to the next phase of the program which involves the next level of language learning [HSK2] and cultural immersion. The intention is that the guides are proficient in Mandarin and be able to conduct tours in this language. “

“The course also covers various aspects related to the culture of Chinese people and gives learners a good understanding of the profile of a Chinese traveler, what to expect and how to meet their needs.”

Although this specific program is only in its third year, similar language and culture courses have been offered to tour guides since 2006. in anticipation of South Africa hosting the 2010 FIFA World Cup. For these first trainings, guides were sent to China to receive training within the framework of a bilateral partnership.

The current version of the program requires registered tour guides to apply and accepts applicants from three provinces each year. Applicants must have two to three years of experience as a guide. Experience working with Chinese tourists is positive.

And while the Covid-19 pandemic continues to limit international travel – with signs of slow progress – Manale believes the initially planned influx will still come to fruition, making the program as valuable today as it was in 2019.

“The program allows us to be ready for the full resumption of tourism activities. Skills development is very important for our guides, ”said Manale.

“This helps to keep our guides’ knowledge up to date. Even if we operate under the new standard or explore other ways of offering such services to tourists, foreign language skills will always be an important skill to have as a guide. “

“They [Chinese travellers] are a major outbound tourism market and have incredible purchasing power. Having South African guides able to conduct tours in Mandarin will enhance the experience for their visitors and ultimately ensure that South Africa remains their destination of choice. “

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