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SA's plan to attract more Chinese tourists

Jan 23 2017 20:31
Carin Smith

Cape Town - China is developing a substantial middle class with access to wealth and with the desire to spend on luxury travel and top-of-the-range goods.

China is the world’s largest outbound tourism market and 128 million Chinese tourists visited other countries during 2015. Chinese outbound tourist numbers are expected to reach over 242 million by 2024. Chinese tourists are also known to spend far more than other tourists on shopping, for instance.

In order to make the most of growth opportunities offered in the Chinese market, some of the Protea Hotels by Marriott are participating in initiatives to upskill staff to meet the needs of the market. Selected staff members took part in a project driven by the National Department of Tourism.

According to SA Tourism's Strategic Research Unit, arrivals to SA from China (including Hong Kong) increased by 56% for the period January to October when comparing 2015 and 2016.

The project

The project by the Department of Tourism is the first such initiative undertaken. Twenty trainees were selected for specialised training from establishments which have been attracting Chinese tourists. The Protea Hotel Balalaika in Sandton was identified as one of these.
The project covered a range of aspects, including language tuition in Mandarin and understanding Chinese cultural practices. The project also involves a three-week trip to China during February and March 2017, including lessons at the Yangzhou University.

Toinè Pretorius, who works as a frontline staff member at the Balalaika Hotel, is taking part in the project. She told Fin24 that she is able to use the skills acquired through the project to directly impact on the tourist experience of the Chinese guests at the hotel. She has even begun to translate the hotel’s welcome letters into Mandarin.

Pretorius told Fin24 that she has always had a passion for tourism and working with people.

READ: Survey reveals surprising domestic tourism trends

She emphasised that learning a new language is an ongoing process, which needs to be practised regularly. During the 3-month course she learnt about Chinese culture, including music, art, how to make Chinese food and even took fan tai chi classes.

"Nelson Mandela said 'if you can talk to a man in a language he understands, you speak to his head, but if you speak to him in his own language, it goes to his heart'," explained Pretorius. "It will make a big difference to speak in basic Mandarin to the Chinese tourists. It will make them feel at home and more comfortable."

She is very grateful for what she calls a wonderful opportunity and adds that the hotel group has always encouraged staff to learn new things.

"I have a great respect for the Chinese culture. There are so many things to keep in mind - little things that South Africans might not think are so serious. For instance, you must always address Chinese adults in an honorary title. You must also greet the oldest person first," explained Pretorius.

She also learnt that the Chinese often have important taboos about certain numbers. One needs to be aware of this when assigning room numbers, for instance. And do not write to them in red ink - they find it offensive and will feel criticised. Furthermore, they do not like public displays of affection.

"They really appreciate the efforts we are making to make them feel at home - even just greeting them in their own language. It makes a big difference and they often can't believe that I as a South African can understand and speak Mandarin. Their faces light up," said Pretorius.

"There are so many things we can do from our side to make them feel more welcome. We are implementing an in-house training programme at the hotel. I am teaching the staff basic greetings in Mandarin. In that way even the waiters can be able to say some basic greetings. It makes a big difference."

In her opinion the outcome of the project will make a lasting impression and equip the SA hospitality industry to be competitive in attracting more Chinese tourists - ultimately creating more jobs in the industry.

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