Plan to increase Chinese tourists hits roadblock with only few Mandarin-speaking guides
The tourism ministry’s ambitious plan to substantially increase the inflow of Chinese tourists into India from the current number of around 120,000 has run into a strange barrier: India has only 37 authorised guides conversant in Mandarin.
Acknowledging the challenge, KJ Alphons, minister of state for tourism, who recently visited China to woo tourists, said, “I don’t have enough number of people who speak Mandarin and we need to address the problem.”
The Indian Tour Operators Association, Tourist Guide Federation of India, and senior ministry officials agree that India’s supply of Mandarin guides falls short of the required strength.
Over the years, Chinese tourists have become an economic force all around the world. In 2017, 100 million Chinese made overseas trips as tourists according to the website of the country’s ministry of tourism. India receives a fraction of this.
Indeed, including business travellers, India receives only 250,000 Chinese visitors on an average a year, around 2.7% of the total visitors it receives.
Most Chinese tourists do not speak English. Operators who exclusively deal with Chinese tourists say the crisis of Mandarin guides is most evident during the Chinese New Year, which falls in first quarter of the year.
Arun Anand, a veteran tour operator with offices in China and India, says operators have no option but to hire unauthorised guides. Tour operators say besides 37 licensed guides, there are around 300 guides conversant in Mandarin. The latter don’t fulfil the tourism ministry’s criteria to obtain a licence.
“Most unauthorised guides are not graduates, so they can’t sit for the written test conducted by the ministry. They only take short duration crash courses to speak Chinese,” says Chander Mohan Luthra, an authorised guide who has been working for the past 10 years.
However, some unauthorised guides are “good enough” to fill the vacuum during peak season.
“They are as good as the licensed ones but either they don’t have the required qualification or sometimes are not interested in getting their license renewed,” says Anand whose firm has been active since 1991.
Alphons admitted that learning Mandarin is difficult and has suggested that Indian tour operators should look to hire people proficient in the language from other countries and train them.
“China takes India as a important and potential tourism market. China and India are neighbouring countries, and both are big countries. There is great potential in tourism exchange and cooperation between us,” the spokesperson for China National Tourist Office in New Delhi said.
“I think it’s a big problem for the lack of mandarin guides in India, language is an obstacle for many Chinese tourists especially for the senior. The Chinese tourists in India also feel that Indian government should take measures in this,” the official added.