Tour guide savors the chance to meet visitors

Updated: 2015-05-06 07:35

By Yang Feiyue(China Daily)

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An encounter with two foreign college students at Hangzhou city's West Lake sparked Pan Yimei's interest in becoming a tour guide.

"I was only 6 years old at the time," Pan says.

The curiosity of seeing foreigners spurred the young girl to go up and take a photo with them.

She has kept the photo to this day.

"I was since determined to learn English, become a tour guide and introduce Hangzhou to foreign guests," she says.

She chose tourism management as her bachelor's and master's degree programs to pursue her dreams.

In addition to professional skills, the tourism education has helped Pan whenever she meets setbacks.

Pan was stuck in London for 18 days with a group of tourists on their way home at the London Heathrow International Airport in April 2010, due to a volcanic eruption in Iceland.

"We didn't know when the airport would open, so I had to make extra arrangements for my guests," Pan says.

She immediately checked guests in economic hotels near the airport.

Then, she tried every means to bring down costs on the part of her tourists, and came up with a free tour schedule to help them tide over the period.

"I arranged for them to visit local museums, factory stores, Buckingham Palace and rural scenic sites," Pan recalls. Her efforts won over tourists who started off being disgruntled and demanding that the travel agency cover their losses.

She also kept in touch with local embassies on a daily basis, keeping up to date about airports' plans to resume operations.

In the end, they boarded the first flight home from Heathrow.

Now, 11 years of hard work have earned her a position as manager of the tour-guide department at Hangzhou China Travel Service Co.

Pan has developed a charming way of helping tourists.

She once enticed a prince from Malaysia to drop his typical formalities and join in group dancing with the crowds along the West Lake in Hangzhou.

"I wouldn't introduce myself as a gold-medal tour guide," she insists. "I want guests to treat me as a friend or relative."

Pan was recently named one of the top 10 most beautiful tour guides in China. The April 29 awards ceremony was hosted by the China National Tourism Administration. The agency aims to honor honest, committed and enthusiastic tour guides and help the public better understand, respect and trust tour guides.

Pan's sincerity has been reciprocated with kind assistance from her guests.

Tourists have helped her hurry along and deliver dishes at restaurants during peak tourism season. Some even offered to hold travel team flags for her, she says.

Pan has taken Chinese tourists to most of the Southeast Asian countries, including Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand, as well as Japan, South Korea, the UK, Germany and Italy.

"About 90 percent of my guests are polite," she says.

Speaking of recent media reports of questionable tourist behavior, Pan believes that such publicity will help resolve the problem.

"Media exposure will bring uncivil conduct into public attention, which will definitely bring about good changes," she says.

She says that the worst scenario is that everyone turns a blind eye to bad behavior.

Pan called out two Chinese who jumped the line when going through security at Hangzhou airport.

"The two men immediately apologized and went back in line," she says

Her action also immediately made other loosely organized passengers form a line, she recalls.

"Some people are used to shouting each other's name from a distance and spitting in the agricultural field," Pan says of some people's habits.

It's a tour guide's duty to tell them local dos and don'ts when traveling outside, she says.

"I will keep reminding them of local rules, with savoir-faire."

For example, you can't loudly warn them against spitting in public, she says. "It's best to keep them from showing bad manners with a private word."

Pure admonition sometimes leads to ill feelings from customers and often fails to deliver desirable results. Pan's company puts popular shopping guidance and local taboos together on a list.

For example, it's considered being rude to touch a kid's head or step on a monk's shadow in Thailand, she explains.

Pan believes it's a process for Chinese tourists to bring their actions into line with international norms. She takes comforts in seeing that nowadays many kids would discourage their parents from littering on the streets. Students will simply explain that their teachers say it's not right to errant parents.

People will also line up to use public toilets at roadway stops, Pan says.

Pan is also an enthusiast for volunteer work. She has offered guide service for award-winners at the 8th China National Games of Disabled Persons in 2011.

Pan even began to learn sign language this year.

"I think sign language is like a foreign language, and our deaf friends will be more than happy to see us to communicate with them using simple gestures," Pan says.

(China Daily 05/06/2015 page24)