Johannesburg - About 20 South Africans working in the tourism sector were awarded certificates in Johannesburg after a three months intensive training in Mandarin.

The students were awarded certificates by the Minister of Tourism Derek Hanekom. They were taken from various parts of the country to be trained in Mandarin so that they can communicate effectively with the Chinese tourists.

Some are front line staffs in hotels and lodges while some are tour guides. Hanekom said last year 120 million Chinese people visited other countries and expressed hope that in future they will get about 1.2 million to South Africa per year.

“It could happen and jointly we can make this happen. More visitors would mean more jobs,” Hanekom said. He said the training given to the tourism practitioners will make them give the Chinese visitors unforgettable experience which will make them want to come back to South Africa.

The 20 students will go to China for three weeks next February to experience the Chinese environment. “You will meet the beautiful Chinese people and open cultural ties. Remember everyday that you are the country's ambassador there and come back enriched,” Hanekom said.

He said they chose China because it is among the top tourist markets for South Africa. Statistics released in January 2016 showed a 63.7 percent increase in tourist arrivals from China.

The Chinese Deputy Ambassador to South Africa Li Song welcomed the achievement by the students and encouraged them to learn more.

Li said China wants a long-term relationship with South Africa and is committed to a win-win situation. “I believe that with the further growth of tourism cooperation between China and South Africa, you will find what you have learned from this language training program increasingly relevant and useful.

“I am full of confidence that all of you will have much to contribute to our tourism cooperation and become cultural ambassadors for people-to-people exchange between China and South Africa,” he added.

Speaking for the employers, Michael Worsnip, Managing Director for Maropeng (one of the country's heritage sites) said they have been struggling to get Mandarin-speaking tour guides in the past.

Worsnip told the newly graduated Mandarin speakers that they should continue to work towards building the Sino-South African relations and people to people relations.

He also said, “This is an opportunity to engage with the language, culture and country which we can count as representing civilisation and great culture. This is the greatest window which will never be shut.”

Nathan Cook who is employed by Hilton Hotel told Xinhua that Mandarin will help him communicate better with Chinese tourists who always visit the hotel where he works.

He also said he learns about China theoretically and is excited to visit and get the physical experience. According to the Chinese Embassy, 58 000 tourists from China visited South Africa in the first half of 2016.

Xinhua