COMMUNICATION: Grade 8 pupils in Cape Town are learning Mandarin. The Chinese have become an important trade partner. Picture: Henk Kruger

Johannesburg - China and Russia are the biggest tourism markets to South Africa, and in a bid to ensure that the country keeps the markets, the Department of Tourism has added an incentive.

On Wednesday, it announced its language programme in which it is teaching South African tourism front-line staff, among them tour guides and hotel staff, Mandarin and Russian.

The department hopes that the programme will attract more tourists to the country.

Thirty tourism staff are on the verge of completing a two-month language training course in those languages.

“We do this to ensure that we are globally competitive,” Deputy Minister of Tourism Tokozile Xasa said. “We also need to ensure that we improve satisfaction levels. If more tourists come to the country, we are able to create suitable job opportunities. Masses of first-time international travellers are pouring out of China and the other Brics countries. This project supports the trend.”

China has been an important trading partner for South Africa. Last year during the Forum on China-Africa Co-operation, 26 agreements worth R94-billion were signed between the two countries.

Between January and July last year, 40 953 Chinese visited South Africa, Tourism Department statistics revealed.

The number rose by 8 858 for the same period this year.

Between January and July, 3 630 Russians visited, and that number increased to 4 089.

Xasa said the foreign language process would foster better working relations with all Brics member states.

“South Africa has proposed establishing a co-ordinating forum for tourism within Brics. Co-operation on tourism is critical to maintain our competitive edge,” she said.

Small business owners said the programme would go a long way in improving relations with their customers.

Among those in the programme is Kabelo Mothupi, the owner of start-up tour operating company Merakeng Tours and Adventures. After two months, he can hold a conversation in Mandarin.

“This will help us develop that intimate relationship with our clients. Tourists will keep on coming to South Africa and we, as small businesses, are going to benefit a lot,” he said.

He intends teaching three of his employees Mandarin.

The Star