Canada's tense relationship with China has not stopped Richmondites from entering the Chinese tour guide market.
A Chinese-speaking tourist guide training program, hosted by the non-profit Canadian Inbound Tourism Association of Asia Pacific (CITAP) in Richmond, was launched this week.
The program has been running for three years and since then it has seen an increase in the number of students enrolling. This year, 40 students have signed up - the highest number in the history of the program.
The program will provide students with a certificate after the three-week program, allowing them to seek job opportunities in local travel agencies afterwards, according to David Lin, board chair of CITAP and owner of Richmond’s GS Travel.
“With more and more Chinese tourists coming to Canada - there were almost 700,000 last year - there is a big demand for tourist guides who can speak Chinese,” said Lin.
“But the quality of local tourist guides are very uneven, and many are not professional about Canadian culture and background.
“We hope with this program, we can improve the quality of local tourist guides and show a good image of Canada to Chinese tourists.”
The program offers courses in Canadian tourism resources, cruise tourism, international etiquette, tourism safety and emergency management and bus safety.
It also includes internships in Victoria, Seattle and the Rocky Mountains.
In January, China’s official state media issued a travel warning for citizens wanting to travel to Canada, after Canada issued a travel advisory to its citizens.
Lin said he and others in the travel industry are closely watching the situation, but they have not seen a dramatic decline in Chinese tourists coming to Canada.
“You can tell from the flight shifts to and from China - they have not decreased...We are observing, and of course we hope nothing will happen that will damage our industry,” he said.
“The U.S. is still the biggest market... Businesses who only deal with Chinese tourists are the ones worried the most - If one day President Xi says he doesn’t encourage people to come to Canada, they will just stop coming.”
He noted that Canada is competing with the U.S., Europe, Australia and other countries to attract tourists, and noted also that Canada is hobbled, partly due to high hotel prices.
Apart from Chinese tourists, he has also seen an increased demand from tourists from other Asian countries such as Vietnam and Philippines.
Lin added that Richmond is not a popular city for travel groups to visit, but that many tourists come for the food and accomodation.