Star tour guide's dedication: 16 years in tourism, not a single complaint


Zhang Yu represents tour guides in Lijiang, Yunnan province, at a provincial tourism promotional event. CHINA DAILY

In 16 years working as a tour guide in Yunnan province, Zhang Yu has never received a complaint. That's quite a feat for someone who has welcomed over 40,000 tourists and works in an industry where dealing with dissatisfaction is part of the job. As a result, he's the first tour guide from Yunnan to win a National May Day Labor Medal.

At the Yunnan Lijiang White Deer Travel Agency, Zhang is known by his colleagues as the "fire extinguisher"-for whenever there is a problem, he's always the one to solve it.

"We often encounter picky tourists, but as a tour guide, our job is to smile and listen patiently to their complaints," Zhang said.

His friend and partner, Zhang Bin, thinks that people with a sense of professionalism are superheroes. "Zhang Yu takes his occupation as his faith, and for 16 years, he's been very hardworking."

When he first started the job, Zhang Yu was so nervous that he couldn't talk to the tourists and just sang to them instead. After years of practice, he overcame the difficulty.

For the 37-year-old, the greatest reward is when visitors say they are coming back and ask him to be their guide again.

"I'm not required to be a specialist in any one particular area, but I do need to know a lot of complex things, like the name of a plant or the meaning of a pattern, because if a tourist asks, I have to have the answer," he said.

Looking back, Zhang says he's pleased to have won the recognition of those he guides, but there's one experience that stands out more than others.

It was eight years ago, when he was guiding a group of people with assorted disabilities. He learned sign language to better be able to lead them and brought a small blackboard to help them understand what he was saying.

When they arrived at one of the sites, he went to help a group member with mobility issues, but was told that they could manage on their own.

"I was touched by their passion for life, more than my own, even," he said.

Zhang learned how to say a lot of things in sign language during the trip, particularly how to say "I'm happy to be at your service".

Apart from sign language, Zhang has also learned accents and dialects, as well as English and Thai. Whenever he notices something new on his trips, he likes to learn about that, too.

"If I communicate with guests in their language, they feel more comfortable," he said.

Yunnan is located on a plateau, so some visitors experience reactions to the altitude, sometimes life-threatening, during trips to places like Shangri-La and Jade Dragon Snow Mountain. Zhang has learned basic medical knowledge and how to cope with the most common issues.

He believes a guide is the first impression visitors have of a site, and that they represent the local tourism industry. He also thinks guides should take the lead when it comes to culture.

"In my opinion, guiding is not just a profession, it comes with a social responsibility and can do something meaningful for society," he said, adding that each year, he gives speeches to students majoring in tourism management and related subjects, to explain what a professional tour guide should be.

In 2018, he was surprised to learn that he would be honored during the National May Day Labor Medal ceremony.

"The medal doesn't just belong to me, it's recognition for all the guides in Lijiang. I'm proud to be a tour guide, and I received the award on behalf of the entire industry," he said.

For the past 16 years, Zhang has seen the improvement of tourism in Yunnan as traditional sites have been protected and local ethnic customs preserved.

He has seen greater numbers of tourists arrive as more air routes and high-speed rail journeys are opened to the province. "More tourists also choose to drive themselves on visits," he said.

Zhang said the biggest change to Yunnan's tourism industry is that scenic spots are becoming more standardized, and tourism industry workers are also improving their services.

"At first, no one knew what tourism was. Now, awareness has increased, management has become more and more standardized, and everyone is doing well," he said.

"The continuous development of tourism in Yunnan has benefited us all by enabling us to eradicate poverty and embark on the road to prosperity. I hope that tourism here will get better and better in the future, and that more tourists will be even more satisfied with their trips to Yunnan."

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