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Building a tourist industry that helps foreigners
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By Victor Paul Borg
The author is a Maltese travel journalist

The paradox of tourism in China is that despite an unforgettable range of attractions, the country is a frustrating destination for foreign tourists. There are other contradictions. The tourist infrastructure is good (hotels, restaurants, and transport network), but not readily accessible; the people are inquisitive and hospitable, but the country remains aloof and inscrutable for most foreigners.

Among the reasons for these dichotomies, the biggest is the inability of most people who work in tourism to speak English. It's a vexing situation, when you cannot communicate with your client.

I know that this is old news, and that things are changing; students are learning English from younger age and for longer, and tourism authorities are eager to foster English proficiency among tourism service providers.

But I'm reiterating this news here because in the course of my work - travel writing - I can see that most tourism departments can do more to dismantle the language barrier in the short term by some direct measures that could yield immediate economic gains.

I'll discuss these later; first, let me illustrate how this dispirits foreign tourists, costing China potential gains - the language barrier is one of the main reasons why the number of foreign visitors remains relatively low compared to the diversity and size of the country.

For a non-Chinese speaker, something as simple as finding and buying a ticket for an internal flight, or figuring out which bus goes to where and then getting to the bus station, becomes a complex multi-hour task, like playing treasure hunt.

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