5 Mandarin phrases that all tourism operators should know

Note from Justin: In this post I’m very excited to introduce Lucy Lu, a Melbourne-based Chinese teacher. Lucy kindly accepted my offer to write a post to help tourism operators learn some basic Mandarin – I hope you find it useful!

China is no doubt Australia’s key tourism income source. Australian Bureau of Statistics figures show that the number of Chinese visitors to Australia rose 20.1% to 1.18 million in the 12 months ending October 31. This is more than double the amount from five years ago.

Major Chinese and Taiwanese hotels almost always have English-speaking staff to assist travellers from Western countries. These days they might even have Japanese and Korean language services. If you work for a hotel or in tourism in Australia, learning a few phrases of Mandarin Chinese will not only help you serve your guests better, it will also ensure you stand out amongst your colleagues.

Here are 5 of the most useful phrases for you to know. In italics and/or brackets, we’ve included some pronunciation helpers.

  1. Hello 

You say it as ‘nee hao’ and you often see it spelt ‘nihao’. It means “hello” (literally “you good”)  so you know when / where to use it! Make sure you say it with a smile and you will most often get a smile back from your Chinese guest.

If you are welcoming a group of visitors, say ‘ni men hao’ (nee men how) which is hello to multiple people.

If you want to go a step further, which is always appreciated, introduce yourself by saying ‘wo jiao’ (war jow) which means ‘my name is’. For example, ‘ni hao, wo jiao David’, with a big smile on your face. Immediately you’ve become their favourite Aussie.

When to use: every time you meet your guests
Body language: big smile, welcoming gesture
Expected response: ‘nihao’s back and giggles

  1. Welcome 

So you’ve greeted your guests and won their hearts. But don’t stop just there! Great tourism staff will always provide consistently great service throughout a guest’s stay.

Nothing makes Chinese guests feel more welcome than saying ‘huan ying’ (hwan ying) to them and making sure they hear it at the hotel lobby, on the bus and in the restaurant. The Chinese style of welcome includes hanging a huge banner up with a gigantic ‘welcome’ written on it. Of course you don’t need to do that for all your guests as a happy ‘huan ying’ goes a long way.

After they settle in naturally you’d want to know what they need. You can say ‘ni yao bang mang ma’ (nee yow bung mung mar?) as in ‘can I help you / is there anything you need’. Ask them ‘ni yao bang mang ma’ often as they might be a bit shy to request!

When to use: when you meet your guest the first time
Body language: big smile, beaming eyes, welcoming gesture
Expected response: ‘xie xie’ and giggles

  1. Thanks 

It’s spelt ‘xie xie’ but sounded like saying ‘share share’ very quickly. That’s a good way to remember ‘thank you’ in Chinese as you would always thank someone for sharing, or in this case, share-sharing. Most Chinese travelling abroad should be able to say ‘thank you’ in English. Imagine how nice it is when they say ‘thank you’ to you and you say ‘share share’ back. You are aiming to be their favourite Aussie right? Another affirmative word in Chinese is ‘hao’ as in our first phrase ‘nihao’. You might hear people say ‘hao, xie xie’ which means ‘okay, thanks’.

When to use: when you receive a compliment for your excellent service, when your guests cooperate well with you and look after you
Body language: big smile, gently nodding head (optional)
Expected response: ‘bu yong xie’ meaning ‘No worries!’

  1. Sorry 对不起

We hope you will never have to use ‘dui bu qi’ (do-ee boo chee) with your Chinese guests. Relax it is not that bad. As we all know too well, things do not always go our way no matter how well we plan. So if the shuttle bus comes late, if the meal is not amazing, if you stepped on someone else’s feet in a rush trying to take a good photo for your guests, just say ‘dui bu qi’. If their flight is delayed or if the hotel is fully booked, say ‘dui bu qi’ and offer to help with ‘wo bang ni’.

When to use: when guests’ requests are not met, when something goes wrong
Body language: be sincere!
Expected response: ‘mei guan xi’ meaning ‘it’s ok’ when guests’ need are met

  1. Goodbye 

It’s always hard to say goodbye, especially after all the great times you’ve spend with your Chinese guests! There are many ways to say it. The most common one is ‘zai jian’ (zai jee-en) which means ‘see you again’. Most Chinese millennials say ‘bai bai’ which directly comes from ‘bye bye’.  Don’t forget to show off your own language skills by teaching them to say ‘ciao’ and tell them which language it is from. They will love it!

When to use: when you see off your guests
Body language: you can wave, shake hands and even hug them back if they hug you!
Expected response: ‘zai jian’, ‘xie xie’ and requests for selfies together!

We hope you enjoy practising these 5 phrases. As Nelson Mandela once said, if you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart. Learning some Mandarin phrases is a great way to get you ready for China now!

This post was a guest post by Lucy Lu. Lucy is a teacher, writer, interpreter, marketer, event organiser and MC heavily involved in the exciting Australia-China space. Follow her on LinkedIn or add her on WeChat:


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