The Volunteer Tourist Guide Team, recently launched by the Communist Youth Union of Ho Chi Minh City’s District 1 and comprising of 78 sociable local youths armed with excellent foreign language command, is set on creating a hospitable, helpful image of local tourism among foreigners.
The volunteers have been doing this job for three months now. Working in two shifts, from 8am to 11am and 2pm to 5pm on weekdays, they are readily available to provide tourism information and help prevent scams targeting tourists at three hot spots: the T-junction of Pham Ngu Lao - De Tham, the crossroads of De Tham - Bui Vien, and 262 De Tham.
Helpful, friendly companions
The volunteers have been giving information and assistance, and receiving beaming smiles and heartfelt thanks from foreign tourists in return.
“The launch of the team aims to promote the city as a safe, hospitable tourism destination and attract more international tourists. It also provides the youths with a useful, practical, spiritually rewarding summer activity and helps them sharpen their foreign language skills and expand their knowledge of their city,” shared Tran Vinh Tuyen, chair of the District 1 People’s Committee.
During a torrential downpour on the afternoon of June 9, the volunteers stayed at their information booths and provided tourists with detailed guidance on how to get to the city’s tourist attractions, as well as information on good, reputable restaurants and hotels.
“When I first arrived in Vietnam, no one helped me this much. Kind-hearted people did help me cross the street, but they couldn’t speak English. These youths speak excellent English and are incredibly helpful, so foreign tourists will surely benefit a lot from this unconditional assistance,” said 52-year-old Eric William, an Australian who has lived in Vietnam for over five years now.
Each day the booths each receive some 20 tourists from different countries who inquire about various information including accommodation, convenience stores, means of transport and banks.
Several members who can speak good Japanese, Korean and French are of great help to tourists who speak little English.
“Tourists who just get off a bus are afraid of being solicited or pestered by being constantly asked to buy things. So they’re more than pleased to know that they can now refer to the information we provide. Several also took photos with us,” shared Nguyen Huu Trung Nghia, a sophomore at HCMC Economics University, who is in charge of the booth on the De Tham – Pham Ngu Lao intersection, where buses regularly pick up and drop off tourists.
Local tourists who arrive in HCMC for the first time also seek information on the city from the team.
Though young, the 78 volunteers are confident, enthusiastic, and knowledgeable about the city, and have a good command of foreign languages.
One third of the volunteers are students from high schools located within District 1. Their experience from taking part in international student exchange programs in Japan and Singapore helps them communicate better with foreigners.
“It’s a great pride and lots of excitement to be at the booths, working together on ways to help the tourists, and receiving their smiles and thanks in return,” shared Tran Thi Diem Phuong, an 11th grader at Luong The Vinh high school.
Many of Phuong’s classmates have also joined the program and take turns standing at the booths.
“If I stay home during my summer vacation, I only chat online. Working here gives me the opportunity to practice my spoken Japanese directly and learn more about the city’s streets and tourist activities,” said Luu Duc Hoang Long, an 11-th grader at Trung Vuong high school in District 1 who has studied Japanese for six years.
The Communist Youth Union of Ho Chi Minh City’s District 1 asked Dang Quoc Hoa, vice principal of the Saigon Tourist Tourism and Hotel School, to provide training for the volunteers in communication and problem solving skills.
Each volunteer is also armed with booklets detailing information which is often sought by foreign tourists.
According to Nguyen Kim Duc, from the Communist Youth Union of HCMC’s District 1, the model will be piloted for one to three months.
“With such positive response, we’ll try to expand the model to District 1’s Ben Thanh and Ben Nghe wards, which are also hot spots for foreign tourists.”