Posted March 28, 2013

Temple students ensure opportunities for tourism from China are not lost in translation

Joseph V. Labolito
More than 70 Temple students volunteered as interpreters throughout the four-day Active America China Summit, a gathering to promote inbound tourism from China to North America.
  • (Joseph V. Labolito)
  • (Joseph V. Labolito)
  • (Joseph V. Labolito)
  • (Joseph V. Labolito)

Fanning herself with a notepad, Temple graduate student Jessie Zhang battled her nerves. Scanning the vast meeting room at the Loews Hotel, she saw before her 53 Chinese tour operators and 100 representatives from American destinations, hotels and attractions.

All were gathered for the annual Active America China Summit, which promotes inbound tourism from China to North America through various networking opportunities. Zhang’s assignment: Ensuring these influential businesspeople could understand each other.

Zhang and more than 70 other Temple students — from undergraduates to Ph.D. students representing at least eight schools and colleges — volunteered as interpreters throughout the four-day summit, held March 25-29 at sites throughout Philadelphia.

The School of Tourism and Hospitality Management sponsored the event, recruited and coordinated volunteers, educated students about all that Philadelphia offers as a destination and outfitted them with red polo shirts. The school also hosted a welcome reception for the Chinese delegation.

“I’m from China and am always interested in volunteer work, so I wanted to get involved in an activity that will enrich my university life,” said Zhang, a graduate student at the Fox School of Business. “I wanted to see something different.”

During Wednesday afternoon’s one-on-one business meetings of 15 minutes each, Zhang first translated between a representative from Shanghai Intercontinental Travel Service Co. and Harry Wade, tourism marketing manager for Duty Free Americas. “I couldn’t imagine doing it without a translator,” Wade said. “She was a big help.”

That big help could mean big business for Philadelphia. The Philadelphia Convention and Visitors Bureau (PHLCVB), which hosted the summit, and the Pennsylvania Tourism Office have identified China as an important growth market for tourism and conventions. According to the federal Office of Travel and Tourism Industries, inbound visitation to the United States from China increased 53 percent between 2009 and 2010 and has more than quadrupled in the past decade. China ranks third behind the United Kingdom and Japan in inbound travelers to the U.S.

“For many attendees, this was their inaugural visit to Philadelphia, and Temple’s student translators were an important part of ensuring a productive trip for our guests,” PHLCVB President and CEO Jack Ferguson said.

Karen Xie, a Ph.D. student from China in the School of Tourism and Hospitality Management, said the volunteers do more than translate words. “They open a window to these operators and show our countrypeople from China what’s happening in the American tourism and hospitality market.”

Robert Chang, of Taiwan, a graduate student in tourism and hospitality management, said he was proud of the service Temple students could provide — there were no other translators at the summit — and the opportunity to bridge cultures. “I appreciate that Temple asked us to volunteer,” he said. “For us, it’s a good opportunity.”

As Wednesday’s business meetings ended, Evan Saunders, co-founder and CEO of Attract China, spotted summit founder and Chairman Jake Steinman. Almost immediately, Saunders complimented the friendliness and professionalism of the student-translators.

“It’s fun when people have a zest for life when they’re working,” he said.