Should Malaysian hotels have Mandarin speakers on duty?

ON March 14, the report “Tourist uploads video of 5-star hotel in Malaysia not having Mandarin-speaking staff; netizens have mixed opinions” was posted in Singapore. After watching the video, I chose not to comment, as it was purposely staged to boost viewership.

But later, I decided to write after reading a report “Should Malaysian hotels have Mandarin speakers on duty?” posted by a local news portal. Sadly, many people can easily be fooled by misleading reports and videos, and faked or staged videos are swallowed hook, line and sinker.

This video started with a male tourist entering a hotel and asking the doorman in Mandarin “Where is the front desk?”, meaning reception.

Unless it is located on an upper floor, the reception counter can easily be spotted upon entry, either at the left or right or straight ahead.

At the counter, he recorded his interaction with the receptionist who told him he had come to the wrong hotel.

In his voice-over recorded later, he complained about hearing a different language (English) and also blamed the driver for being unable to communicate with him.

A probable reason why he went to the wrong hotel first was to support his claim that the lack of Mandarin speakers was not an isolated incident.

But if he had used an e-hailing service, he would have to key in his destination, such as the hotel name, which is likely to be in English.

Upon arriving at the right hotel, the female receptionist asked for his passport, but he pretended not to understand and replied in Mandarin “Cannot understand”. A nearby male receptionist uttered “Foo Chow” (passport in Mandarin) thrice, but he just pretended not to hear them.

After the male receptionist declared that “We cannot speak Chinese”, he showed that he understood and responded using a voice language translator stating that he was staying for two nights. When he heard the word passport yet again, he suddenly understood it loud and clear.

Mercifully, he did not try to feign ignorance at the immigration counter. If he had tried to be funny upon arrival, he could have been made to wait until all other passengers had been cleared. The rest of the video was just as comical and inconsistent with the normal behaviour of visitors.

This male tourist who recorded the video is in his 30s and from China. Many people from his country and age group may not be fluent in English, but most would be able to understand common words such as ‘passport’ or when shown ‘12pm’, but he chose to act dumb.

Now, back to the question: Should Malaysian hotels have Mandarin speakers on duty?

My answer: It should be an individual business decision. If a hotel has many guests from China or is targeting more, it will certainly have Mandarin-speaking staff at the reception and restaurant.

But if such guests are few, it will be better to use their limited resources in many other areas.

(Pic credit: The Sun)

Interpersonal communication

In 1973, I was a tour guide and my very first tourist was an elderly Argentinian doctor who could only speak Spanish. We tried hard to understand each other and laughed most of the time.

After sending her to the Subang Airport, I left only after her plane had taken off. In interpersonal communication, our body language including facial expressions is given 55% in importance, followed by the tone of our voice at 38%, and the words used are only 7%.

In 2000, I drove a premier taxi and remember sending a disabled passenger from a hotel to Suria KLCC.

Upon arrival, the grossly overweight passenger with a crew cut had to be helped to get out of my taxi to the wheelchair. I only realised that she was a woman while lifting her.

What was truly admirable was that she could speak only Japanese, but she travelled all on her own, totally undaunted by her physical handicap or language barrier. In contrast, many normal people can easily be put off by the slightest discomfort or inconvenience.

In 2016, I was at Langkawi for three weeks of training with participants from ASEAN countries, and an elderly couple from China who spoke no English was staying at the same hotel. It was amazing to see the old man expertly using a drone to have close-up views of distant places.

In training, I would remind participants that not all complaints must be taken seriously, as some people enjoy complaining to entertain themselves, just as there are customers who are satisfied and remain quiet. In customer service, we ought to be observant and look for visual clues.

Finally, each private sector organisation knows its own business best and decides what to do without the need for public discussion. However, for public services such as our international airports, it is imperative to have Mandarin-speaking staff at or near immigration counters. – March 25, 2024

YS Chan is the master trainer for Mesra Malaysia and Travel and Tours Enhancement Course. He is an Asean Tourism Master Trainer and also a tourism and transport business consultant.

The views expressed are solely of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Focus Malaysia.


Main pic credit: Getty Images

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