Nin hao, nin xu yao bang mang ma? An attractive young Thai lady clad in cream-coloured jacket with bright orange bow tie and black skirt greets a group of Chinese tourists who look lost at Bangkok's Don Mueang airport.
Don Mueang airport assistant Supawan Arunwatanachai (left) offers help to Chinese tourists.
What she said is Mandarin for "Hello, may I help you?"
The lady is Supawan Arunwatanachai, a 27-year-old graduate of Kasetsart University with a major in Mandarin language. Her task is to help Chinese passengers at Don Mueang with any queries they may have on arrival or departure.
Until recently a Mandarin tutor, Ms Supawan is one of 12 Mandarin-speaking assistants who roam around strategic points at the airport looking for Chinese tourists baffled by the language barrier or simply needing directions to the toilet.
The Airport Help squadron, which appeared at Don Mueang this week, is one of several unprecedented moves to make Don Mueang a Chinese-friendly airport, underscoring the importance that Airports of Thailand Plc places on Chinese traffic.
Considering that 80% of international passenger traffic at Don Mueang consists of Chinese tourists _ currently 11,200 a day or 4 million a year _ and the numbers are growing, they deserve good treatment, said Don Mueang general manager Chaturongkapon Sodmanee.
Don Mueang today handles 40,000 passengers a day, of whom 26,000 are on domestic flights and 14,000 are flying international.
The airport is considering a range of services oriented towards Chinese passengers' particular needs, Mr Chaturongkapon told the Bangkok Post.
In the pipeline is installation of purified hot water dispensers (Chinese do not generally drink chilled water) and signage at the airport in Chinese language (along with Thai and English).
The language barrier remains the biggest problem for most Chinese mainlanders travelling overseas. They normally rely on tour guides to get around Thailand.
"We want to make them feel most welcome and comfortable upon their arrival in Thailand and their departure; after all, they take the lion's share of our international passenger throughput," said Mr Chaturongkapon.
The Airport Help team, nine women and three men mostly in their 20s, will get reinforcements in the future, pending evaluation and passenger demand.
These Chinese arrive at Don Mueang on budget carriers like AirAsia and charter operators like Orient Thai, and their ranks are swelling. Nearly 3 million Chinese tourists visited Thailand last year, the most from any nation, and 4 million are expected this year.
Thai AirAsia operates 112 round-trip flights a week on nine routes to China, all through Don Mueang.
About the author
- Writer: Boonsong Kositchotethana
Position: Deputy Editor Business