Yellowstone National Park, has hired three Mandarin-speaking interpretive rangers this summer to help ease communication with a growing influx of Chinese tourists. In an action widely reported in the Rocky Mountain States, the Southwestern U.S. and in some trade news media, park officials said that they made the move in order to accommodate the growing number of Chinese visitors.
“It’s great to show the Chinese visitors my country, after they showed me theirs,” said Evan Hubbard, one of the rangers, who studied in China for two years, told the Associated Press. “They are coming here and everything that is so familiar to us is completely foreign to them.”
“During last summer we saw that this could be helpful,” said Rich Jehle, South District resource education ranger in Yellowstone. “We have all kinds of basic safety publications in different languages. But it’s different having someone who can speak directly to a visitor.”
Yellowstone doesn’t track visitation by nation of origin. Instead, the park’s staff is simply relying on a perceived increase, one that the West Yellowstone Chamber of Commerce has noted, as well.
“We just know it’s a significant number,” said Mary Sue Costello, president of the chamber. “We have felt this switch for probably three or four years. “Added Jehle, It’s probably been recognized for a few years but last year was where the increase was very evident.”
A story in the July 5 Idaho Falls, Idaho, newspaper said the city is seeing a big overflow of Chinese visitors who are on their way to and from Yellowstone and businesses are starting to cater to them with Mandarin speaking hotel receptionists, instructions written in Chinese and the use of translations apps on cellphones by businesses to close the language barrier.
The jump in Chinese tourism to the United States is due to the country’s estimated 300 million members of the middle class—who have more expendable income—and a relaxation of government travel restrictions.
One statistic that Yellowstone does track is the number of buses that pass through the park’s gates. In 2015 the park counted more than 10,500 buses, an increase of 17 percent over 2014, which saw a 21 percent increase from 2013. Tour buses on average have about 50 seats, but it’s not clear what the park counts as a bus. We don’t know how they are coming in,” Jehle said. “But there are a lot on tour buses and driving cars.”
Same Duties—Additional Language: The three Mandarin-speaking interpretive rangers have the same duties as any other interpretive ranger— providing information about park resources, orientation, giving formal interpretive programs like guided walks, roving the Old Faithful or Madison areas to talk to visitors informally and providing education on regulations. They also can interpret during medical emergencies.
Hubbard said Chinese tourists in Yellowstone are often looking to other visitors for cues on how to behave. “There tends to be two very distinct interactions: safety or regulation issues, like walking off the boardwalk in a thermal area,” he said. “That becomes an education opportunity. Often they say they had seen someone else or saw tracks.
“The more fun interaction is hearing Chinese speakers while I’m out roving and I will give them a greeting and their eyes will light up,” Hubbard said. “Usually it’s their first time here and they are excited to have this unique opportunity.”