More than 2.5 million tourists visited West Lake in Zhejiang province over the May Day holiday.
What caught the attention of many of them was the presence of a team of eight international students, all wearing yellow vests and Bluetooth headsets, and riding electric scooters.
The eight were studying in Hangzhou, Zhejiang’s provincial capital. They are the first international volunteer team serving at the famous spot, which was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2011.
The foreign volunteers are from India, Mongolia, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Tanzania and Yemen.
“As Hangzhou is seeing an increasing number of individual travelers from abroad following the 2016 G20 Summit … we have been considering how to diversify our volunteer forces during holidays and peak seasons for years,” said Liu Jian, director of the volunteer program.
The site has thousands of Chinese volunteers and hundreds of security guards daily during peak seasons. In October, when it had a record number of travelers, the administrators decided to seek help from local universities for international volunteers, Liu said.
The lake, spanning a total of 60 square kilometers in the heart of Hangzhou, is near to one of China’s oldest Buddhist temples and is surrounded by lush green hills.
During the recent holiday, it was one of the most popular tourist spots among millions of domestic travelers, along with the Great Wall and the Forbidden City.
“It’s not only about giving tourists directions to the toilet or preventing people from smoking,” said Bela Nitesh Parmar from India, one of the students selected from among more than 50 candidates for the volunteer program.
“The more I help others, the more confidence and positive energy I earn for myself,” said the sophomore at Zhejiang University of Technology.
The 20-year-old said she first learned about the history of the place to become a better volunteer.
The volunteer team－led by Wu Liangliang, a security guard who has gained online fame for his fluent self-taught English－has also been part of the site’s efforts to provide a more personal management style, in addition to the city government’s introduction of various measures, including a mobile app, to help tourists.
Larry Goodrich, from Seattle, who has been traveling with his wife in the Yangtze River Delta for three weeks, lauded the volunteers’ contributions.
Having worked in the computer industry since “the era of brick-sized cellphones”, the 65-year-old said that while technology has provided unimaginable convenience, traveling is about being a part of the destination and interacting with local residents.
“The human connection is always better,” said Goodrich.