Coco Sun takes hundreds of enthralled visitors around New Zealand’s historic Larnach Castle & Gardens. Coco Sun can also claim a very interesting history. She was born and raised in China’s north eastern province of Liao Ning. As an adult, she moved to Japan where she graduated with a Master of Business Administration and Marketing from Aichi University in Nagoya (another city famous for a magnificent castle). After a six-year stint working for an international manufacturer in Japan, she and her New Zealand-born husband relocated to Dunedin two years ago. Oh, she also speaks fluent Mandarin, Japanese and English.
On average, Coco takes care of at least one hundred visitors a day in groups of between twenty to forty.
Each year, the famous landmark on Otago Peninsula attracts thousands, including many Chinese and Japanese tourists who either visit for several hours, or enjoy a longer stay at the Castle’s luxury accommodation.
“I feel happy to help them because Asian people’s culture is very different to New Zealand,” says Coco. “Not knowing English is a barrier for them so once they know I can speak their language they are very appreciative. Sometimes I can see their sense of relief when they realise I can understand them, and they are able to communicate easily.”
They also ask her lots and lots of questions. Questions about food and where to go and what to see around New Zealand. Older Chinese unfamiliar with the Western diet ask her to recommend Chinese restaurants, or they want her to explain why New Zealand food is cooked a certain way. For instance, why poached or scrambled eggs are served with pepper and salt instead of sauce.
She is also quick to point out the subtle cultural differences that she needs to cater for: Japanese don’t like loud calling out so they always wear headphones on the tour. Because Chinese people have such an ancient culture, the castle’s age doesn’t really impress them and instead they are more interested in its family history. On the other hand, Japanese visitors tend to be most fascinated by materials and objects and what things are made from such as the imported textiles, exotic timbers and tiling. They are also very interested in ghost stories.
While Coco is a highly qualified academic and administrator, in her role at Larnach Castle there’s still an important place for the New Zealand Certificate in Tourism (Visitor Experience) Level 3 on-job training programme which has been designed by industry to help upskill new and experienced tourism operators.
“The programme reminds me again how I can do my job even better. I thought it was going to involve study, but it’s really about why I do the things I already do in my role. It helps me think about what I’m doing and how to pay more attention to certain areas,” she says. ‘It’s also helpful with developing communication skills. For instance, I feel the tour is a very interesting and different experience, but I want to work on how I talk about Larnach Castle to make Chinese people think “Wow!”.
Coco enjoys being part of visitor engagement. Every day is fresh, she never knows who she is going to meet, and it’s encouraging to know she makes a positive difference for Japanese and Chinese audiences. She is also honoured to be helping the team at Larnach Castle develop a stronger relationship with Japanese tourism.
“What I say and what I do is part of our visitor’s experience of the castle. The information I give them helps increase their engagement and appreciation. When I find that I’ve been helpful for visitors, that feels like a real reward.”
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