14 Feb

Speaking to Your Audience in Their Language

I recently had an interview in Toronto at Omni TV’s “Focus Mandarin” with its Anchor Mr. Wei Lee. It was to promote the winter attractions of York Durham Headwaters.

I should applaud Central Counties (York Durham Headwaters) for the pro-activeness in reaching out to the Mandarin-speaking community. But what deserves a bigger round of applause is that it’s speaking with the audience in their language.

A fun yet informative interview can not only introduce products to the consumers, but also address concerns there may be. And all is done using the language that can carry the most accurate information. Well done!

I would encourage all destinations who want to communicate with the Chinese nationals to do the same. And that is not limited to an interview. It can be video series. It can be print materials. It can be signage that will facilitate better visits.

Please feel free to contact to further this topic and connect to the right channel. I’m always here to help.

Below is the link to this interview.



13 Feb

The Canoe Movie – Featuring Michael Zhang

Canadians have a long history of using canoes as a means of exploring this great nation.

Well, maybe I should rephrase. Canadians built this county in canoes.

I am very proud to be part of the wonderful documentary film made by Goh Iramoto, in partnership with Ontario Tourism. In this film, I tell my story of the love affair between me and this vessel that carries Canada forward, that makes this great country the way she is and that serves as a bridge between the old-timers and new-comers of this land of water. It is in canoes where I have found my Canadian identity.

If you haven’t seen this film. Don’t worry. Here it is for you.


I will be doing two presentations about the canoe culture and how canoe helped me find my Canadian identity at the Toronto Outdoor Adventure Show Friday afternoon (Feb 24). Hope to see you there.


7 Apr

6 Steps to Successful Tourism Marketing in Chinese Market

Originally posted on 

The 6-step process in pursuing the Chinese tourist market: 1, Self-examination and evaluation; 2, Matching with the right target/segment; 3, Getting product/service ready (programming and packaging); 4, Getting language ready (in Simplified Chinese); 5, Choosing the right media; 6, Getting content ready for day-to-day communication.

These six steps are the fundamentals for a solid Chinese market strategy. Lacking any one of them may result in wasted marketing budget or, even worse, misunderstanding and falsely created image. But first and foremost, before all these steps can be taken, one should understand the Chinese market, both overseas and domestic markets.  That includes understanding who they are, what their current perspectives are, what they are expecting, what can be done to better match their behaviours as an ethnic group and as consumers, etc.

Your marketing budget will be much better spent in exploring the Chinese market when the preparation is properly done and your case study is completed.

Contact Michael Zhang for more insights in Chinese tourism marketing and beyond.


7 Apr

From Acceptable to Exceptional

During my career as a professional translator for 12 years, I have always told people “Translation takes more than someone that speaks two languages”. I guess it’s not loud enough to be heard by all. While there is acceptable Chinese translation of advertisement, newsletters, webpages, brochures, flyers and so on, exceptional pieces are seldom seen.  And that impression is usually made after I read the Chinese translation only.

As a translator, I can tell what the original would read in most of the cases. The word order is just like that in the English writing. The cultural aspect is usually ignored. It’s understandable. It might sound OK to some, because the purpose of a language is to make people understand. No doubt about it!

BUT, the question is should we stop there, right at “acceptable”?

To answer that question, we need to ask ourselves, the marketing professionals, this question: If we wouldn’t find just anybody to write our marketing contents in English, why would we find anybody to translate it into another language? 

If your English original is inspiring, exciting, tempting, inviting, welcoming or just beautiful, you need to make sure that the Chinese translation doesn’t fall under par. When the audience reads your Chinese translation, they can tell how much effort you put into communicating with them and will judge you on that.

Good translation cannot only show how professional you are, but how much you care about the readers. And the difference made by a good piece of writing/translation over a mediocre one could never be over exaggerated.

So don’t stop at acceptable, take it up a level, to exceptional!


Michael Zhang is a professional English-Chinese translator and tourism marketing professional. As a designated translator for National Geographic Traveler (China) and Ontario Toursim Marketing Partnership Corporation, he has done many important translation works for clients from all over the world, including TV and print advertisement, brochures, books, etc., including 3 NYTimes bestsellers. 

7 Apr

Sweet Icewine?

Originally posted on 

Last week, I took a TV crew from Guangdong Prov. of China to Niagara Falls and Toronto for filming, an assignment by Tourism Toronto. Fun trip as usually. I guess it’s the same nationality that created a natural bond between me and the visiting Chinese media. It was a fun trip, as always.

As much as it’s natural and smooth, I found one thing that had never been pointed out or noticed during previous many media Fam tours. The Guangdong people, from the south-most province in Mainland China (except for Hainan Island, which is off mainland China), didn’t seem to enjoy our Icewine very much.

The problem?  ”Too sweet!”

Guangdong, a Cantonese-speaking province that is adjacent to Hong Kong, is famous for it’s special cuisine called “粤菜” (Yuet Cuisine = Guangdong Dishes). Defined by a lighter taste and a prominent usage of seafood, it is the most popular and most well-known Chinese food around the world. And that lighter taste is the reason why the TV crew didn’t like Icewine. Unlike Chinese from Shanghai and Zhejiang (whose enjoys sweetness) or those from Szechuan (who are famous for their spicy food), Guangdong visitors will NOT be huge fans of Icewine.

As destination marketing organizations or local businesses related to Icewine promotion and production, it’s a new subject to subtly identify the coming media and visitors to direct them to the perfect products and services.


7 Apr

The Young Hearts Lighting Up the Falls

Originally posted on 

If you’ve ever been to Niagara Falls, you probably know that the Falls are lit up at night. And the light comes from a place call the Illumination Tower, where group tourists can change the colors of the Falls with their own hands. It itself is an attraction of Niagara Falls. But have you wondered who the people are lighting up the Falls with the century-old lights every night?


The two men that have been lighting up the world wonder are Peter Donald Gordon and Richard (Dick) Mann, two “young” hearts that have been guarding this great place, welcoming groups of tourists from all over the world.

In the little “office” barely bigger than a snooker table, Peter and Dick have been working for decades. When asked how many years they have been working here, Dick would smile as say: “I’m the rookie. I’ve only worked here for 30 years.” And when seeing my face showing big shock, he would smile again and add, “Peter is the old timer. 52 years.”

Peter is 82. Dick is 78. Peter had knee surgery 2 years ago, not long before when he had played his last hockey game. Dick is more talkative and jokes with me from time to time. I visit them whenever I’m in Niagara Falls, by myself or with a group of media from China. I want to see them whenever I can.

It might seem a boring job, being on duty in the tower alone. But they are never lonely. They are visited by thousands of visitors every year. “It’s a great job,” said Dick, “I’ve got to see all the nice people from around the world.” Yes, they are, especially when they see the two senior keepers going strong after decades of dedication to the tower and the Falls. “If I didn’t work here,” admitte Dick, “I would be sitting at home, watching TV all day long, feeling bored and lonely.” But they are never lonely, because they have not only human friends, but the mammal buddies. There are thirty some raccoons, big and small, living in and around the tower. “Come see the coons,” they would invite the visitors. And they are all excited when they see the bright eyes of the coons shining in the dark of the night. And the backdrop? The roaring Niagara Falls lit up with colorful lights. Peter and Dick feed the coons with bread. Bags of bread. And they are friends for a lifetime. “They were already here before I came,” Dick said about his animal friends.

There was one time when I asked Dick what would happen if any of them couldn’t work at the tower anymore. “I don’t know,” he said. “Peter’s son may be working here then. I don’t know.” I started to worry about the future of the tower and my many more visits down the road. As much as I know there will always be somebody there lighting up the Falls every night and showing the tourists how to change the colors of the Falls by themselves, I wish they could be there forever. Peter, Dick, the lights and the coons.

During one visit to the Illumination Tower not long ago, Peter’s grandchildren came to visit him. And the Tower suddenly had a stronger sense of family. At that moment, I realized that the tower has always been a family and I am proud to be part of it.

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7 Apr

For the Crystal Water of Georgian Bay

Originally posted on 

I’ve been kind of addicted to water since I moved to Canada. One of the advantages of living in Ontario is that you are never too far from it. Three years ago, I saw the crystal clear waters of Georgian Bay for the first time. Since then, I’ve been traveling back every year, just for the jewel of Lake Huron and Georgian Bay.


The tip of the Bruce Peninsula, Tobermory, is a place I visit over and over again. The largest glass bottom boat in Canada is located in Tobermory and I’ve had the opportunity to take this cruise. With the crystal clear waters of the Bay, you are able to see the century old shipwrecks on the bottom. The white fish at the little diner at Big Tub Habour is excellent. Watching the beautiful sailboats elegantly cruising in and out of the harbor, while eating dinner, is a great combination and adds to the experience.


I’ve also hiked the Georgian Bay Trail in the Bruce Peninsula National Park. This trail takes you to the turquoise colored waters of the Grotto. Definitely a must see. Located beside the Grotto is Indian Head Cove, a rock beach, which is popular to many. I’ve swam and snorkeled in the cool but clean water.


Not too far from Tobermory is the town of Lion’s Head. Here I’ve walked over the giant cobblestones and have made out the shape of Lion’s Head in the rock face of the escarpment. Sauble Beach, the second largest freshwater beach in the world is a little further from Tobermory but is worth the drive. I’ve sunbathed on this popular beach and splashed around in the waves. Tobermory and the surrounding areas are so much fun that you will forget the four-plus-hour drive up from Toronto.


There is one thing I haven’t done yet in Tobermory. I still need to go onboard of Chi-Cheemaun and visit Manitoulin Island, the world’s largest freshwater island. I’ve seen the Chi-Cheemaun so many times from my rental cottage by the water, but have never driven my car into her big “mouth” at the bow. This is something I plan on doing this summer of 2012. Here I come, Chi-Cheemaun!


The difference between the bustling, charming town of Tobermory on the southern coast of Georgian Bay, and the tiny rugged village of Killarney, is its flavor.


If the turquoise water and stunning cliffs of the Niagara Escarpment interest you, then the different kinds of rock formations in West Desjardin, about 15 kilometers west of Killarney Mountain Lodge, will certainly take your breath away.


Early last fall, I stayed at the Killarney Mountain Lodge. It was cooler, but the weather was just beautiful. Taken by a fast boat we hired, we travelled along the rugged, pine tree lined coast of Georgian Bay to the little islands of West Desjardin. The rocks that form the big and small bumps in the sparkling water are as smooth as a baby’s bottom. The pine trees, which can be found in the paintings of Group of Seven, stand on top of some of the big islands in front of a seemingly endless backdrop of blue sky and white clouds.


The world famous Herbert Fishery Fish n’ Chips is right by the Killarney harbor. If you are looking for the freshest fish and chips, Herbert Fisheries is a great place to visit. Fish are caught daily and hundreds of fish and chip orders are fried up every day.


Killarney is home to the Killarney Provincial Park and campgrounds are abundant. Highway 637 takes you through the Provincial Park and not only welcomes you with an abundance of trees of different shapes and colors, but also with lots of wild animals. Driving along this highway, I’ve seen two deer, one fox, one bear and uncountable herons along the way.


There are other great locations to visit close to Killarney. Sudbury is not far and you can find Science North and Dynamic Earth where you can play and explore. French River is also close, where you will find a beautiful gorge that can be admired atop of a long suspension bridge.


The northern coast of Georgian Bay is a four-season destination and is never lacking interesting things to do. Its beauty is waiting for you to discover in this summer.

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7 Apr

Chinese Sign Language for Numbers

Originally posted on 

We all know how language barriers can be our biggest enemy in your efforts in marketing to a non-English-speaking demographic. Sometimes, when you are unable to communication with someone, who doesn’t speak English at all, sign language may come in handy to provide some assistance. However, sometimes even sign language is different in two different countries. Chinese languages, both spoken and written, are unique and the sign language for numbers is different, too. Here are the signs for numbers 1 to 10. Note: The sign language here is for everybody, not the sign language for deaf people, and is considered understandable/universal in China. 

Next time when you are in a situation where you need to use some signs to talk to your new Chinese friends, customers, media or visitors in your town, you will be ready to at least count some numbers with them using your fingers. 


7 Apr

Huron Sunset

Originally posted on 

I AM DRIVING on the one-way street in Tobermory’s business district to the cottage I will be staying in for the next couple of days. Grocery and dinner on the passenger seat, I am sort of in a hurry. All of a sudden, a bright but soft beam of sunlight pokes through the car window and pours onto my face. Out of instinct, I turn my head left and see a stunningly beautiful sunset. A mixed hue of blue, red and purple is the backdrop. Against it is a golden sun like an egg yolk with some steam radiating out of it. Under, or rather diagonally under the sun is the sparkling water of the Big Tub Harbour with MS Chi Cheemaun just no more than a couple of hundred feet away in front of me. A little sail boat is anchored in the middle of the little bay like a white buoy, white triangular sail pointing to the glowing clouds in the sky.

I was invited to Tobermory by Bruce County Tourism to do workshops for local businesses to share with them my knowkedge and experience in attracting and getting ready for the Chinese tourists. Going in Tobermory as a tourist with some work to do, I didn’t expect to see such a beautiful sunset on the first night at the tip of Bruce Peninsula. What a lovely surprise!  And the following day in Tobermory presented me with a similar gift again. This time, I was prepared. Camera ready, I was almost waiting for it to come. And it didn’t fail me at all. Once again, a big, round, golden sun set some good mood for my burger and wine dinner.

On the third day of my Bruce County workshop trip, I moved from Tobermory to where the third workshop would take place, Southampton, Ontario. This little town on the east coast of Lake Huron has only several thousand residents. And those are the lucky thousands. If you have been to Southampton, you will know there’s a HUGE Canadian flag flying at the end of the main street, by the lake, over a pretty strip of sandy beach. Again, on my way back from picking up some food from a local Chinese restraunt, I saw the sun start falling on the horizon. The bottom of this golden, reddish colored plate was already touch the vague divide line between the sky and the water. So again, I stopped at the end of a little side street by the beach, car idling twenty feet behind me and snapped a few shots with my iPhone before it was too late. And that proved to be a right decision, since when the sun sets, it sets so quickly. Before I could make a U-turn, the sun was already half  way down, leaving the stage to the clouds, which looked like some burning cotton rolling on a vast land. Southampton is not quite a tourist town. Locals even told me that this cottage town is resided by many lawyers and doctors and alike as their summer home and there are not many parking spaces there by the lake because they are trying to keep the beach and the sunset as “private” as possible. And I can see why.

Next time I am going to the East coast of Lake Huron, I will know what to expect, at least to some degree. I may even want to go there just for that. Huron sunset, isn’t that a perfect reason for a weekend journey to the west? (Question: Do Chinese tourists from the GTA know about these towns and parks? Are they well informed of what the can expect for a weekend getaway to the east coast of Lake Huron?)

Below is a list of the beatiful Ontario towns and parks on the east  coast of Lake Huron that one can enjoy historic towns, nature, some old-school hospitality and beautiful sunset.



Port Elgin

McGregor Point Provincial Park

Inverhuron Provincial Park




Grand Bend

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7 Apr

First things first

I have been asked by many tourism marketing professionals on selecting the right Chinese media for communicating with the Chinese nationals. And as an honest friend and media insider, I have been giving candid answers to them.

BUT, the first question, before ALL other questions, should really be: Do we understand who we are trying to talk to?

Let’s first follow this story I’m telling you now.

A young man goes to the same university with this attractive girl for quite some time. And he’s been thinking of asking the girl out lately. They’ve already spent some time together, though not prearranged in  any way. He thinks he should buy the girl a present, just to show how much he likes her. And he also thinks that he should prepare on a piece of paper a speech, a proposal, an idea, which she won’t say “no” to. He would put the paper in the present and try to win her heart. Let’s presume the boy spent quite some money to buy the gift and quite some time to write the speech and to find the place where he wanted to take her to. Will he be SUCCESSFUL?

Maybe. Maybe not.

The question again is: Does he understand her? Or, Does he know what she’s like and what she likes?

In the scenario of the tourism industry, the boy is a destination (in geographic or commercial definition), the girl is the Chinese demographic, the present is your products and services, the paper with the speech is the media campaign and the money for the present is your marketing budget.

Now, will you ask the same question again? The question about the media? Yes, of course. But will you ask that question first? NO.

First things first, get to understand the Chinese demographic, what they are like and what they like. Even when you have to spend quite some money on purchasing the effective media, with that understanding, you can be sure your money is well spent. Otherwise, you are only shooting in the dark and seeing if there are any Chinese down.

That’s my advice for you today. First things first.


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