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Guiding the way it should be done

By Yang Feiyue | China Daily | Updated: 2019-03-19 07:10
Fang Bo explains mythological animals to children at the Palace Museum in Beijing. His sharing of knowledge about the former imperial palace has made him a celebrity in both virtual and real worlds. [Photo provided to China Daily]

With his online popularity and ever-growing knowledge, Fang Bo is a new face of the Forbidden City.

Fang Bo has become sort of a celebrity over the past nine months.

The 36-year-old tour guide, a native of Beijing, has attracted more than 600,000 followers on Douyin (known as TikTok overseas), one of China's most popular video-sharing platforms.

Fang began to share his knowledge about the Palace Museum in short video clips via the platform in June.

"There's so much content about the palace, so I decided to focus on lesser known facts and information about areas that are often overlooked by the public," Fang says.

"Those seemingly insignificant places all have their own stories to tell," he adds.

To Fang's surprise, his videos became an overnight hit, with some gathering more than 100,000 thumbs-up from viewers.

He continues to share knowledge of the Palace Museum, also known as the Forbidden City, that he considers will complement tourists' knowledge and pique their interest in the attraction, through his program on NetEase Cloud Music, an online radio channel, every Wednesday and Friday.

"The radio show is about historical figures and their stories," Fang says.

In just two months, the broadcast has also managed to attract more than 10,000 fans.

This success in the virtual world has had a positive impact on Fang's real life.

"I have fans from across the country asking me to give them tours of the palace, some of whom even trekked all the way from New Zealand," Fang says.

"They are mostly young people and want to know more about the place, instead of just sightseeing.

"They treat me with respect, as a teacher, and pay close attention to what I say during the tour," he says.

That's quite different from when Fang started his career a decade ago.

Most of his customers were old people and youngsters who were often loud and impatient.

Fang's career took a turn for the better in 2017, when he won the first prize at the national tour guide competition hosted by the Ministry of Culture and Tourism - which at the time was known as the National Tourism Administration.

"I joined the contest to prove myself and to interact with the elite operatives in my business," Fang says.

He says he felt lost before the competition, since tour guides were facing a lot of criticism over the unscrupulous behavior of some within the industry, such as those who would trick tourists into purchasing overpriced souvenirs.

Winning the competition not just gave his self-confidence a shot in the arm, but also gave him the opportunity to help transform the way tour guides operate.

Fang was soon approached by the Beijing tourism authority, which came up with an idea of offering tourists fragmented services.

Instead of accompanying them for three-to-four days, Fang would offer half-day tour services with in-depth explanations.

"It's more flexible this way, because many tourists may only have a limited time in Beijing," Fang explains.

The move has proved to be a success and more in line with tourists' requirements.

On average, tour groups led by Fang have grown from around three-to-five tourists, to 55 at a time.

As a result, these days, the Palace Museum might as well be Fang's second home.

"I've paid more than 300 visits to the imperial palace over the past 12 months," Fang says.

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