Tips for Business Travel to Asia

Tips and Advice for Business Travel to Asia | BCBusiness
Beyond Shanghai-Pudong Airport lies the continent of Asia, vast in size and opportunity. If your business brings you here, understanding local culture will pay great dividends.

For international business travellers to Asia who want to close deals and avoid gaffes, we present a collection of travel advice and tips.

Yes, it’s true, international business now functions largely in English, and Western cultural mores span the globe. But don’t let it lull you to sleep, Westerner: when you travel to Asia for business, a mite of knowledge about local customs will pay great dividends.

A culture like Japan’s, for example, has rules of respect and politeness notoriously difficult for outsiders to learn. While research won’t make you a business etiquette virtuoso, it will help you avoid the most embarrassing mistakes a business traveller can make in Asia.

And so, collected for you edification, these smart tips for business travellers to Asia.

When doing business in Asia, a good first impression is crucial

That may sound like a commonplace, but in Asia, more than in most places, image matters. Looking sharp at a business meeting not only reflects well on you, it also indicates respect for your host. And so a business trip to Asia offers the opportunity to cast a critical eye at your wardrobe. To start, ask yourself these three questions.

  • Do my socks look good? In Asia it’s common to remove your shoes on entering some rooms – even in offices and restaurants. Make sure your socks are as presentable as your shoes.
  • Is my suit light enough? The weather in most Asian business capitals ranges from balmy to blistering. Then there’s the humidity. It’s hard to look competent when you’re sweating.
  • Do I need a razor? Although in the West it’s common to see “style icons” like George Clooney wear a tuxedo with a face full of stubble, Asian businesspeople aren’t much charmed by the rakes. Facial hair is uncommon. Shave your face.

How to handle business cards in Asia

Before you fly to Asia, be sure you have a stack of business cards. You’ll be handing many out, and always on meeting potential clients for the first time. Following these three tips will help you sidestep cultural gaffes.

  • Use both hands. That’s in both giving and receiving cards, remember. Using one hand is considered flagrantly casual, a step away from throwing.
  • Acknowledge your associate. You do this by examining his card for a full moment. This is an excellent time to determine what you should call him.
  • Ask, “How should I address you?” Asian businesspeople are keenly aware of position and hierarchy. And since titles are important, you needn’t guess where you might instead inquire. Never use a client’s given name unless invited to.
  • Keep his business card on the table. It’s also acceptable to place it in a cardholder. Either way, the business card should remain “public” for the duration of your meeting. Stuffing it in your back pocket, so near your rear end, will make you look like one. Don’t do it.

Greeting tips for business travellers to Asia

“Giving face” is vital across Asia, and in business it’s crucial to greet senior people first. During introductions, line your team up in descending order, your ranking person first.

Although the Western handshake is accepted across Asia – particularly in China – the wise will take note of regional variations. The traditional Thai greeting is a slight bow with palms pressed together, as in a prayer. It is called a wai. (The higher your hands and lower your bow, the more respectful the wai.) Do not bow to anyone in Japan unless specifically coached to–but do nod your head while shaking hands. And exercise caution in pressing the flesh in Southeast Asia. There, Muslim women will not shake hands with men.

Asian business entertaining

In travel, doing your homework is always a boon. As the business shifts to after hours, knowledge you demonstrate of your host’s culture will be welcomed as a topic of conversation. So will any attempts to converse in his language.

At mealtimes, your host will invariably insist you keep eating, even if you are full. This is regarded as polite behaviour. You needn’t eat too much, but do sample everything on the table, and express appreciation for its taste and quality.

Avoiding after-hours peril in Asian business – “talking bars” and rice liquor

Socializing with Asian clients presents two grave risks to novice international travellers – karaoke and indigenous liquor. Both are common features of the business entertainment landscape.

If you are taken to a karaoke bar and asked to sing, don’t refuse. It’s poor form. If you’re tone deaf, odds are your turn on the microphone will end with your melody-free version of “Take Me Home, Country Roads.” Be a sport and get through it. Your associates will compliment you without cease.

Businessmen should exercise caution in karaoke parlours where unattached young women in miniskirts wander. The women’s time – whether for conversation or more vigorous recreations – is for sale. Be forewarned: some Asian clients will propose you seal a business deal with more than a toast to the success of your venture. If you find yourself unwillingly in such a situation, beg off by pleading an upset stomach. This preserves your face while providing you another another opportunity to praise the uncommon richness and abundance of the food.

Strong rice liquor is often used to toast visitors, particularly in China and Taiwan. In a group, it’s common for each member to share a toast with you and you alone. One drink can turn into five, can turn into a blackout sprawl across Pudong that has you returning to your hotel in broad daylight – if you can find it. Be careful. Never refuse a toast; instead, take measured sips and keep plenty of water near.