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Business Travel to Asia: 18 points every corporate traveller should know

19th August 2014

When planning international business travel to Asia, there are many things to consider, in particular if you are a corporate traveller who’s aiming to close deals and avoid unnecessary pitfalls. Therefore, we’ve compiled 18 simple points, helping you how to get well over communication barriers and better understand major cultural differences that are essential to successfully do business in Hong Kong.


Overcoming the language barrier

Planning business travel to Asia - Flightline Travel Management AdviceBusiness travellers may be aware from other Asian destinations about the importance of maintaining “face”. This is no different in Hong Kong. Even light mockery or sarcasm can be perceived as insulting. In the following you can read about the seven most important points to consider when communicating with Hong Kong Chinese.

  1. “Yes” may not mean agreement; it often means “I hear you.” “No” is generally not said. Instead, you may hear “I will have to wait,” or “This may be very difficult.” The Chinese are famous for communicating by “Saying it without saying it”. You will have to learn to read between the lines.
  2. Expect Hong Kong Chinese to ask personal questions.
  3. Compliment Hong Kong Chinese, but expect a denial. Politely deny a compliment to show humility. Do not say ‘thank you’.
  4. Do not speak loudly.
  5. You may be referred to as “Gweilo” (foreign devil). While perhaps insulting, it is generally not a personal attack.
  6. Hong Kong Chinese are very superstitious; mentioning failure, poverty or death offends them.
  7. While asking for the bill, Chinese people use their hand in a gesture of writing.
  8. To call someone, Chinese people never use their index finger. Extend your arm, palm down, and make a scratching motion with your fingers. Pointing with just your index finger is a sign of disregard—gesture with an open hand. Winking is even more frowned upon.

Apart from knowing about communication, business travellers should be of certain business etiquette that may help you to do business as you wish to – successfully.

Etiquette rules for business travel to asia

Business-Travel-to-Asia_-Business-ettiquette-rulesKnowledge of local culture and customs is polite wherever you go and if you’re doing business, following some of the local cultural rules are likely to impress. Hospitality, respect and generosity are generally revered, and there are practices that carry over into business and everyday life.

  1. Business travellers should make appointments for business meetings a month before arrival.
  2. Suits and ties are generally what will be expected at business meetings. For business, men should wear conservative and lightweight Western-style suits and ties. Women should wear conservative dresses, suits or skirts and blouses. The Chinese tend to dress up when going out in the evening. Most European-style hotel restaurants require a coat and tie in the evening. Women should wear cocktail dresses or evening pants.
  3. A very common and sophisticated way to greet others is to shake hands. However, in the Western countries, the handshakes are firmer in comparison with Hong Kong. When it comes to greet a person, the aged persons get priority before the younger ones and women get priority before the men. It is polite to inquire about a person’s health or activities upon greeting.
  4. You shouldn’t hug, kiss or pat people on the back.
  5. Family values are important part of the Hong Kong etiquette. An individual’s actions, prestige, education, wealth and reputation reflect positively or negatively on the entire family. A person has to carry two parts of name. One is the family name and the other is the given name, where the family name is put before the given name.
  6. 6. Take time to build relationships. It may take several meetings to accomplish goals. Do business face to face. Courtesy calls and personal selling are vital to success.
  7. Business card collecting is an Olympic sport in Hong Kong and business cards are expected. You can also have Chinese on the reverse side. Present and receive business cards with both hands, holding the card by the corners, as a sign of respect and respectfully ‘read’ it upon reception.
  8. Observe proper seating etiquette. Traditionally, the most important person or people sit at the head of the table, looking towards the door, and a hierarchical seating order follows from there. The guest of honour usually sits opposite the host, with the second and third most important guest to his or her left and right. If in doubt, ask your host politely where to sit or wait for them to offer you a seat.
  9. Stand up as key people enter the room, and always direct attention to them, even if there are communication and language barriers.
  10. Gift-giving at business meetings is less common in Hong Kong than in mainland China, but sometimes small gifts can be a token of appreciation right after the meeting, especially initial meetings. Suitable gifts include a bottle of alcohol or wine, or food, such as fresh fruit, or something typical from your home country. It is illegal to give a civil servant a gift.

Apart from these rules, you may wish to look up business etiquettes for dining. But, despite the threats made by numerous guides that not following local rules will ruin any business deal, Hong Kongers are internationalists and more importantly realists.

If you would like to receive more detailed and personal advice, also about other issues, please do not hesitate to contact us.

Business travel agency services for smarter corporate travel management

Speak to Flightline Travel Management and find out how our corporate travel management services support organisations of all sizes in meeting their business travel needs. As leading UK independent business travel agents we offer a complete portfolio of agency services for improving the performance of corporate travel management programmes. Flightline Travel Management make your travel budget work harder, delivering cost effective business travel solutions that drive policy compliance and improve business traveller safety. Call us today on 0844 332 0174 or make an online enquiry.

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