Avoid Blunders at Meetings in Asia-Pacific

By Terri Morrison
Corporate & Incentive Travel Magazine, April 2012

While there are more than 7 billion people
on our planet, the most populous nations
are in Asia. This makes them an
irresistible market for Western companies. Even
if you just consider the Asian nations that border
the Pacific, you are talking about nearly 2 billion
people (more than 1.3 billion are in the People’s
Republic of China alone). Also, Japan hosted
more international conventions in 2010 than any
other country except the USA.
These are highly competitive, expensive markets,
filled with sophisticated executives who are
determined to get the best possible deal. Since
conventions and trade shows in Asia are pricey,
it’s important to avoid preventable mistakes in
these culturally diverse locations.

Tattoos and Other Blunders
Blunders happen even to experienced, well-financed
exhibitors. For example, everyone knows
that tattoos are gaining popularity around the
world. However, highly visible tattoos can still
be unappealing to many Asian businesspeople.
Confucian principals espouse preserving the
purity of the body, and tattoos were historically
associated with criminal activity. Besides the traditional
connotations, if your fabulous Japanese
kanji or Chinese hanzi inscription has not been
rendered perfectly on your neck, hand or ankle,
it will be painfully obvious to every native
speaker whom you meet. And we all know that
bad translations and reversed characters abound.
Hopefully you don’t have a permanent problem
on your epidermis…but just to be sure, you might
want to use some makeup to cover your body art
while at work in Asia.
As you develop your marketing materials,
be sure to avoid incorporating any video, commentary
or graphic elements that may be politically
incorrect in each target country. This can
be a challenge in China. Pro-Taiwan, pro-Tibet,
highly religious or patriotic remarks, or virtually
any other data that can be considered politically
charged can get your materials confiscated
before they ever pass through customs. To be
safe, firms often have their collateral materials
for China developed, vetted and printed in
Shanghai and Beijing.
In Indonesia and Malaysia, Muslim sensibilities
are predominant. Indonesia is now well-known
as having the largest population of Muslims in
the world. Planners must be careful not to violate
Muslim sensibilities. Pork and alcohol are
prohibited under Islam so avoid depicting bacon,
pepperoni, sausages or hot dogs made from pork
in your materials. Also, in your printed materials
images of people should be modestly clothed.
Clearly, it is vitally important that you do not
violate the local sensibilities. With the exception
of Japan and South Korea, you will find that
business in many Asian countries is dominated
by people of Chinese descent. So it is worthwhile
to adjust to Chinese sensibilities and folk beliefs.
In addition, when setting up a large booth at
your expo, it should be in accord with the principles
of feng shui. An expert in feng shui will insure
that you have avoided clutter, that the flow is
auspicious, and that you do not have any unlucky
objects or “poison arrows” (sharp angles) in the
booth. Certain symbols, numbers and colors are
also considered lucky or unlucky. For example, do
not use the number four because it is so inauspicious
that new construction in Hong Kong usually
does not even have a fourth floor. Eight, on the
other hand, is a lucky number (remember that
the Beijing Olympics started at exactly 8 seconds
past 8:08 on 8/8/08). Red and gold are considered
auspicious colors. However, do not print anyone’s
name in red: Some Buddhists only write a name
in red when a person is deceased.

Tea and Hospitality
You may find hot tea served in booths at conventions
in Asia and the Middle East. It is a way
to encourage visitors to stay a little longer and
enjoy your hospitality.
Gil Cardon, convention manager for the
Japan National Tourism Organization (JNTO) in
New York, knows that some types of tea may be
more appealing than others for different events.
“Personally, my favorite is a casual tea called genmaicha.
It is a green tea with a flavor of roasted
brown rice and a great aroma,” he says. “Whatever
you do though, do not pour sugar into it, or into
any tea in Japan.” Saké was also served at a JNTO
booth at an IMEX conference in Frankfurt: “Of
course, we offered tea and coffee, but our saké tasting
bar was very well received,” says Cardon.
Clearly, tea and coffee are an important part
of the convention business. Since different countries
have different traditions for preparing and
presenting tea, you should hire a local caterer and
take their advice. And if your caterer suggests that
the prestige type of tea isn’t green but traditional
black tea from an English company, they may be
right. In the past few years, high-end British tea
companies have had success importing traditional
varieties such as Darjeeling and Earl Grey into
China and Japan, where they command premium
prices. It may seem counter-intuitive to bring tea
to China, but that (and the saké) may be exactly
what sets your convention booth apart! C&IT
“Since different countries
have different traditions for
preparing and presenting tea,
you should hire a local caterer
and take their advice.”

Terri Morrison is a speaker and co-author of
 Kiss, Bow or Shake Hands:
The Bestselling Guide to Doing Business in More Than Sixty Countries 
and her new book
Kiss, Bow or Shake Hands: Sales & Marketing
She is president of Getting Through Customs, 
developers of the Kiss Bow or Shake Hands Database — 
available through McGraw-Hill Digital. Twitter @KissBowAuthor. 610-725-1040.

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