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Tuesday, January 25, 2011

DOING BUSINESS IN CHINA: Travel Abroad: Becoming a Seasoned Travel Veteran Can Expand Your Reach Globally

Dan PaulsonDoing Business In China with Dan Paulson

When planning travel abroad, follow these steps to make your trip more enjoyable and successful.

The world is becoming a much smaller place these days. The opportunities to expand your business are endless. Though many of us don’t see ourselves as road warriors, it will be important to make those trips overseas if you wish to expand your business internationally.

Travel is about more than hopping on a plane to get to where you need to go these days. There are passports, visas, and cultural issues that you need to be prepared for when the meeting takes place in another country. Often there are misconceptions about foreign travel. What was true years ago may not be so today.

We have all heard the travel horror stories. I was recently speaking with someone about travel to China. He shared his experience of his trip in the early 90’s to a city in the southern part of the country. By the sounds of it nothing went right. The airline had lost his luggage, he got sick from the food, couldn’t drink the water, the hotel was a flea trap, etc. This has been nothing like my experience.

China, as well as many other countries, has changed in recent years. Old hotels, poor water quality, and a general concern for safety has diminished significantly in recent years. During my last visit, I navigated my way between Beijing and Tianjin with only a few cards telling the drivers where to take me. Even for large cities, I felt safe. And trust me, a Midwestern boy in the middle of China sticks out like a sore thumb. I found the food was great, the water was fine, and the hospitality of the people was wonderful. That should not discount the fact that traveling to ANY new environment requires taking certain precautions.

The rules of seasoned travelers:

Visas and Passports – Today any travel abroad requires a passport. The need for a visa depends on the country, length of stay, and nature of the trip. For China, a visa is required for entry. In fact, you will not be allowed to board the airliner without first letting the flight attendants make sure your visa is current. Trust me, you don’t want to fly on a plane for thirteen hours only to have to immediately fly back. Whenever you have questions about international travel, defer to your government. In the US, is the site to visit.

Be informed – The US has the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) which will help you with your trip. This can help you stay connected with the consulars and embassies in the country you are traveling to. They will also notify you of any warnings or alerts.

Flying – Airlines are notorious for losing luggage. About 25 million items of luggage are lost each year. This equates to about a one in a hundred chance that you will lose an item each time you fly. (Source: Airport Transport Industry (ATI) baggage report) Make sure your bags are labeled well and any old destination tags are removed. You will want to keep any essentials with you to get you by should something happen. Also, there is less of a chance to lose your luggage if you have fewer transfer flights. It’s always best to take the most direct flight possible. Finally, if you are taking a short trip, pack a carry on.

Know the region – Traveling to the interior of China is much different than traveling to a large city such as Beijing. Know where you will be staying and what’s around you. During my last trip, I stayed in downtown Tianjin. The hotel I stayed at was inexpensive and clean. The amenities weren’t the same as a four star hotel, but they served my purpose. There were several quality restaurants in the area as well as chains such as McDonalds and KFC. Though densely populated, the area was safe and modern. I walked the streets alone in the evening and encountered no problems.

Know your surroundings – This should be true whether you are in a city in the US or abroad. Dangers occur when people do not pay attention to what’s going on around them. Pay attention to who is around you and what is happening. Not only will this allow you to enjoy your environment more, it will help you avoid problems or dangers.

Food and water – Anytime you don’t prepare food yourself, you are entrusting another person to do it correctly to avoid food borne illness. While many of us have experienced poorly prepared food, we can take precautions to help minimize the chances of getting sick. First inspect as much of the area as you can. The smaller the food joint, the easier it is to see how they prepare their food. When in doubt, trust your gut (yes, pun intended here) and avoid eating at that establishment. Ask the locals where they recommend. Many times hotel staff, or business connections can make recommendations on where to go for a good meal. As for water, most newer hotels and restaurants have their own filtration. If you are unsure, use bottled water to be safe.

Culture – No matter what country you are from, not paying attention to local custom and culture will make you look like a poor traveler. Understand where you are going and who you are going to meet with. How do they like to be addressed, what are the customs for greeting? For example, in China, a handshake is customary in initial greetings where in other parts of Asia bowing is the norm. Learn enough of the local language to cover some basic needs like finding a bathroom, getting water, or getting food. Most importantly, know what’s offensive. Things we take for granted here can be highly offensive somewhere else. I find people are more than willing to help if you make an attempt to first communicate at their level.

Enjoy it! – Too few people take the opportunity to soak up a new cultural experience. Be open to the new world around you and seek out ways to make the trip enjoyable for you and for others. Experiencing the world on a global scale helps create understanding. Understanding breaks down misconceptions and stereotypes. Your appreciation of others can be a key to being successful as you conduct your business trip.

For more information, please visit Dan's TNNWC Bio.

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