Over the past two and a half years working at Access Prosperity to attract investment and develop Central Alberta business, I have attended at least five trade shows and trade missions, along with other international travel. With an upcoming Government of Alberta Trade Mission to China in January 2018, and plans to attend the China International Petroleum & Petrochemical Technology and Equipment Exhibition in March 2018, I’ve taken some time to stop and reflect on what practices have helped me the most on my travels and done some research to see if I can make my trips, or yours, even more successful.
1. Have professionally printed promotional materials, along with electronic versions.
Some cultures appreciate printed versions of marketing materials more than others. During the Agri-Trade Equipment Exposition in Red Deer, I helped lead a Chinese delegation on a tour of the show; they were quick to pick up printed materials and were disappointed when we came across booths without brochures or fact sheets. Whenever possible, provide translated materials.
2. Arrange for shipping/transportation of trade show materials well in advance to avoid last minute issues.
With our offices being located inside Red Deer College, we deal with the college shipping and receiving department but arrange our own pick-ups by courier. We always have to remember that the good people down in shipping and receiving need advance notice of our shipments. I’m sure your organization faces its own challenges when it comes to shipping, so plenty of lead time is never a bad idea.
3. Research cultural customs.
For example, Asian cultures expect you to accept a business card with both hands and inspect it. Both hands must be used when giving a card as well as it symbolizes a complete connection for business. Giving or receiving with one hand indicates a lack of commitment to the business relationship. Some companies can unknowingly sabotage a business connection by not understanding certain cultural nuances.
4. Know what your document requirements are and what you need to know when crossing an international border.
Do you need a visa? What will you tell border officials? A Globe and Mail article on the subject urges not to tell U.S. border officials that you are traveling for pleasure if you’re really there to do business. Our travel agent provides information on visas but we are responsible for going through the application process ourselves. This also requires a lot of lead time.
5. Arrange appropriate accommodations.
Whenever possible, make plans to stay in the same hotel as other mission members or fellow trade show attendees. That means making your booking as soon as an announcement of this information is made.
6. Be prepared for early mornings and late nights.
Networking with both international leads and fellow Canadian companies happens at social events in the evening and scheduled events often begin early in the day. Some cultures pride themselves by their extreme levels of hospitality which can lead to overindulgence. Combined with jet lag, this schedule can test your endurance.
7. Avoid jargon and localized phrases.
An inc.com piece on this subject cautions you to be aware that common expressions we use in Canada may not mean the same thing in other countries. Since it is impossible to know in advance all the instances there may be a miscommunication, be prepared to be an active listener. If someone reacts unexpectedly to something you say, it might be an opportune time to reword your statement in more concrete terms.
8. Stay Connected.
inc.com also urges you to be aware of the technology you will need to stay in touch with people back at home: power adapters, special cell phone plans, skype, etc. In China, Google (and therefore Gmail) is off limits. When in China I’ve taken to using the WeChat app to keep in touch with both business contacts as well as my colleagues back in Canada. My WeChat ID is equally as important as my email address on a business card, if not more so.
9. Acquire the appropriate currency.
Although you want to be prepared to use your credit card, tripit.com cautions you to get cash as soon as possible (even before you leave) in case you are unable to use your card.
10. Use a travel agent with 24 hour emergency support.
If flights are delayed or canceled, let your travel agent make the necessary arrangements. Although Access Prosperity now deals with a travel agent, in the past we’ve had to deal with canceled flights and other complications ourselves on the fly. When my colleague and I were returning from a trip to the U.S. in 2016, our flight was canceled and then the re-booked flight was delayed. We had to make hotel arrangements and try to stay on top of our changing schedule, which would have been much easier if we had the help of a travel agent.
DO NOT ATTEMPT to present in another language if you are not fluent or have not had professional coaching. I have witnessed a company try to pitch in Mandarin: they were met with resounding laughter from the audience when trying to speak on a topic that clearly wasn’t intended to be comical. In some languages, there is a very fine line between explaining a business objective and insulting the grandmother of everyone in your audience.
Those are my tips for business travel – what are yours? Tweet or post to Facebook your business travel tips and tag us @AccessCentralAB.
Investment Attraction Officer
Central Alberta: Access Prosperity