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Avoid Blunders at Meetings in Asia-Pacific

By Terri Morrison© Copyright 2014, All Rights Reserved
Corporate & Incentive Travel Magazine
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 worldwide.  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 partof 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!


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