Meetings and incentive programs in Asia are on the rise. As U.S. companies go, and as they continue efforts to motivate high-level qualifiers, destinations from Shanghai to Kuala Lumpur have become destinations of choice for small and large groups. But planning any type of meeting in Asia means doing business differently than you would in the U.S. Use the following tips to gain an understanding of customs and protocol in the Far East.
What You Need to Know Accommodations * Give your attendees' flight schedules to the hotel to ensure proper staffing of housekeeping and quick turnaround of rooms. (International flights from the West tend to arrive early in the morning.)
* Give your attendees' passport numbers to the hotel in advance, so guests can get to their rooms quickly upon arrival.
* Most five-star hotels provide adapters and converters for laptop computers. Always check with the hotel to make sure there are enough in stock for your group.
Food and Beverage * Asian meetings rarely include breakfast. Instead, attendees dine on their own.
* The Asian coffee break always includes food. The food often consists of hearty fare, such as fried curry puffs in the morning and heavy pastries in the afternoon.
* A cocktail reception in Asia usually incorporates much heavier fare than is served at receptions in the U.S. Consider the Asian cocktail reception to be a stand-up dinner.
Greetings * In most Asian cities, the Western-style handshake is an acceptable form of greeting and farewell.
* Protocol is especially important in Asia. VIPs should be greeted on arrival at the entrance of the hotel and escorted out at the end of the meeting.
* Asian culture places a great value on age and experience. Address older business contacts first.
* Business cards are always exchanged. They may be presented even before a handshake--and definitely upon introduction. Be sure to bring a large supply.
* Business cards should have one side printed in English and the other side printed in the local language. Consider having the cards printed in the country being visited to ensure correct translation.
* Be prepared to handle questions from Asian business contacts about your age, income, or other personal topics.
Closing the Deal * Don't expect to walk away with a deal overnight. Asians like to get acquainted first, and the most important thing is to develop relationships with business partners and sometimes their families.
* Doing business in Asia is about whom you know. Making contacts and understanding the network of people in the city is important. It will take longer to cement relationships in the East than in the West.
* It is customary to receive gifts at the end of a function. Consider bringing small items to exchange such as chocolates, pens, or items with your company's logo.
What About Muslim Indonesia and Malaysia? * Business or corporate functions have the best turnout in the middle of the week. Avoid scheduling meetings on Friday, as it is the holy day for Muslims.
* If most delegates are Muslim, a prayer room should be allocated.
* When planning a meal, avoid pork and liquor, which are offensive to Muslim guests. Request a halal (kosher) meal. Also, most Malays do not eat duck.
* At Malaysian government functions, liquor can be served only with prior permission from the government organization. Liquor should never be served during the Muslim fasting period of Ramadan.
* In larger cities such as Jakarta, a handshake is an appropriate form of greeting. In smaller Indonesian towns, handshakes are not common--usually one puts his or her palms together to say hello.
* Muslim women with their heads covered will usually avoid shaking hands with men.
* Indonesians are usually very reserved and prefer not to speak up during meetings. Never point to a person to speak unless his or her hand is raised.
* Always use the thumb and not the forefinger when pointing.
* Never use your left hand to present your business card or to point. Muslims consider the left hand unclean.
* During the fasting period of Ramadan, meetings in Indonesia are usually held in the late afternoon. Breaking fast is common after the meeting, around 6:30 p.m.
* Business dinners or social entertainment are not encouraged during Ramadan.
* As a form of respect to government bodies and officials attending business functions during Ramadan, seek permission to serve any refreshments or food.
Singapore and Hong Kong * The majority of guests and local attendees will not arrive at events on time. Generally guests arrive 15 to 20 minutes after the appointed time; however, the event/meeting organizer should always plan to be punctual.
* During most receptions, guests will stand. Rarely does one see tables and chairs in a reception room.
* Many Asians are superstitious. For good luck, consider consulting a feng shui or geomancy calendar when picking dates for significant events.
* Be aware of additional service charges. In Hong Kong, banquet rooms are charged in full, even if they are used without food and beverage service.
* Garments require an import license to be shipped into Hong Kong. Packages sent as gifts should be labeled "Gifts: Not for Resale." To prevent delays at the airport, ask the local courier to facilitate all customs clearance issues in advance. Items classified as garments include T-shirts, hats, and duffel bags.
Japan * Handshakes are common (just don't squeeze too tightly), but bowing is customary. To greet a Japanese guest, reciprocate with a bow lower or on the same level.
* Ground operators often handle conference accommodations. Be sure to clarify the following with the ground operator: Who will be the direct contact with the hotel? Who signs the? Who receives the commission? In most cases, if the ground operator is not informed that the organizer will deal with the hotel directly, he will act as the contact and expect to receive any commission.
* Politeness and patience are priorities for the Japanese. When unsure of Japanese customs, the best way to show respect is to be extremely polite and act according to Western custom. Showing appreciation for a service or offering gifts is always welcome, and thank-you notes can go a long way with the Japanese.