BUSINESS TRAVELERS MUST BE CULTURALLY AWARE
Hong Kong is special. In fact, “special” is part of its classification, a “special administrative region of the People’s Republic of China.” A newly formed colony of the British Empire post the First Opium War in 1842, the territory was held by the Brits until 1997, when it was returned to China but with the request that the area be maintained as “special,” a government distinct from that of mainland China.
The Chinese accepted and with a population of roughly 7.5 million folks crammed into 426 square miles, it is clear people want to be in Hong Kong, which is the world’s seventh largest trading entity. Firms from all over the world conduct a range of business in Hong Kong, where English is the most common language. While Hong Kong is chock full of skyscrapers and other “western” symbols, there are several cultural sensitivities one should be aware and mindful of as a business traveler to these 426 square miles in southern China.
First, hierarchy is still very much a major part of Hong Kong culture. Greeting business counterparts with their title and surname is recommended and if presented to a group of Hong Kong businessmen and women, do intend on greeting the eldest of the group first. Second, a handshake and a slight bow is commonplace and avoid any other contact beyond that of a handshake. Pats on the back and grabbing an elbow while shaking hands are no-nos. The less physical contact the better.
A common mistake many travelers make when visiting Hong Kong is referring to residents as Chinese. It is understandable as the official languages are Chinese and English, the regional language is Cantonese, and 92 percent of inhabitants are Chinese. But again, Hong Kong is a special administrative region and Hong Kongers like to be referred to as Hong Kongers, not Chinese. If you intend on presenting a gift to a business counterpart(s), avoid distributing presents in the denomination of 4. The number represents “death” in Cantonese, and that’s a bad way to begin what you’d like to be a fruitful relationship. Lastly, be careful with social drinking. Attempting to keep up with Hong Konger off-hours “business meeting” drinking could place you in a perilous position come the following morning. Be present but avoid going shot for shot.
When it comes time to pick an area to stay in, it is true that the plethora of hotels and activity in Hong Kong can be overwhelming. From a business perspective, Central Hong Kong is the financial center of the city and located in the general vicinity of some of the more visited spots such as Lan Kwai Fong (a series of small streets with restaurants and bars) and Victoria Peak. Downtown Hong Kong is also within walking distance and there are a series of affordable, luxury hotels such as the Four Seasons Hotel Hong Kong, Mandarin Oriental Hong Kong and Island Shanri-La Hong Kong.
Another fantastic option is Hong Kong’s main commercial area, Wan Chai. In good weather one can stroll between Central Hong Kong and Wan Chai, which is also home to the world famous Hong Kong Convention & Exhibition Center. Adjacent to Wan Chai is a neighborhood known as Admiralty and due to its proximity, most refer to the general area as Wan Chai/Admiralty. Affordable, business and luxury hotels in Wan Chai/Admiralty are the JW Marriot Hotel Hong Kong, Grand Hyatt Hong Kong and Conrad Hong Kong.
It will be quickly evident that the major difference between corporate travel and business in Hong Kong compared to many other cities in Asia is language. English is by far more widely spoken in Hong Kong than Tokyo, Seoul, Shanghai or even Mumbai. The British influence is felt strongly, but in conjunction with a strong Chinese culture energy that is distinct in Hong Kong. As such, it is always recommended to add on a couple days either before or after a business trip to take in the city. Be it the horse racing at Sha Tin or Happy Valley or snapping a photo in front of the Big Buddha at Lantau Island, the sights and sounds are completely unique and will keep you longing for another trip back to this very “special administrative region.”