Asian Expansion Brings Continent of Opportunity

By Cihan Cobanoglu, Ph.D., CHTP | August 07, 2012

As I write this column, my view is the skyline of Taipei from the famous skyscraper, the Tapei 101. This trip opened my eyes to the current and future potential of Asia in world trade. Taiwan is developing at a very rapid rate, as is China. If you are an executive of a hospitality technology company and Asia is not on your radar, you may want to revisit your strategy. The U.S market is still huge, but compared to what Asia will become after 2020, it is not even comparable. With the amount of time it can often take to penetrate the Asian market, it should be something to think and plan for sooner, rather than later.

Consider this fact: By 2020, China will become the world’s largest English speaking country. The World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) (unwto.org) predicts that China will be the number one country in the world that receives the most international tourists and sends the greatest number of tourists abroad.

 The Obama administration is making it easier for international tourists from countries with emerging economies, such as China and Brazil, to get tourist visas to the United States. In January, while standing on the steps of the Cinderella Castle in Orlando’s Walt Disney World, President Obama called for a national strategy to make the United States the world’s number one travel and tourism destination. According to the U.S. Travel Association’s chief operating officer Geoff Freeman, the U.S. is losing between 4,000 and 5,000 jobs a year because of our nation’s inability to keep pace with global travel trends.

Regardless of weather the U.S. or China ultimately receives more foreign visitors, one thing remains constant: Asians will have significant purchasing power in international tourism, and whether they choose to spend with American brands, or Asian brands that are now spreading overseas, will be dependent upon how prepared our hotels are to welcome this
burgeoning segment.

The role for technology
Back to my trip to Taipei: Upon landing at the Taipei airport, you’re greeted by enormous ads offering apps that translate Mandarin to English. I downloaded the free app to my Android device and was pleased with its ease of use. While in the taxi riding from the airport to my hotel, the driver offered to turn on the portable TV mounted on the ceiling. I was surprised to come across English teaching shows as I flipped through channels. Every day, English is being taught through television shows, and students now learn English in
elementary school.  

For technology companies, the prevalence of English does not mean that Asia’s native tongues, such as Mandarin and Cantonese, should be ignored.  Actually quite the opposite; now is the best time for hospitality software companies that are redesigning their infrastructures to build a support system for multiple languages. The best way of doing it seems to be to create a library for every user facing text in the software. When the time is right, it will be a matter of translating the text within the software. In addition to this, examining local systems for differences (i.e. tax systems) will take time, so this process should be started before developing the actual software solutions.

In addition to translating the software to local languages, it is extremely important to start building partnerships. In many Asian countries, doing business requires a local collaborator. Therefore, even if expanding to Asian countries is not an immediate goal, it is a good idea to start cultivating relationships with local business associates as early as possible.

Hospitality companies should also begin developing a strategy to prepare their staff for the increase in Asian business. Staff members will need to understand and be able to communicate with a significant wave of Asian guests. Technology for Internet-based training can solve this challenge. In addition, adding several associates from these emerging countries may also help with cultural training. Local hospitality schools can be an excellent source for finding U.S.-educated, international students.

The growth-rate of the Asian middle class is outpacing that of the U.S. There’s significant opportunity for global hospitality companies to engage with these travelers. Preparation will be the differentiator for both hospitality companies and technology vendors.


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