Doing business with Asia: etiquette and culture

Doing business with Asia: etiquette and culture

In today’s interconnected world, the Asian market presents an unparalleled opportunity for global businesses. With approximately 60% of the world’s population residing in Asia, including 650 million in the ASEAN countries alone, the region’s economic and cultural influence is undeniable. By 2050, ASEAN is poised to become the fourth-largest economy globally, bolstered by one of the world’s most significant labor forces. This dynamism, however, comes with its unique set of challenges and nuances, particularly when it comes to business etiquette and culture.

Understanding cultural diversity

Asia’s diversity is vast, encompassing a multitude of customs, languages, and traditions. Successful business dealings in this region depend heavily on one’s ability to navigate these cultural differences. Western business practices often clash with Asian sensibilities, where indirect communication and a deep respect for hierarchy prevail. Demonstrating an understanding of these differences is not just courteous; it’s a strategic business necessity.

cultural diversity

Business cards in Asia: more than a formality

In Asia, the exchange of business cards is a ritual of great significance. These cards are a physical extension of one’s professional identity and should be treated with the utmost respect. Key etiquettes include presenting and receiving cards with both hands, never treating them casually, and ensuring they are bilingual, especially in multilingual regions like Singapore and China.

Titles and rules of addressing

Titles and hierarchy hold paramount importance in Asian business culture. Addressing someone by their formal title and waiting for an invitation to use their first name is not just polite; it’s crucial for establishing respect. This is especially true in countries like China, where hierarchical structures influence everything from meeting dynamics to seating arrangements at dinners.

Dinner: best time to solidify the deals

In Asia, business is as much about building personal relationships as it is about the actual trade. Dinners and social gatherings play a crucial role in this process, providing a platform for relationship-building away from the boardroom. The emphasis is on getting to know one another on a personal level, with business discussions often taking a backseat.

Dining has its own set of rules. If a business contact invites you to dinner, it is impolite to refuse the offer. If you can’t make it, suggest a more convenient time, and be sure to stick to the date. Invitations are for you alone – not a spouse or significant other – unless they are explicitly included. At dinner, always wait to be told where to sit (there is usually a seating plan), and let the host start eating before you dig in.

Eating with one’s hands is common in most Asian countries, and sharing food is considered good manners. In fact, it’s common to order a number of dishes and share them among members of the party at a restaurant. A few tips:

  • Eat with your right hand, as the left is considered unclean. Use your right hand to give out business cards, as well.
  • Do not try to serve yourself, wait for a waiter or your host.
  • While in some countries – such as China, Japan, South Korea, and Singapore – you better learn how to eat using chopsticks!


Adapting communication styles

Understanding and adapting to the local communication style is key. This includes being mindful of non-verbal cues, such as bowing in Japan or the significance of silence in many Asian cultures. Indirect communication is common, with the expectation that the listener will read between the lines to grasp the full meaning.

Local laws and regulations

Navigating the legal landscape is a critical aspect of doing business in Asia. Local laws and regulations can impact various facets of business operations, from corporate structure to labor laws and tax implications. A deep understanding of these legal frameworks, possibly with the assistance of local experts, is essential for compliance and success.

Technology and business communication

Technology plays a pivotal role in modern business communication, more so in Asia, where digital platforms and social media are integral to business practices. Embracing these tools while adhering to technology etiquette can enhance communication and facilitate smoother business operations. A  concrete tip is to prioritise prompt responses to messages and emails, which not only showcases professionalism but also fosters trust and efficiency in collaborations and transactions. Similarly to real life invitations, if you’re unavailable at the proposed time, make sure to suggest an alternative.

That being said, the rise of digital meetings and social media has transformed business communication in Asia. Companies that effectively leverage these platforms can enhance their connectivity and engagement with partners and customers. Understanding the nuances of digital etiquette, such as responsiveness and the appropriate use of platforms, is key.

Challenges and opportunities in 2024

As we move into 2024, the business landscape in Asia continues to evolve, influenced by global economic shifts and the ongoing recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. Companies looking to succeed in this region must stay abreast of these changes, adapting their strategies to meet the new dynamics of international business.

Doing business in Asia requires more than just a good product or service; it demands a deep understanding of and respect for the region’s diverse cultures and traditions. The keys to success lie in flexibility, patience, and a genuine commitment to learning about and adapting to local practices. As the Asian market continues to grow and evolve, so too must the approaches of international businesses aiming to thrive within.

5 ways to keep your tourism market knowledge up-to-date

5 ways to keep your tourism market knowledge up-to-date

The tourism industry is constantly evolving, and it’s important for businesses to stay up-to-date on the latest trends. The tourism industry faced significant challenges in recent years, impacting destinations and businesses heavily reliant on tourism. However, the industry has demonstrated resilience in the face of adversity. As we move forward, staying informed about the latest trends and developments in the tourism sector is essential for success. Here are five ways to stay updated on the latest trends and developments in the tourism industry.

1. Travel insights with Google

Since December 2020, Google has introduced a suite of tools aimed at helping industry stakeholders make data-informed decisions. These tools provide valuable insights for destinations, hotels, and Google’s commercial partners, enabling them to better understand travellers’ demand and tailor their marketing strategies accordingly. Travel Insights with Google features three tools for destinations, hotels, and Google’s commercial partners.

Destination insights

The first tool, Destination Insights, serves as a public resource for governments and tourism boards. It provides comprehensive information on the primary sources of demand for a destination, along with the destinations within countries that travellers are most inclined to visit. Utilising this data, destinations can strategise the potential resumption of travel on specific routes and determine effective communication strategies for engaging with prospective travellers in the future.

Hotel insights

The second public tool, Hotel Insights, compiles Google hotel search data to assist hotels, particularly small and independent ones, in refining their marketing strategies as they prepare for recovery. Additionally, it offers a resource guide to aid hotels in maximising tools such as Google My Business and Google Reviews.

Travel analytics

The third tool, Travel Analytics Center, is exclusively accessible to Google’s travel commercial partners. It allows organisations to integrate their own Google account data with comprehensive Google demand data and insights. These insights assist travel partners in managing their operations and identifying opportunities to engage potential visitors.

Image source: Google

2. Tourism trade shows

Tourism trade shows and industry events provide opportunities for tourism businesses to network, access the latest industry resources, and stay updated on news, updates, and developments within their niche sector of the travel market. These events are ideal for conducting market testing and research on new products, packages, and services. They serve as valuable components of your marketing strategy, offering increased exposure and improved brand recognition in the industry. 

Exhibiting at trade shows also facilitates networking with individuals who can assist in boosting bookings. Depending on the events attended, businesses gain access to a diverse range of industry professionals and travellers interested in booking their next trip.

3. Online tourism information sources, e-newsletters, and podcasts

Finding reliable online resources for the tourism sector can be challenging and time-consuming. Instead, why not receive a curated list of the most relevant content straight to your email inbox? Subscribing to tourism newsletters is a must for every tourism professional. Newsletters not only keep you updated on the latest news but also provide insights, travel data, and industry-defining content for tours, activities, and attractions. Examples include associations like UNWTO market intelligence webinars and Adventure Travel Trade Association, tourism portals, and online communities like Tourism Review and TravelMole.

In terms of podcasts, Tourpreneur Daily Brief’s  is curated by Shane Whaley, a veteran of the travel industry for over 20 years who also hosts the TourPreneur Podcast. Additionally, The South Asia Travel Show analyses inbound, outbound, domestic, and intra-ASEAN tourism in-depth, along with their newsletter.

4. Social media

Platforms like Instagram and LinkedIn are excellent sources of market insights and provide opportunities to connect with other professionals in the tourism industry. By joining relevant groups and participating in discussions, you can gain real-time insights into industry demand and trends. Social media also gives you a real-time look at industry demand through the travelers’ feeds from a tourist’s perspective. Viewing posts with travel-related trending hashtags on Instagram and TikTok, such as #luxurytravel, show what people most desire to do and where they want to go in 2024. Here are the top 5 travel reels hashtags that you can use for travel-related Instagram reels in 2024:






5. Knowledge sharing sessions

Building a broad network within the tourism sector, including stakeholders such as tour operators, tourism associations, airlines, and sector experts, is crucial. This network allows you to exchange useful information on market trends, developments, and expectations, analyse statistics, validate research findings, and translate information into actionable strategies.

For instance, Globally Cool organised a knowledge-sharing session commissioned by CBI for business service organisations (BSOs) involved in tourism promotion and tourism experts. Over 30 tourism experts collaborated during the session, offering valuable insights to enrich the Online Tourism Destination Toolbox.

Want to export to Europe? Get ready. Get responsible.

Want to export to Europe? Get ready. Get responsible.

You may have heard about it: The European Green Deal (EGD). It is the most ambitious package of policies and initiatives to combat climate change and prevent the loss of biodiversity in the world. It is the European Union’s (EU) response to the global climate emergency. The EGD is a package of policies that define Europe’s strategy to reach net zero emissions and become a resource-efficient economy by 2050. All sectors of the economy will be affected by the EGD. Moreover, also suppliers from outside the EU will be affected.

The EGD includes more than 50 policy initiatives and will be funded with more than 1 trillion euros. The EGD policies will change the way goods are produced and consumed. This means that goods sold on the EU market, including imports from third countries, will have to meet higher environmental and sustainability standards. Many policies have already been passed since the launch of the EGD, and some important decisions will be made in the coming year.

EU Corporate sustainability


How does the European Green Deal impact imports to Europe?

The EGD will impact imports into Europe in different ways. Not only will the EGD require higher sustainability standards in primary production and industrial processes, but SMEs from third countries will have to provide more information about the products they export to Europe.

The European Green Deal will change existing norms to make businesses and supply chains more sustainable. The following impacts can be expected on imports to Europe:

Stricter social and environmental sustainability requirements in the production of goods and services

Even if laws and regulations do not change, or do not come into practice for many years, European consumers’ demand is growing for products that do not harm the environment and respect human rights and animal welfare. This is pushing buyers, especially larger companies, to source goods that are produced, processed and packaged using high social and environmental standards. The Make Fashion Circular initiative brings together major garment industry players (including H&M, Lacoste, Primark and Ralph Lauren) to scale up circular solutions.

Most of the large food and beverage brands have committed to sourcing agricultural products responsibly. The fisheries sector is starting to follow this trend. Likewise, some of the major European retailers are publicly committing to creating a sector that avoids food waste and raises the standards for animal welfare, amongst other sustainability commitments. For example, Dutch supermarket chain Albert Heijn has committed to ensure that at least 60% of the protein it sells by 2030 is plant-based. To do this, the supermarket is offering plant-based meat alternatives at the same or cheaper price than conventional products.

EU Corporate Sustainability Due Diligence Directive

The EGD seeks to increase the responsibility of European companies to be transparent about where and how goods are being produced and their impact on people and the environment.

For that matter, new legislation has been prepared, which takes into consideration the entire supply chain of the companies. This therefore directly affects suppliers of these companies as well. As part of the EU Corporate Sustainability Due Diligence Directive (CSDD), companies in Europe are responsible for all parts of their supply chains and must identify, assess, prevent, mitigate, bring to an end and remedy the negative impact on human rights and the environment.

EU Corporate sustainability

The CSDD applies to larger EU companies with 500+ employees and €150 million+ in turnover. But in high-impact areas like textile, agriculture, and mining, it already applies to companies with 250+ employees and a turnover of €40 million+.

So companies who want to export to Europe are likely assessed by European importers on their practices when it comes to impact on human rights and the environment.

The CSDD is expected to be approved in 2024.

Deforestation-free Regulation

Under the EGD, there is also the so-called EU Deforestation-free Regulation (EUDR). The EUDR impacts on 7 main commodities.

EU corporate sustainability Due Diligence directive

The 7 commodities must be:

  • Deforestation-free, meaning not subject to deforestation after 31 December 2020, proven by geolocation data of the production land
  • Covered by a due diligence statement, including a risk assessment
  • Legal, produced according to relevant legislation in the country of production.

The EUDR will apply to large companies based in Europe from the end of 2024, and SMEs as of mid-2025.

Get ready. Get responsible.

Altogether this means that SMEs exporting to Europe will need to adjust to providing more information about how goods are produced and will potentially be audited on this information. This may mean putting in place systems for collecting information from suppliers and subcontractors about production and labour practices and justifying where the goods are coming from (also called traceability). It may also mean becoming compliant with a voluntary sustainability standard, whether a certification scheme or a company’s own initiative.

The Ethical Trade Initiative Base Code is a good start if companies want to benchmark their practices when it comes to human rights and labour rights. It is a freely available code of practice and is the foundation for many certification schemes.

Other valuable tools to develop a sustainability strategy are the Bcorps impact assessment and the ISO26000 self-assessment. These are more comprehensive than the ETI base code and cover more sustainability areas. Both are free to download.

As of now, the EU is a front-runner with such an extensive package of measures to combat climate change and preserve biodiversity, but it is expected that other countries will follow. So when SMEs are ready to meet the EU requirements, they will be ready for other markets as well.

More info:


A Step Forward in Ethiopia

A Step Forward in Ethiopia

In Addis Ababa, an important project has taken root, aiming to enhance how business support organisations offer international market information to exporters.

Building sustainable market research skills

Onno Roukens from Globally Cool reflects on the project’s atmosphere: “There’s a genuine willingness to learn here, and that’s what makes our work worthwhile.” This sentiment echoes the project’s intent to foster a learning environment that will endure.

Participants engaged in a series of workshops designed with practicality in mind, integrating brief instructional sessions with interactive activities. Online resources like CBI and Trademap were emphasised, along with the innovative use of digital tools, including CHAT GPT, for market research.

Supporting business growth through education

The workshops targeted a diverse group, including representatives from various sector organisations, all sharing the common pursuit of business growth through enhanced international market knowledge.

A step forward in Ethiopia - Onnp Roukens workshop

Coordinated efforts for effective learning

The project was thoughtfully coordinated by Phoebe Owuor and Jan Willem Richelmann, with Onno Roukens providing guidance. Local specialists Sihin Belaye and Eyob Ararsa contributed significantly, helping to tailor the project to the specific needs of the participants.  A structured timeline ensured a comprehensive learning experience, from the introductory week to the ongoing monthly workshops that concentrate on the practical application of market research.

Looking ahead

As the initiative moves forward, the groundwork laid during the workshops has prepared the staff to not only draft insightful market reports but to also apply this knowledge practically with CBI’s guidance. With this project, Ethiopian exporters are gaining valuable information to understand international markets, filling a vital gap in information.


Contact us today to unlock the potential of international markets and take your business to new heights!

Revolutionising CBI e-learning of business export competencies

Revolutionising CBI e-learning of business export competencies

In today’s dynamic business landscape, staying competitive in the global market requires continuous learning and adaptation. Recognising this need, CBI has introduced a groundbreaking initiative – the CBI Training Portal. This portal is designed to offer self-paced and guided e-learning modules focusing on enhancing business export competencies. Being commissioned by CBI, we will delve into the exciting project Globally Cool has undertaken to develop e-courses covering various vital topics, ranging from product development to market access requirements. What’s even more intriguing is the integration of AI technology into video production to enhance the learning experience.

Topics covered in the e-learning

The cornerstone of this ambitious project is the development of basic e-courses within ten crucial areas of business coaching. Let’s take a closer look at these topics:

  1. Product and range development
  2. Sales
  3. Market research
  4. Distribution
  5. Export marketing plan
  6. Financial management
  7. Costing and pricing
  8. Export administration and organisation
  9. Market access requirements
  10. Production for EU exports

This comprehensive e-learning will provide invaluable insights and practical guidance in each of these domains, empowering learners to navigate the complexities of the global market with confidence.

The power of AI in video production

In the realm of e-learning, keeping learners engaged and informed is paramount. Traditional video production can be time-consuming and resource intensive. This is where the magic of Artificial Intelligence (AI) comes into play. We are harnessing the capabilities of AI to transform video production for each module which offers several advantages:

  1. Efficiency: AI can automate the video creation process, saving time and resources.
  2. Visual appeal: AI can enhance visual elements, making the learning experience more captivating and memorable.
  3. Accessibility: AI can assist in creating content that is accessible to all, including those with disabilities.

The CBI project to develop e-courses for business export competencies marks an exciting step forward in the world of e-learning. By leveraging AI-enhanced video production, we are not only making learning more efficient but also more effective and engaging. As learners embark on their journeys to enhance their export competencies, they can look forward to a transformative educational experience that equips them for success in the global market.

Stay tuned for updates on this groundbreaking project and join us in embracing the future of e-learning!

Navigating e-commerce trends in 2024: five tips for SMEs

Navigating e-commerce trends in 2024: five tips for SMEs

Technology is reshaping the way businesses operate and customers shop. In this dynamic landscape, Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) have incredible opportunities to thrive, thanks to trends that are revolutionizing the industry. Buckle up as we take you on a journey through the e-commerce trends of 2024 that are reshaping the sphere for SMEs.

Mobile commerce: where your store meets your customer

Mobile commerce, or m-commerce, isn’t just one of the e-commerce trends in 2024; it’s a way of life. With smartphones becoming an extension of our hands, businesses should tap into this goldmine of opportunities. So, adopt a mobile-first strategy, ensuring your website is not just mobile-friendly, but designed specifically for seamless mobile experiences.

Imagine this: a customer commuting to work, scrolling through products and making purchases, all within a few taps on their smartphone. Mobile commerce isn’t just convenient; it’s the future of retail. By optimizing your online store for mobile devices, you’re not just catering to a trend; you’re meeting your customers where they are – on their phones.

Chatbots: your 24/7 virtual sales assistant

“Hello! How can I assist you today?” This friendly greeting might come from a chatbot on an e-commerce website. These virtual heroes of customer support have undergone a significant evolution – the AI-powered bots are no longer mere text-based responders. They now use Natural Language Processing (NLP) and Machine Learning (ML) algorithms, enabling them to understand context, sentiment, and even respond empathetically. Here’s why they’re a game-changer for SMEs:

1. 24/7 availability

Imagine having a sales representative available to assist customers 24/7, catering to global audiences across different time zones. That’s precisely what chatbots offer. They tirelessly work round the clock, ensuring that no customer query goes unanswered, enhancing customer satisfaction and loyalty.

2. Personalised interactions

Modern chatbots can analyse customer data in real time. They can personalise interactions by referencing past purchases, preferences, and browsing history. This personal touch significantly enhances the customer experience, making shoppers feel valued and understood.

3. Efficient problem resolution

Chatbots can efficiently handle several customer issues, from tracking orders to providing product information. By instantly resolving common queries, they alleviate the burden on human customer support agents, allowing them to focus on more complex issues that require a human touch.

4. Seamless integration

Chatbots seamlessly integrate with various messaging platforms like Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, and even your website’s live chat. This integration ensures that customers can reach out using their preferred communication channels, enhancing accessibility and user experience.

5. Cost-effectiveness

Implementing chatbots is a cost-effective solution for SMEs. They significantly reduce the operational costs associated with customer support, allowing businesses to allocate resources more efficiently while maintaining high-quality service.

Virtual reality shopping: bringing the store to your home

Step into the future of e-commerce with virtual reality (VR) shopping experiences. VR isn’t just for gamers anymore; it’s a game-changer for online retailers. With this, customers can virtually walk through stores, pick up products, and even try them on, all from the comfort of their homes. This opens up a realm of innovative marketing possibilities.

Imagine a boutique clothing store offering VR trial rooms where customers can see how different outfits look on them. Or a furniture store allowing customers to visualize how a new sofa fits into their living room. These immersive experiences enhance customer engagement, build trust, and significantly reduce product return rates. VR isn’t just a trend – it’s a transformative force that SMEs can leverage to stay ahead of the competition.

The Power of insights

In the e-commerce landscape of 2024, data isn’t just valuable; it’s indispensable. Every click, every purchase, and every interaction generates data that can be analysed to gain valuable insights into customer behaviour. SMEs can harness this data to make informed decisions, from inventory management to personalised marketing campaigns.

Analytical tools and machine learning algorithms can predict customer preferences, optimise pricing strategies, and identify market trends. By understanding your customers at a granular level, you can tailor your offerings, enhance customer satisfaction, and drive sales. Data-driven decision-making is a strategic advantage that SMEs can leverage to thrive in the competitive e-commerce landscape.

The eco-friendly e-commerce wave

In 2024, sustainability is a way of doing business. Customers are becoming increasingly environmentally conscious, and they expect the same from the brands they support. SMEs can embrace sustainability in various ways, from eco-friendly packaging to partnering with ethical suppliers.

Picture a scenario where your e-commerce store not only sells products but also educates customers about the eco-friendly materials used and the carbon footprint reduced by choosing your brand. Transparent communication about your sustainability initiatives builds trust and fosters a loyal customer base. So, integrate sustainability into your e-commerce strategy and align your business with a better future for the planet.

Seizing the e-commerce opportunities

So, the future of e-commerce is bright for SMEs that are ready to embrace change. Mobile commerce, chatbots, virtual reality shopping, data-driven decision-making, and sustainability are not just e-commerce trends in 2024; they are opportunities waiting to be seized. As you step into the future of e-commerce, remember this: it’s not just about keeping up with trends; it’s about innovating, adapting, and creating experiences that resonate with your customers.

Globally Cool can make this digital revolution a success story for SMEs worldwide. How? Contact us to find out more.