Last week I was at a business exhibition where a number of British hotels were represented. I stepped up to each of their stands, and asked them about their Chinese customers. Here's how those conversations went, roughly:
MG: You're one of the top hotels in this region.
Hotel: Yes we are, we're very highly rated on Trip Advisor.
MG: Do you get many Chinese customers?
Hotel: I think we get one or two.
MG: People from China don't use Trip Advisor you know.
Hotel: Er, no...
MG: They use Ctrip instead. It's one the world's biggest online travel sites.
Hotel: How do you spell it? S E A..
MG: C T R I P. Make sure you show up. If you do, your Chinese customers have probably already reviewed you there. Did you know that Chinese customers both read and write far more reviews that Western customers?
Hotel: Really? (starts fiddling with smartphone…)
Most UK companies could in theory do business with Chinese customers, even if it just meant reaching out to Chinese people in their own location, or those who might come to visit. But my chats at the business exhibition illustrate that there is much more to understanding a foreign consumer/business culture than, say, learning that Chinese people give and receive business cards with both hands. Even our basic assumptions about how business is done in another country may be wrong (like "Chinese people must use Trip Advisor too").
As another example, I noticed today that the city where I live has, apparently, no shopping at all (according to Ctrip), even though the city has some great shopping areas and wants to attract Chinese tourists and shoppers. Bad news, eh?
But here's the good news if you're a Western hotel / restaurant / shop owner - it's quite possible that none of your competitors have thought about this either...yet. If you start to pay some attention to Ctrip you may be able to get a competitive edge.
This post is not an advertisement for Ctrip of course – no more that posts which mention Google are adverts for Google. But I hope it makes you think. Chinese business culture? Think broad!