Why Your Corporate Travel Policy Needs to Address Foreign Business Etiquette

An effective travel policy covers traveler safety, financial moderation and basic logistics. By standardizing processes, workflows and vendor relationships, a policy keeps everyone on the same page and creates more opportunities for successful business trips.

When going abroad, business travelers will encounter business etiquette and protocols that differ from those commonly practiced in their home country. Developing policy language around this important topic is an effective way to generate even more value from international relationships. After all, when everyone is comfortable and relaxed during business meetings, it's easier for everybody to do their jobs well.

Understanding the importance of business etiquette abroad

Anyone who has traveled abroad likely has a story or two about cultural misunderstandings. Though embarrassing in the moment, these incidents usually turn into funny anecdotes over time. When traveling for tourism, mispronouncing a few foreign words usually isn't a big problem. However, in the business world, cultural blunders can be more than just embarrassing. Breaches of etiquette are not only harmful to the business relationship, but they can be humiliating to the individuals involved. By pre-empting mistakes with etiquette training and research, the travel policy ensures that traveler satisfaction remains high.

A travel policy that establishes guidelines for preparing international travelers for new business protocols will create more opportunities for success. International travelers who understand local customs and traditions will be less likely to say something disrespectful.

Cultural awareness can also promote financial compliance with the travel policy. For instance, in many countries, gratuity for restaurant service is added to the final bill. American travelers who add on another 20 percent could quickly run through their per diems. Travel managers should plan for issues like these so travelers can hit the ground running without fear of making a costly mistake.

Developing a proactive travel policy

Designing a corporate travel policy that addresses all international etiquette requirements may seem like a daunting task. At last count, there are 195 countries across the globe, each a patchwork of cultures in itself. Whether your company does business in every corner of the world or in a handful of foreign countries, your policy doesn't necessarily need to provide a framework for every possible situation. Rather, a proactive policy facilitates how employees prepare for each trip.

A travel management company could help your business collect resources regarding business cultures in a few targeted countries. Then, the travel policy could direct travelers to this knowledge library prior to departure. In this way, the policy is flexible. Travelers going to China may need much more guidance than travelers headed to somewhere like Canada. In China, pushing toward business topics during dinner may be seen as inappropriate, whereas in Canada such behavior would be acceptable. Understanding such distinctions may be the difference between closing the deal and missing an opportunity.

A proactive policy should account for all countries in which the organization does business. There may be some overlap, especially for countries that are part of the Schengen Agreement. Business people in these EU member states are likely used to meeting with international travels. In these countries, it’s not uncommon for a business lunch to last two hours or longer, something that might make an unprepared American anxious.

Promoting etiquette compliance with mobile technology

Mobile technology solutions make it much easier for travelers to access information about their international destinations. The days of carrying around heavy guidebooks are long gone, with robust smartphone apps replacing out-of-date phrase books.

There are solutions in the market that bring real-time translation, cultural information and safety tips directly to your travelers. There are apps that feature cultural guides, safety and travel tools, and cost-saving solutions. Your travelers can brush up on their cultural knowledge on the flight, use an app to communicate with their taxi drivers and determine how much they should tip at lunch.

To learn more about integrating international business etiquette into your corporate travel policy, contact our expert consultants today.