Five tips for a successful business trip to China

August 11th, 2010 ralph Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off

By Coley Dale

China is expected to surpass Japan as the world’s second-largest national economy after the US and is an increasingly important manufacturing and trading hub for American companies. Yet, traveling there on business can present unfamiliar challenges and opportunities. After seven years of working in China, here are my recommendations for an effective, economical, and enjoyable trip:

1. Money and Credit Cards
Arrive with cash that you can exchange for local currency, required for incidentals like cabs and other transportation. Money is easily exchanged at the airport and most hotels. American ATM cards connected to major networks work in most large Chinese cities. Hotels, restaurants, tour companies, and shops in the larger cities will accept most major credit cards, but it is wise to carry two different types such as a Visa and MasterCard. Also, be aware that many businesses impose a surcharge for the use of foreign credit cards so paying cash can provide a cost savings.

2. Communications
Even if it is possible to use your existing cell phone and carrier, roaming charges can be expensive. Check your carrier’s rates from China before traveling. If you have a China-compatible SIM card phone (call your carrier to check), you can easily buy a prepaid SIM card to replace your current SIM card. A more expensive option is to buy prepaid phone cards which are sold throughout China and can be used from most phones. One of the most economical communications tools is Skype, which works over most Internet connections in China. You can call other Skype users throughout the world for free or pay a low rate for most calls to landlines or mobile phones in other countries.

High-speed Internet access is available at most hotels with business customers. Fast WiFi is increasingly common throughout China and can be used for free in many coffee shops and restaurants. And while some US Web sites like Facebook and Twitter are blocked, accessing and using the Internet in China will seem familiar. (However, be aware that if you use Google the buttons will appear in Chinese characters since searches are routed through Google in Hong Kong.)

3. Hotels
Ninety-percent of hotels in China are not brand names that most Westerners recognize. Yet the country offers a wide range of accommodations that compare favorably with options found in Western countries. Ctrip, China’s largest online travel provider, features the country’s most comprehensive hotel database and an English-language reservations system. It offers the best rates which it backs up with a best price guarantee, and its well-staffed English helpline will provide assistance in communicating with your hotel before, during, or after your trip (helpful for overcoming any language barriers).

4. Flights
The best airfares to China from US cities can often be found with Chinese airlines, which offer some of the world’s newest planes and experienced flight crews. Within China itself, increased competition amongst airlines means that there are many discounts on domestic flights. Ctrip sells more tickets for travel in China than any other website and is quick to post domestic and international airfare deals to help travelers save money.

5. Language
It’s not necessary to speak Mandarin to travel in China, especially in the big cities where there are many English speakers (although it is wise to ask for a card with your hotel’s address on it in English and Chinese to give to taxi drivers for hassle-free cab rides back to the hotel).  However, basic conversational terms can go a long way to making a positive impression on those you meet. Two excellent learning tools are ChinesePod (online language lessons) and Rosetta Stone  (interactive CDs). Or, consider downloading free or low-cost language apps for your smart phone such as those from Odyssey Translator and WorldNomads which translate basic words and phrases from English into Mandarin.

For additional tips on planning a business trip to China, visit http://bit.ly/chinatips.

Coley Dale is the senior business development manager for the English language version Ctrip, China’s largest online travel provider. He has lived in China for seven years and has traveled extensively in 16 of China’s 22 provinces.

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The elusive quest for stability

October 17th, 2008 ralph Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

Oil price roller-coaster ride presages change for industry professionals, including attitudes toward information technology

After rising in the last six months to near $150 a barrel, the price of oil by mid-October has fallen below $70 a barrel, for the first time in 16 months.

While recent news coverage has pointed to declining oil prices as the one “bright spot” for American consumers in fear of the tightening grip of recession, for oil industry professionals the picture is not near so clear.

“The precipitous drop undermines the elusive quest for stability that both oil producers and petroleum executives say they need to invest over the long term,” wrote Jad Mouawad recently in the International Herald Tribune.

What’s clear is that the petroleum industry here in the US can’t afford another price collapse induced shake-out like that of the 1980s. Besides delaying investments that will need to percolate three to five years before delivering value, a severe contraction might have a human cost even more difficult to recover from.

Facing these challenges also may lead to a fundamental shift in the industry’s attitude toward information technology.

Already, the petroleum industry in the US suffers from a fairly severe shortage of qualified professionals. Commonly referred to as the “skills gap,” it features a generation of older managers having vast experience, but who must eventually retire from the global stage upon which they’ve spent their honorable careers. Recently, and to now, many of them have been kept active by deals they couldn’t refuse.

Perversely, it’s possible to theorize that the power of these highly recruited individuals to influence decision making – and especially decision execution – is what’s keeping the petroleum industry from pervasively adopting the kinds of performance management systems used elsewhere to address skills shortages.

While measuring the impact of these systems on productivity is complex, they do seem to have positive impacts on performance in utilities, manufacturing, chemical, and other industries, primarily by providing software support to highly skilled and trained individuals.

Too often in the petroleum industries, these enterprise systems are seen as the pet projects of executive-suite and boardroom dwelling individuals out of touch with production realities, and as expending precious capital that could be devoted directly to, for example, well or field remediation.

So it’s not surprising to hear that IT projects struggle to gain user acceptance, or that Excel remains the number-one management tool. Any social psychologist will tell you that management decrees are all well and good, but peer pressure will always be the greatest determinant of behavior.

So when IT vendors say, as they often do, that the next generation of petroleum industry professionals expect to be fully equipped with the latest software tools, to some extent they’re being disingenuous. It’s not that the present generation of professionals is technology-adverse or even agnostic; many of them hold advanced engineering degrees.

Perhaps enterprise system deployment has been slowed because this present generation of professionals is so highly sought after that they retain the power to push back on attempts to implement systems perceived as having the potential to impinge on their relative autonomy.

Any IT professional will tell you, however, that the time to bring in new systems is when work is slow, and regardless of the reason, IT will be used more and more pervasively, to reduce labor costs, improve productivity, and to the extent possible, hedge against the roller coaster ride in petroleum prices. 

Let me know what you think: Are attitudes toward IT different in the petroleum industry than in others? And if so, why?  

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Hello world!

June 30th, 2008 admin Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off

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