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Improving cultural sensitivity in the tourism industry

Craig Lee, University of Otago, Department of TourismResearch by the University of Otago has highlighted the need for training and tools to increase cultural awareness and help businesses prepare for North Asian visitors.

Otago Business School Tourism researcher Dr Craig Lee said the research project, carried out for the North Asia Centre for Asia Pacific Excellence (CAPE), has started to pinpoint the challenges Small and Medium Enterprises (SME's) need to overcome to better engage and be more effective in serving their North Asian markets.

The researchers found operators who were doing business in these markets were generally reactive rather than proactive in anticipating market shifts.

Interviews and a national on-line survey revealed most New Zealand tourism entrepreneurs knew a lot about their Chinese market, and a moderate amount about Japanese tourists. Tourist operators understood cultural nuances, such as that Chinese visitors prefer hot breakfasts, or that visitors from these three Asian countries appreciate having a rice cooker in their accommodation.

However, there is little understanding of the needs of Korean visitors, and very little information is being translated into the Korean language.

Most operators understand the importance of knowing what their visitors are interested in and what they expect, but don't have the knowledge of how to deliver to different customer groups, or even where to get help to find out. And, while many businesses had translated some promotion collateral and web information into Mandarin and Japanese, they would like assistance to make it easier.

"There is a general willingness from tourism operators to engage in improving their cultural knowledge, and this needs to be matched by industry-wide information. There is a strong need for segmented training in language and cultural expectations, which has given the industry an indication on where to start to help tourism SME's to prepare for the upcoming growth projected from the North Asian market," Dr Lee said.

"The study has reiterated that there is no one size fits all solution in the tourism industry – engagement is important, and to do that well, you have to understand the behaviours and requirements of all market segments."

"That doesn't mean losing the authentic New Zealand experience, but it does mean understanding what is culturally important to those individual markets, and making people feel comfortable and welcome – even if it’s only a few key words of their language. It also means providing good quality tourist information and instructions in multiple languages to remove confusion and ambiguity."

"This is becoming increasingly important as tourism experiences become more personalised, as the number of independent travellers increase, and also as travel blog endorsements back in the visitors’ home countries carry so much weight for prospective travellers."
"It's therefore vital for the on-going sustainability of the business that tourists leave feeling satisfied."

"We're hoping that that this will help kick start more targeted industry-led training to help tourist operators deliver what they want and need."

* This project was conducted by Dr Craig Lee, Dr Mingming Cheng, and Professor Neil Carr from the Department of Tourism. Funding for this project was provided by the North Asia Centre for Asia Pacific Excellence (CAPE)

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