As much as exporters would perhaps like it, travelling to your market is not just a case of waking up one morning, snapping your fingers and suddenly being in Beijing discussing distribution deals with your agent. It takes preparation. Cameron Bayley uncovers an ABC of export travel advice
Advance planning. Austrade recommends starting your planning around six weeks out from your departure. "The earlier the better," says Michael Clifton, Austrade’s senior trade commissioner in Osaka, Japan. Crista Bracamonte, from the NSW Department of State and Regional Development (DSRD) says even more time is worthwhile. "We normally recommend at least eight weeks or so." As well as organising the nuts and bolts of the trip, she explains, exporters should try to attend as many conferences or seminars about the market or industry as they can in the time leading up to a trip to their market.
Business card behaviour. While it has become almost a cliché, the preferred way of giving and receiving business cards in Asia still exists and highlights the importance of respecting cultural etiquette, says Clifton. Of course, no one is going to expect you to know everything, but a simple web search can give you the basics in this area. "Nothing but a positive can come from having made an attempt to meet someone half way, in terms of their culture," he says.
Currency. Have some local currency on you when you arrive, says Bracamonte. "Make sure that, whatever form of currency you take, you can access money when you want to," she says. Ensure your credit cards use a Maestro Cirrus or similar network which allows international access to your bank account.
DFAT. The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade is the government resource for anyone travelling overseas. It provides a point of reference for finding any consulate/embassy details for foreign countries. The department’s designated travel website—www.smartraveller.gov.au—should be visited by any exporter going overseas. It offers travel tips, information on passports and visas, and up-to-date advice on any risks or safety concerns associated with specific destinations.
EMDG. Austrade’s Export Market Development Grants scheme gives exporters some return on expenses involved in the export process. "If you are eligible, the cost of travel is a reimbursable item," says Clifton. Some of the expenses that can be claimed include air fares, taxi fares, and departure taxes. It can also provide an allowance of $300 per day for some of the costs involved, such as accommodation and entertainment.
Flights. Most exporters are quite savvy these days about shopping around for flights, says Bracamonte, adding that with the airline industry remaining competitive it pays to check out as many deals as possible. Word-of-mouth recommendations from other exporters and colleagues can also help.
Get vaccinated. With exporters wanting to maximise the time spent on a market visit, they don’t want to be laid low by illness. According to DFAT, depending on the country you intend to visit, vaccinations and health checks may be needed between 6 to 12 weeks before departure. Check with your doctor.
Hotel rates. With Austrade’s network of contacts on the ground, they can sometimes negotiate hotel rates at a reduced rate, according to Clifton, so it’s worth checking. "That can often make a small difference, particularly to smaller companies." Bracamonte says there are also loyalty programs and discounts offered by various hotel chains, which exporters who travel frequently can take advantage of. "So if they’re travellers, it’s a great way of doing business."
Insurance. The decision whether or not to take out travel insurance is a no-brainer, according to Clifton. "[Exporters] should not leave the country unless they have travel insurance," he says. "And I say that primarily because of the cost of medical care offshore." Insurance should also cover lost luggage, particularly as many exporters take product samples or other business-related items with them when they visit foreign markets.
Jump online. The internet is a godsend for exporters, says Clifton. "You just type ‘business etiquette in Japan’ into Google and you’ll get inundated with stuff." Researching markets, industries, visa requirements, and government assistance can all be done online to make sure exporters not only can get to their destination, but be well prepared when they land. "The more information they can pull off the web, the better," says Bracamonte. Airline websites quite often will have lots of information about travel destinations. The Export Finance and Insurance Corporation website (www.efic.gov.au) features risk assessments of various countries and snapshots of different export markets.
Know your market. Bracamonte says the most important thing for exporters is to be clear about why they’re going to a certain market. Michael Chung from broadband developer NetComm, who have participated in three DSRD trade missions, says the company begins market research the minute they join a mission. "Going into a new market we always do our own research into that market as well—what is the size of the ICT market, what is the potential, who are the major players." The company also uses an external market research company to research markets.
Location. It pays to have your accommodation close to trade mission venues, client offices, or just areas you want to do business in. "You don’t want to get up at six in the morning to make two hours travel just to go to a meeting," says Chung. If you’re planning on visiting a few cities within a country, it would be worth staying close to public transport, Bracamonte adds.
Mobile savings. Global roaming can be expensive. Whenever he visits a foreign country, Chung picks up a prepaid local sim card. He then sends that number to the Australian head office so they can let people know how to contact him. "It has saved me hundreds and hundreds of dollars in terms of global roaming."
Notes to self. All participants in DSRD trade missions are given notes with phrases in the foreign language to assist when dealing with local taxi drivers. The notes contain instructions such as ‘Take me to the station’, ‘Here is my hotel’, etc. Bracamonte suggests exporters going on their own could also prepare these in advance, with the help of a translator.
Organise a driver. On a recent mission to Malaysia, NetComm used the services of Austrade to organise a driver to take the representatives from one appointment to another on time and without getting lost. "It cost about A$120 a full day and it is cheaper than using taxis," says Chung.
Prepare your pitch. Bracamonte says it’s surprising how often businesses neglect to take a global approach to their marketing material. You may want to (or need to) have materials translated. "They should internationalise their address, their phone numbers. You’d be amazed how many larger companies forget that." Chung takes company profiles and brochures in both hard copy and electronic form, to make distribution easy.
Question your contacts. When you set down in your market and start to meet agents, distributors, or potential customers, they will want to know logistics about receiving your product or serv
ice. It will help save time, and give a good impression, if you talk to contacts such as suppliers and shipping agents before you go, so you can have all the answers.
Register yourself. DFAT recommends all travellers register their details and itinerary with them before travelling, in case of emergency. Or register with the Australian embassy, high commission, or consulate in the country you are travelling to.
Security savvy. Recent world events have meant exporters need to be more aware of security and safety issues when going to foreign markets. "It has had a very real impact on the operations of our office in Jakarta for example," says Clifton. "Obviously the sort of services they are able to offer and the sort of advice they give to Australian clients would be tailored to take into account the security environment which prevails at the given time." The Smartraveller site publishes official government warnings about countries that should be avoided. The EFIC website also offers country risk assessments.
Time to translate. Using a translator can make your market visit more productive, and assist in business meetings and negotiations. Chung used one through Austrade on a recent trip to Vietnam, "It cost US$120 a day, but it is worth it." Bracamonte recommends having your own translator for negotiations, rather than relying on one supplied by the other party, to ensure there’s no bias.
Update your passport. A current passport is mandatory for any overseas travel and, according to DFAT, many countries will require travellers to have at least six months remaining on their passport. Check with a travel agent or local embassy of the country you’re planning to visit to be sure about visa requirements. Bracamonte advises exporters to take extra passport-size photos with them in case a replacement passport is required at any time during the market visit.
Visa issues. These are one of the most important items in export travel. Because Australia is a multicultural society, many exporters aren’t Australian nationals, says Bracamonte, so they need to check if there are specific entry requirements determined by their nationality. "There’s no point arriving at the airport assuming that because you’re an Australian that you’re going to be waived through," says Clifton. "Each country has its different requirements and people need to be aware of what they are." Visas can often take time to prepare, so this should be one of the things exporters check out at the very start of planning their trip, with the relevant embassy or consulate and your travel agent.
What to wear. Although it may sound obvious, exporters sometimes forget the reason for their trip, says Bracamonte. "Sometimes people can fall down if they go to do business in exotic places, and they forget they’re on business," she says. "Don’t think because it’s in a tropical climate you can go with shorts and a t-shirt, because business people there are professionals and you’ve got to behave in the same manner."
eXport advice. Austrade is naturally the first port of call for exporters wanting advice when travelling to their market. Even if you’re operating independently, Clifton recommends calling into the Austrade office in your market just to make contact. Other places to contact for travel advice include DFAT, foreign embassies, bilateral chambers of commerce, travel agents, and tourism offices.
You. Be prepared to pitch yourself to your market, as much as your product or service. "Some cultures want to know everything about the person," says Bracamonte. "In certain countries they want to find out more about you and your family and it’s more to do with how they perceive the person, than you just making a sales pitch."
Zzzzz. You’re going to need plenty of sleep to recharge and be at your best meeting clients and customers. For companies coming along to DSRD missions, Bracamonte recommends four-star hotels. And while you definitely have to fit your accommodation with your budget, it does pay to find the best you can afford, Clifton adds. "I certainly wouldn’t be recommending backpackers because you’ll look like something the cat dragged in when you turn up to your business appointment."