Cultural breaks for the business traveller (and how they can be good for business)

31 March 2017

Travelling for business certainly comes with its own highs and lows: and while you have to be on the ball for the important parts of the trips, much of the time you spend away from your regular desk can feel jam-packed with catching up on emails and trying to sandwich in your regular work from back home.

Regardless of whether you are crossing half a dozen time zones, making an inter-state dash or simply spending a couple of nights away at a different office, remaining keyed in to the reason why you’re on the road and finding rewards for your professional role can be tough when it all becomes so hectic. Downtime is usually confined to evenings and after a gruelling timetable, often the last thing any business traveller wants is more activities.

It can be all too easy to spend evenings, the few hours between meetings, or - if you're seriously lucky - the half day you’ve got scrubbed out on your calendar, hooked into hotel room CNN or zipping down to the nearest shopping mall to pick up presents for the kids. But if you are fortunate enough to find yourself with some time up your sleeve in a different city, state or country there are plenty of interesting cultural opportunities that can prove to be both fulfilling and potentially beneficial to your business dealings as well.

Sightseeing: So often as business travellers, we forget the big picture, that where we’re travelling to is more than a convention hall, high-rise office or home to a list of potential suppliers or markets. No matter how much homework you do on your destination before you meet the people you’ve planned to do business with, nothing can beat the on-the-ground research about a different city or culture that comes with a bit of sightseeing. You’ll also find that asking your hosts for sightseeing tips helps break the ice and get you an insight into how and where they work.

Theatres: Nights when there’s nothing planned, are all-too easily spent poring over paperwork or watching hotel room Hollywood blockbusters. Instead, you can plan ahead and find out any plays, musicals or orchestras that are going to be on and have a cultural evening – even better, make an impression on your hosts or co-workers and organise for them to join you for an evening out. Depending on your company and your hosts and what sort of impression you want to make, anything from opera to a small-venue rock gig can be a good way to help everyone let their hair down in a more relaxed setting.

Art galleries and museums: Most cities will have well-renowned art galleries or museums, both of which can be great ways to spend a few hours of downtime in between scheduled engagements. While the benefit of art galleries is that they allow you to completely zone out of business-mode and focus a little on imaginative and creative thinking, museums have the double reward of letting you dig around a little in the local culture and history (giving you some insight into you hosts’ lives) while also increasing your overall knowledge. Businesses spend a lot on staff’s personal and professional development, and being in another part of the world is the perfect opportunity to buy into this.

Parks, zoos, botanical gardens and wildlife parks: Around most Australasian cities there are some quite marvellous open spaces where you can exercise or relax when you’ve got a little downtime. But they are also often tied to wildlife parks or zoos which can be just as entertaining as well as informative about what that part of the world is doing in terms of conservation. Any company wanting to do business in a different part of the world would do well to learn about the innovation and conservation going on in that part of the world as buying into it (either in actual investment or simple interest) can help sway opinions in their favour.

Sports: They might not fall under everyone’s cultural banner, but nothing shows off local flavour quite like a filled sports stadium or arena. Travelling so you can watch your own team on the road is, of course, a nice way to show your true colours, but finding out who your hosts support or sponsor can get you few brownie points ahead of any meeting or deal.

Local culture, local flavour: Big businesses wanting to watch their business travel budget or smaller companies simply watching their overheads should look to research local culture well before they travel, simply because eating, renting, travelling and hiring like a local is often a far cheaper option. Talking to your business contacts in the destinations you travel to, can save money on all sorts of high-spend items such as local transport. And finding out how and where the locals eat is a sure-fire way to get an understanding of how they think (it might also get you the sort of extra-curricular invitations to meals where you really get to know you hosts). With all these efforts to either find cultural activities or uncover some of the different cultural behaviour on your business travels, nothing quite helps break the ice like knowing some of the local language – and, yes, that means understanding a little of the Kiwi or Aussie lingo too if you’re crossing the Ditch.

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