The Hidden Side of Globalization

In an earlier post, I introduced an exciting new program –GBTA Ladders and told you that you would be hearing from the three finalists beginning today. I am proud to introduce the first blog post from finalist Brian Butler from Radius Travel based loosely on his presentation for Ladders. 

Over the next three weeks, he and the other two finalists will use this blog to discuss issues pertinent to our industry and members.  

In today’s world, whether you’re a travel manager, procurement specialist, hotelier, airline, ground transporter, technologist, or travel management company; globalization is an important consideration for your business.

That is hardly a news flash.

But what may not be quite so obvious is how to make globalization work to your company’s benefit over the long term.  This requires not only leveraging those elements of globalization that are most apparent, but also effectively navigating the “hidden” side of globalization.

Let’s start with the items in plain sight.  A useful definition of globalization is “growth on a worldwide scale”.  The conditions that have made global growth across industries possible have speed as a common denominator: speed of commercialization of technology and speed with which innovation is disseminated and replicated.  We see increasing interdependence of economic activities across borders and a global economy that is evolving and refreshing at an unprecedented rate.  For your business, these changes can mean economies of scale, easier access to more buyers, less expensive operations, and the opportunity to craft global policies for your workforce.

If that sounds like a generic statement, it is.  There are certain constants to globalization, and while not every business may experience them in the same way or to the same degree, they are available to those who wish to take advantage of them.

This is the highly visible side of globalization, and it is all about taking advantage of relative global “sameness.”  We all have access to the same technology.  We can all communicate instantaneously with each other.  Transportation of products, ideas, and people across vast distances is fast and relatively inexpensive.

But making globalization succeed for your business requires more than tapping into what makes the world the same.  Anyone embarking on globalization of any kind must also keep a keen eye on what is not the same.  This is the hidden side of globalization.

Your business may be able to sell nearly the same exact product in every country around the world, but the way you go about selling it must be different to be successful.  The way you market it and appeal to the buyers in that market is going to vary.  The meaning and importance of service and other factors vary from culture to culture.

For example, if your company sells an online booking tool and you’re moving it into a new market, you better ensure that all of the local suppliers, including low cost carriers, independent (off-GDS) hotels, and rail providers are available in your tool.  You also need connectivity to local GDS systems.  You can keep the core of your tool the same, but customization for each local market is an absolute must if you want to gain any kind of share.  If the locals can’t access what they want to access at the price available through other vehicles, it simply won’t be used.

The same diligence is required if your multinational corporation is expanding your travel program to 20 countries, or your airline is opening a new route to Latin America, or you’re building 15 new hotels in China, or you’re selling new travel technology into Eastern Europe.

While it is necessary to extract the efficiencies that come from understanding the ‘sameness’ of globalization, it is not sufficient.  You must appeal to the nuances of the local markets.  Learn as much as you can and don’t make assumptions.  Understand each local market and what makes the people there tick.  If you can, spend time there.  If you can’t, do whatever research you can and talk to locals from your company or partners or suppliers.

At my company, Radius Travel, we experience the importance of the “hidden side” every day in our work designing and supporting global travel programs for our multinational corporate clients.   Together with our worldwide network of agencies across 80 markets, we do whatever we can to “make global work” for our clients.  It is because of the knowledge and experience of our member agencies, who are leaders on the ground in each of their countries, rather than dropped into them, that we can make sure our clients fully account for what is different as well as what is the same in implementing and sustaining their travel programs.

We all live in a globalized world and we need to embrace it or risk falling behind.  Look at globalization as a way to expand your customer base or find efficiencies in your operations, but always keep one eye focused squarely on the local nuances.  Here in 2014, in many ways, we are all the same, but the successful businesses will be those that understand and account for the differences that remain.

Brian Butler is the Head of Global Sales and Services for Radius Travel.

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