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Cinthia Douglas: Taiwan – So Different Than What I Expected

Prior to our trip to Asia, I associated Taiwan with the “made in Taiwan” I often noticed in the products I purchased here in the US.  I imagined an extension of industrial China, where pollution was a problem for place full of factories.

Once I arrived in Taiwan, I was impressed at how organized the road system was and just how easily we commuted for an hour as we made our way to Taipei over an elevated highway.  Arriving in Taipei was pretty amazing.  Right away I noticed how modern and incredibly clean the city was.  As we checked into the Conrad Hotel, I started to feel at ease and very comfortable with our surroundings.  A few of the top things that stood out for me include the metro system (incredibly clean and efficient), the large number of scooters that moved about (including carrying children as passengers), the easy access to American brands and how kind everyone around me was.

Taipei at night

Taipei at night

During our days in Taipei, we visited the American Institute, Shangri-La Hotel, toured the Ford factory and visited the Asia Pacific Fuel Cell Technologies all with the core purpose of learning how to do business in Taiwan.  We discussed all the advantages Taiwan is experiencing as it’s separated from China with the ability to thrive on a democratic economy.

One of my favorite cultural visits was the Taipei 101, the 5th tallest building in the world.  Taipei 101 gave us a panoramic view of Taipei with a wonderful restaurant at its base offering the most delicious dumplings I have ever eaten – the Din Tai Fung.

Needless to say, Taiwan was much more than I ever expected.  By the time we were leaving, I could easily see myself living there temporarily.

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7-Eleven in Taiwan

7-Eleven in Taiwan

Kobina Amoo: 7-Eleven and Krispy Kreme in Taiwan

While on this international trip I found it so interesting that businesses that I thought were going out of business or only holding on with a few locations are thriving in Taiwan and Thailand. How can this be? Do Americans support businesses until we get enough or until we find something new? Or maybe the people in Taiwan and Thailand appreciate when a business comes from the states and that’s why they support them?  I’m not sure of the answer and maybe you have more insight on it than I do but to see 7eleven and Krispy Cream Donuts in business in a foreign land but in business with lines out the door.

After long flights and one layover, our first business visit was to The American Institute in Taiwan.  After a very informative meeting with Ms. Youqing Ma, Commercial Officer, she began by to telling us about a one stop shop store where you can do everything.  7eleven, I could not believe what I was hearing. “7evlevn the corner store from the states?” is what I said to myself.  Ms. Ma just raved about how you can get great coffee that’s better than Starbucks from 7eleven.  In addition to coffee you can pay your electric bill and get concert tickets all from the great 7eleven.  I could not believe what I was hearing, I can’t remember the last time I was in a 7eleven but I know it had to be sometime in the 90’s.

Krispy Cream Donuts, the donut company that took America by storm had some great years then in a blink of an eye; they were closing stores left and right. I remember when I first moved to Tampa, FL and saw a Krispy Cream open for business I could not believe it.  Now to see this donut shop that I thought failed; having lines out the door on the other side of the world is mind blowing to me.  When I say lines out the door I mean literally out the door.

Line up at a Krispy Kreme in Taipei, Taiwan

Line up at a Krispy Kreme in Taipei, Taiwan

I know many companies take their businesses internationally.  The businesses that we perceive to be doing well we expect those companies to have a presence in land other than the United States.  To me this is a great example of trying an idea or the one thing you have been sitting on for years, because you never know where it may take you.  If Americans can’t see your vision maybe another culture will.

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Ernesto Sosa:  Bumrungrad International Hospital

Since the beginning of the century the United States have been considered the Land of Opportunity; however this is was greatly impacted by the effects of the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. A devastating event that negatively impacted many industries and economies throughout the globe gave Thailand a new window of opportunity for Medical Tourism and they have not missed a beat since.  The Bumrungrad International Hospital is an example of the infrastructure that was already in place when 9/11 happened. They just took advantage of marketing to Middle Eastern travelers who normally would have come to the US for medical tourism.

Cohort 11 - Bumrungrad International Hospital

Cohort 11 – Bumrungrad International Hospital

Many new regulations were put in place to protect American soil, some of which made it very difficult for foreigners from the Middle East to visit the US. Thailand recognized the challenges and developed a whole industry around medical tourism and today they are the leaders in the field.

Thailand has developed a health system that caters for both Thai and international patients. Based on a self-pay system that depends very little on insurance and government bureaucracy, many private hospitals are offering highly competitive personalized health care for an eighth of a fraction of the cost compared to the US.

The crash of the Thai baht helped drive medical tourism business to hospitals in Thailand like the Bumrungrad International Hospital as well. With the Thai baht being weaker compared to the US dollar, Euro and other strong currencies, made it more affordable for international patients.

Hospitals like the Bumrungrad International Hospital offer coordinated full concierge service for international patients to ensure that the experience is smooth and hassle free. They are modeled on feedback received from patients stating, “no one wants to be in a hospital.” The Bumrungrad International Hospital is designed as a health resort, providing patients and their family with an enjoyable experience.


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Culture of Kindness

Ernesto Sosa – Slum Child Care

Being born and raised in the Dominican Republic and having been lucky enough to earn my undergrad degree in the United States I had a sense of how cultures can influence our feelings and thoughts and can change who we are. I’ve also had the opportunity to visit Mexico, Venezuela, Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, Canada, and Haiti as well as interacting with many other cultures by working with Guests and Cast Members from around the World that visit and work at our Disney parks.

This has been my first trip outside of the Continent of America and yes I was expecting a difference in culture however I was not really expecting the level of kindness and respect demonstrated by the Taiwanese, Thai, and Japanese people during this trip.

I was blown away by the hospitality and kindness of these Asian cultures. People learn, understand the value of respect for others, and they embrace these core values as part of their early education as children. One of the most impressing things that struck me during our visit to the Foundation for Slum Child Care was how these young children respected each other, the staff, and the respect they showed for their cultural believes. These children also welcomed us with open arms, love, and kindness even though we were complete strangers to them.

Cohort 11 interacting with the children at the Slum Child Care

Cohort 11 interacting with the children at the Slum Child Care

Reality quickly kicked in for me when I arrived back to the US. After being immersed into kindness and respect, I felt a sense of authority and condescending discrimination when an immigration officer made the assumption that I was not an American citizen and asked me to prove that I had an American passport in order to stay in the “correct line”. We feel empowered to judge and disrespect others without even realizing it.

We are all in this World together, whether we like it or not; and as Tenzin Gyatso (the 14th Dalai Lama) said: “ If you wish to experience peace, provide peace for another”.

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Jen Farb – Freedom

As I was celebrating our nation’s Independence Day this weekend, I began thinking about just how lucky we are to live in a free country where we have such a thing as freedom of speech.  Our recent trip to Asia truly made me realize how jaded we have become to this fact in our country and how thankful we should be to those who gave up their lives for our freedom.

Walking around Beijing, although it is an amazing and historical city, you can feel the hand of the government on your back.  In all of Mainland China, such things as Facebook and Google suddenly are illegal and you only can access by creating a virtual private network (VPN).  There are also still government imposed restrictions on the number of children that you can legally have as a Chinese citizen in order to maintain control of the population.  Everywhere we went in Beijing, there were cameras and police spread throughout in order to maintain order. Freedom_1

The first stark difference was felt as we stepped onto Hong Kong soil, and the western influences came flooding back.  The culture in Hong Kong is much more diverse than in Beijing and the British influences are still prevalent in everything from the taxi-cabs (organized by color to ensure traffic efficiency) to the language (every sign had both Cantonese and English).

The downside of a beautifully clean, organized, and efficient city is that it is very expensive to live there and there is quite a disparity in wealth.  There is quite a bit of change coming in the future for Hong Kong as it is scheduled to officially rejoin Mainland China in the next few decades.

Taiwan, like Hong Kong, also lives in the shadow of Mainland Chinese rule as it is in an awkward limbo between a free independent nation, and a territory of the PRC.  During our trip around Taipei, we were able to see how much the economy is growing and differentiating from Mainland China, and in the coming years it will be interesting to watch what happens.

In Thailand, even with a peaceful, Buddhist culture, you can go to jail for insulting the royal family in any way, and words can be easily misinterpreted.  A few times when we asked our tour guide questions, she would tell us “I will tell you on the bus” in order to ensure her words were not overheard by the wrong people.  The political situation is also extremely unstable and even though we saw no sign of the military coup, we all were aware of its impact.Freedom_2

As I was flying home from the other side of the world, I quickly read through the opinion section of the Orlando Sentinel and discovered an article where the author was outwardly disagreeing and truly bashing President Obama’s foreign policy in great detail.  At that moment, I realized how truly amazing it is that we are free to speak as we wish, specifically about our Head of State, through a nationally distributed and legal newspaper.

In America, we have the ultimate freedom to choose how we want to present ourselves to the world through our words and many of us choose to take this for granted every day.  Maybe one day in the future, there will be people in these Asian countries that are brave enough to speak up and take action for their freedoms as many did and continue to do today here at home.  I know that after this amazing opportunity to explore and learn from 4 very different cultures, I am walking around much more thankful for those sacrifices and to have the freedoms we do here in America.

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Thailand Hospitality

Jennifer Schmelter – Thailand Hospitality

The Grand Palace. Street food. Buddhism. Wat Arun. Opportunity. Tuk Tuks. All things you may think of when you think of Bangkok.  People who have never traveled to the city may not immediately think of poverty.  However, as a newly industrialized country, there is an interesting dichotomy to the scenery in Bangkok.  Growth and success towering over dilapidation; poverty and ruin masked in the shadow of their newer brother – economic growth.  Thailand has the second largest economy in all of Asia, but a per capita GDP of $5,779 in 2013.  While this places them with the 10th highest per capita GDP in Asia, it still leaves a lot of room for growth before the country is maturely industrialized.

Over the course of our trip, however, it was evident that while some Thais may lack the luxuries money can buy, there was no shortage of hospitality, kindness, and smiles in their demeanor.  There was a sincere caring and respect from each and every Thai individual I interacted with on our trip including our tour guide, the business professionals with whom we met, even the tuk tuk driver who firmly yet politely negotiated the fare for our drive back to the hotel one evening.hospitality2

During a longer than anticipated walk to one of the malls located “near” our hotel, the weather was scorching hot.  We took notice of some of the traffic cops directing rush hour traffic.  They were dressed in bright orange jumpsuits from neck to toe; long sleeves, long pants, and most with masks over their nose and mouth.  “I have no idea how they wear that stuff out here for hours at a time,” I commented.  The next block we saw a traffic cop energetically, if not joyfully, directing traffic in the road.  I couldn’t see his face, but his body language, movements, and cheerful whistle chirps made it clear he was happy to be where he was and was making the most of the moment.  It was like watching a choreographed dance of traffic directing.  That snapshot of joy without regard to the less than ideal conditions was what I felt throughout Bangkok.hospitality3

Maybe it’s the beautiful temples, maybe it’s the delicious street food, or the thrill of being able to drive your scooter through oncoming traffic without risk of a traffic ticket.  Maybe it’s Buddhism at its finest.  Whatever it is, I wish I could have bottled the source of the kindness and patience the Thai people have with all people they encounter and bring it back to the US to share.  Yes, 13.2% of Thais were below the poverty line in 2011.  Perhaps many Americans would visit Thailand and see all the things those in poverty are lacking.  And perhaps many Thais would visit America and see that all the things we do have don’t guarantee us the values in life that really matter: mutual respect, courtesy, and genuinely caring for others.

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Jennifer Schmelter – Political Risk in Bangkok

On June 25th our cohort arrived in Bangkok, Thailand.  After a group lunch at the hotel, we headed to our afternoon meeting with the American Chamber of Commerce.  This meeting was one of the most interesting to me as it displayed the close link between a country’s politics and its business.

As many are already aware, on May 20th the Thai government initiated martial law in order to restore order and stability within Bangkok.  This occurred after protests trying to remove Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, and her government, turned violent and resulted in the deaths of at least 11 people.  The protests were in response to accusations of corruption within the government and that Shinawatra was abusing her power.Riot1 riot2

The intriguing part of this story is the disabling impact that politics, media, and public perception can have on a local economy.  After May 20th articles abound about the destruction of Democracy within the country and images depict martial law with tanks driving through streets and armed guards seemingly on street corner.


Fortunately for the Thai people, these images are not an accurate depiction of what is happening in their country; martial law has helped restore order to the city.  And even when protests were active, they were restricted to specific areas of the city, which many travel blogs helped communicate to travelers.

Unfortunately for the Thai people, most tourists are willing to accept the media images they see without question and choose to avoid Thailand all together.  I had several family members and friends ask before our trip, “Are you really going to Thailand? Have you seen the news?”  I assured them that the media coverage was blown out of proportion in attempts to earn higher ratings.  When some media sources opted to report based on an agenda instead of unbiased facts, the impact was real in Thailand.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Travel & Tourism comprises 9% of Thailand’s GDP, or $35 billion in 2013.  According to our speaker at the Chamber of Commerce, direct tourism comprises around 10% of Thailand’s economy, which rises to 14% when indirect spending is also taken into account.  During Q2, tourism dropped 5.85% year-over-year within the country and declines were expected to reach $2.6 billion within the first 6 months of 2014  Hotels within Bangkok have been hardest hit, with some hotel owners reporting losses of $90,000 per week.  CEOs are not the only people impacted, however.  Our speaker added that standard service charges are not being recouped, which can often add up to 30% of a hospitality worker’s salary, and hours are being reduced.  Given the high revenues Thailand normally earns from tourism, thousands of Thais are being impacted either directly or indirectly by the lack of tourists heading to the area.

Another economic challenge Thailand is facing is the lack of available political risk insurance.  Which, given the present circumstances, does not help potential investors generate confidence and enthusiasm for the country when making their investment decisions.  Whomever the Thai people choose as their next Prime Minister, it will be interesting to watch how his/her political decisions impact the Thai economy by influencing the faith international travelers and investors have in the country’s safety and stability.

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Antonio Caldas – Political Situation in Thailand

Thailand has been engulfed in political crisis for six months now, with street
protests pushing to outright topple the government of Prime Minister Yingluck
Shinawatra. The crisis is especially serious given that Thailand has experienced
more coups d’état than any other country in contemporary history. Scholars
sometimes describe the era beginning in 1932 and running up through today as
Thailand’s “coup season.” Since 1932, Thailand has endured an astonishing 11
successful military coups, as well as seven attempted coups. These coups
normally cool down and end quickly, without dramatic breakthrough. Every time,
though, some industries are dramatically impacted  notably the

The most recent coup was initiated in December 2013 , with the
same script: relatively few casualties and short termed … local business people
forecast it will end by the end of this year, probably with new general
elections. This time again, tourism was hammered. Some less competitive hotels
are experiencing record low occupation in Bangkok. International media tends to
magnify the risks of traveling to Thailand in this periods.Captura de Tela 2014-07-03 às 19.33.16

Interesting, however, is the attitude of investment international community.
After confirming this is once more a short term situation, with limited impact on overall growth
of Thai economy, major indicators of international interest for Thailand are
back to normal. The Thai Bath only lost an average of 3% of its value versus the
US Dollar . The MSCI Thailand IMI 25/50 Index, designed to track the overall
performance of the Thai stock exchange initially dropped 20%, but since then,
managed to recover to the same average level of 2013.

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Adam Galea – Asian Service in Hospitality

The hotel industry in the United States prides itself on its service and hospitality.  A core concept that could be found in some variation in every employee handbook is the idea of going above and beyond to meet every guest’s needs and requests.  Differentiators between US hotels are mainly based around amenity or obscure service offerings, though it is often not long before the competition catches up.

Cohort 11 at the Shangri-La Hotel

Cohort 11 at the Shangri-La Hotel

We had an opportunity while in Taipei to meet with the General Manager and HR Manager of the Shangri-La Far Eastern Hotel.  After a great presentation around their business fundamentals and a tour of their hotel operation, I walked away with one concept mentioned by the General Manager still stuck in my head.  He had mentioned that this Hong Kong based company started in Singapore and was based on providing Asian service to their guests.  Asian service?  Several days had past and I kept finding myself thinking about that phrase, trying to define it through the several hotel stays I had already experienced on this trip.  Through this, I began to see the cultural core differences between Asia and other parts of the world with some cultural variations specifically in service amongst these countries in Asia.  Key parts that stuck out to me were a genuine care and concern as if the guest and employee had known each other for years.  I concluded that this may likely stem from the deep roots of Buddhism that is found throughout Asia.  Interactions seemed to be shadowed with somewhat of a raw and juvenile excitement to help.  It seemed much of these service industry employees were less affected by the reality and harshness of the world, even though in some instances they were living it much deeper.  Though with a core similarity, it was interesting to see how the fundamentals of Asian service was woven through each of the regions we visited and how a better understanding of this service could be the new competitive edge in North America.

Below is a further look in my observations traveling through the various countries and regions.

China- Raffles Hotel, Beijing and The Sofitel, Xian

Key differences: A willingness to go to whatever length to solve the issue with a deeper desire to ensure customer was satisfied.  Employees sought out opportunities to interact but with some conservatism which seemed consistent through other service experiences in the country.

Hong Kong- Crown Plaza Causeway Bay and Disney’s Hollywood Hotel

What seemed to be a western influence drove a slight more reservation and refinement then in mainland China while still having a proactive approach in assistance.  Interactions seemed a little more formalized than any other regions possibly stemming from the long time British influence.

Taiwan- Pacific Business Center Hotel, Taipei

Overall a deeper excitement and willingness to go the extra length to understand the service need with follow through to ensure clear understanding of the request.  There was little to no hesitation to interact and seemed less formalized

Thailand- Conrad Hotel, Bangkok

The deepest desire to go to any length for service need was found.  People seemed to be the most sincere in their every interaction with greetings and conversations feeling warm.


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McDonalds Thailand

Adam Galea – McDonalds Thailand

We had the opportunity to visit with the McDonalds Thailand, a franchise company that owns and operates all of the McDonald’s restaurants and food outlets in Thailand.  This visit gave great insight into how an American rooted company adapts to franchising in another country.  Additionally, we learned of some obstacles and challenges experienced when adapting an American product to the taste of a local culture and business practices while remaining true to the original product.  As well, we got a glimpse into how an overseas franchisee conducts business with an iconic American brand.

Cohort 11 - McDonalds Academy in Bangkok, Thailand

Cohort 11 – McDonalds Academy in Bangkok, Thailand

Each culture around the world comes with its unique dietary tastes and popularity of specific food dishes.  Thailand is no exception with its strongly seasoned flavors, heat and demand for seafood based products.  What stuck out to me was how the McDonalds franchise was able to address these demands through ingredient changes and additional product offerings such as congee for breakfast or noodles during the day.  It was shared how this variety is needed to not only attract the younger generation but also encourage the entire family to come.  Even with the local specific menu adds, the familiar core items such as a Big Mac, french fries and chicken nuggets are still well represented.  Staying true to the core brand, this franchisee often has to import key ingredients which are subjected to import taxes.

In our meeting we learned more about the business challenges these international franchisees face.  Specifically in Thailand, one challenge faced is the need for low cost items to meet the income levels of his consumer while balancing the increase in expense from import taxes, resulting in the highest cost products for the lowest priced items.

McDonald's HQ Thailand - Corporate Offices

McDonald’s HQ Thailand – Corporate Offices

With all of the challenges a franchisee faces overseas there come some liberties that domestic franchise owners may not have available to them.  The ability to test products and promotions to expand business and stay competitive are often driven by corporate offices.  What was clear to me was how an 11 hour time difference and half the world in distance allowed this franchise owner to pilot different promotional items and even expanding beyond the food industry with the McDonalds name.

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