Handling VIP Collections at an Airport

So, an important overseas visitor is heading in to see you. A lot of future business success may depend upon his or her visit and you’ll want everything to go well.

Here are a few ‘top tips’ for greeting VIPs arriving at an airport near you – with emphasis on those from other cultures.

  1. Meet Them at Arrivals

You might assume this would be an absolute no-brainer but sadly……….

There have been cases reported of VIPs being advised to catch a taxi or a shuttle bus to the city centre. In one case, that resulted in the person concerned being taken by taxi, in error, to an out of town retail Commercial Park and dropped off with their luggage in the middle of nowhere. In another the person was ‘helped’ by airport personnel onto a public bus which took them to another town 80 kilometres away.

The only people that should find stories like these ‘funny’ are your competition.

If you do nothing else, make sure your visitor is personally met in Arrivals by one of your people and/or a professional chauffeur with a luxury limousine hire vehicle.

  1. Do your Homework

This is very important when welcoming visitors.

• Know their gender and check if it’s not clear from their name. Boards addressed “Miss xxx” can cause offence, if it’s in fact a man and vice-versa.

• Provide a translator unless you’re very sure that the person speaks very good English. It shows courtesy and consideration.

• Get some subtle intelligence. Enquiring, by way of conversation, how their children are if they have none, whether their recently deceased spouse is well or helpfully offering the address of a local mosque to say a Hindu, are all examples of faux-pas that are best avoided by knowing as much as possible about your visitor in advance. If in doubt, avoid personal chit-chat.

  1. Understand their Culture

While they’re in your culture not theirs, make an effort to think about sensitivities. As the host, that responsibility is yours.

As examples:

• In some societies, it would be inappropriate for an unaccompanied female to greet and travel with a man.

• Remember that the reverse can also be the case. Some female visitors may prefer to be greeted by another female or a mixed group rather than an unaccompanied male.

• Be very careful with humour – however well intended. Avoid wisecracks, jocularity, cynical humour, jokey criticism of your own company and banter. In many cultures these would all seem inappropriate, flippant and rude in a formal business context and it’s nothing whatsoever to do with your visitor not having a sense of humour.

• Don’t instantly default to informality. In the western world we have now largely moved away from formality in terms of business interaction with strangers but many other cultures haven’t. So, immediately using their given name at the Arrivals gate might be seen as highly presumptuous. Use Mr, Mrs or Miss (or their equivalents) to begin with and until invited to do otherwise.

• Dress professionally. Even if your business culture is ‘smart casual’ or ‘dress down’, turning up to meet them in a tee-shirt might convey the wrong message. It’s better to look a little overdressed rather than under. Make sure your chauffeur is likewise.

• Dress conservatively. This one is always controversial because it mainly affects females – but that doesn’t change the reality. Whatever your views about the politics and justice of this might be, the reality is that in many non-western cultures both men and women are expected to maintain certain standards of dress and ‘decorum’. It might be prudent to avoid short skirts or see-through tops etc. In passing, don’t make the mistake of thinking this is a male-only issue. Large numbers of professional women visitors from the Islamic world, the Indian sub-continent, China and South-East Asia may also find such dress inappropriate in a professional environment. Whether they’re right or wrong isn’t really the point.

Make the right impression with that all-important first 15 minutes with an important overseas visitor!

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