Cultural Diversity in International Hospitality Management

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Cultural Diversity in International Hospitality Management

Diversity in hospitality industry:

One of the biggest impacts of globalization for those managing companies and organization is dealing with a more culturally diverse pool of employees (Lim and Noriega, 2007). Lim and Noriega (2007) further argue that in a world where over 50% of world’s are owned and controlled by TNCs and MNCs they are bound to deal with workforces from different cultural backgrounds due to their cross boundary operations, their attempt to attract talent from various parts of globe, and at times governments’ pressure for greater diversity at workplace (Stanley, 2008). Stanley (2008) note that, the same rule of thumb applies to the hospitality industry, which has seen a surge in workforce diversity. Lim and Noriega (2007) advocate that rapid growth in the hospitality industry in areas such as East and Southeast Asia (e.g. China) have presented the hospitality MNCs such as Hilton and Sheraton with the much needed space to grow.

Stanley’s (2008) study of international hotel chains in Asia continent reveals that Hilton is planning to add another 300 branches to its existing 50 branches in the region. According to a report by Xinhua (2008) many international hospitality organizations showed readiness to tap into the Chinese market in the face of the Beijing 2008 Olympics. Such aggressive battle for market share in this flourishing region has already made its mark on the labour market where there is a tight competition among these companies to attract the talented employees (Doherty et al, 2007). Doherty et al, (2007) argue that the real competition in the labour market is to absorb the kind of managers that are able to deal with employees from a different cultural background.

Thus, the important task for these MNCs is to attract the type of management talent (often expatriates) who are able to deal with multicultural work environments while these managers receive the right king of support from the head office to overcome the type of problems these environments pose due to cultural differences (Zhang, 2010). The increasing importance of dealing with cultural differences, especially in management level has resulted in creation of a vast body of literature on this subject. One of the earliest works on this subject were presented by Hofstede (1980) who introduced a conceptual framework that is based on 5 dimensions of; “power distance, individualism vs. collectivism, masculinity vs. femininity, uncertainty avoidance, and long term vs. short term orientation” (Hostede, 1980).

Other theories of culture are developed by scholars such as Klutchhohn and Strodtbeck (1961) who introduced the cultural orientation framework and Hall (1971) who develop the cultural contexts concept. In the this paper the main aim of the author is to compare and contrast these three cultural concepts on the basis of their advantages, disadvantages and suitability to the management of Chinese employees in the context of hospitality industry. However, firstly this author is going to provide a brief introduction on culture and its various definitions as well as debating why it is important to understand culture and cultural differences. What is culture?

Culture has been studied and analysed from various different perspective, which tend to provide varying, but yet at times similar definitions of this term. For instance, Keesing (1974) defines culture as “systems (of socially transmitted behaviour patterns) that serve to relate human communities to their ecological settings. These ways of life of communities include technologies and modes of economic organization, settlement patterns, modes of social grouping and political organization, religious beliefs and practices, and so on” (pp. 5). Binford (1968) provides the following definition:

“Culture is all those means whose forms are not under direct genetic control . . . which serve to adjust individuals and groups within their ecological communities” (p. 323). Based on these interpretation culture can be defined as a group of behaviours and beliefs associated to a certain group that may reside in a certain geographical location. However, what make culture and cultural studies important is the perceived differences among between cultures and the implication of these differences for the world commerce. Solomon and Schell (2009) argue that “today it’s not uncommon to manage business functions in other countries with direct reporting relationships to functional teams in many countries; it’s also not unusual to interact with colleagues at home who have a variety of backgrounds and diverse personal styles, all of which respond to different management techniques” (pp. 111).

Morris (2011) also notes that understanding cultural differences is an important aspect of managing diverse pools of employees and asserts that “a (manager) who interprets employees from different cultural groups without awareness of cultural norms can miss or misread important signals in their communication”. Thus, so far it is established that cultural awareness is an integral and important part of management; the following sections will aim to review the previously mentioned cultural theories in the context of hospitality management of foreign or expatriate managers in China. Hofstede’s five dimensions:

Hofstede’s (1980) five dimensions was produced on the back of many interviews and observations, and as evident from the title it is based on five dimensions (mentioned earlier) and assumes that cultures vary from one another on the basis of these five aspects. In trying to relate the five dimensions concept to the hospitality industry there are difficulties and confusions as the concept was developed on the back of interviews of employees who mainly worked in a similar industry (Newman, 1996). However, in trying to relate this concept to management of the Chinese hospitality companies’ managers can hugely benefit from the five dimensions; whether it is about learning how to lead and manage, motivate, resolve problems and etc. (Rogers, Hart and Miike, 2002). As it can be seen from the table below, countries do vary in the way they react to inequalities in distribution of power. As a result, the construct of the organizations vary depending on this very fact (Miroshnik, 2001).

Based on this observation, one of the major problems that a hospitality manager would face in China is getting the manager subordinate distance right. In other words, while in Western organizations and companies the management style is rather flat and two way communication is encouraged, in China the hierarchical management style is very dominant and the communications channels are normally top-down (Tuttle et al, 2009). Therefore, a manager who is used to a more democratic style of management is now faced with the reality of a wok place that does not support or understand this management model. One way of course would be to attempt to change the culture and introduce a new management style into a multi-national hotel chain’s (e.g. Hilton) operations in China; however, as it can be seen from the past experiences cultural shifts are not as easy and fluent as one may like them to be (Choi et al, 2004).

Thus, the easier and more effective approach in the short to medium term is to understand and embrace the local culture. For instance, a foreign or expatriate manager who is managing a multinational hospitality firm in China needs to understand the fact that China is a masculine and collective society where uncertainty is largely avoided and people have a very long term orientation in life and work and historically advocated great power distance (Li, 2008). A glance at the table above shows that in a society like China low individualism that is inherent in the culture implies that individuals are more concerned about the harmony at work, for which they are willing to suppress their emotions, and the achievement of the group and respecting the traditions is an integral part of their work ethics. The most important aspect of this dimension ought to be that part of Chinese culture that emphasizes on ‘working for the intrinsic reward’.

Although this trait is slowly diminishing in China as a result of globalization and emergence of a ‘global culture’ (Tuttle et al, 2009) the older generation still upholds these values. Thus, managers should be mindful of this mind-set when it comes to devising strategies to motivate the employees.  An interesting aspect of Hostede’s (1980) five dimensions is the masculinity vs. femininity issues. A lack of understanding of this factor can cause problems for managers and discontent among employees.

Jacob (2005) postulates that in masculine societies tasks are developed and assigned base on their nature. In other words, tasks are either masculine or feminine and managers need to have a good appreciation of this fact before engaging in developing tasks and responsibilities. From a personal perspective this author can confirm that in China [still] there is a great degree of emphasis on masculinity and femininity and assigning a feminine task to a man can be considered offensive. This is especially true in case of hospitality industry where tasks such as housekeeping are considered to be predominantly feminine tasks.

Cultural orientation:

This concept was developed by Kluckhohn and Strodtbeck (1961) and was one of the first comparative cultural studies to look at cultures from a multi-dimensional perspective (Hills, 2002). This concept has been recognised and acknowledged for its psychological study of human values (Russo, 2000 and Hofstede, 2001) and its approach to value as an all-encompassing attribute that goes beyond the positive and negative of the attitudinal studies (Hills, 2002). Authors such as Segal et al, (1999) and Smith and Bond (1998) argue that this concept is not relevant to management as the authors did not specify the implication of this study for business management. Nonetheless, this author finds dimensions Two (person’s relationship to others people) and Six (the conception of space) relevant to management and to hospitality industry.

These two dimensions are highly similar with that of Hofstede’s individualism vs. collectivism. Therefore, an understanding of this dimension would equip managers to deal with the dilemmas that may arise from dealing with those who operate under different value systems. For instance, in this case understanding that individual relationship with others in the organization is based on hierarchy and collective effort can be hugely advantageous. This is especially useful in task development where managers would focus more on cooperative (collective) as opposed to competitive (individual) tasks.

Hall’s high vs. low context culture:

This concept refers to the degree of formality that is applied in communications between members of society (Guffey, 2009). According to Solomon (2011) in high context societies a great deal of communication is non-verbal and the culture itself explains the situation as opposed to words. As such, in a high context society the choice of words one utters are very important and metaphorical statements are frequently used. Furthermore, in a high context society there is huge emphasis on distinguishing the insider from outsider; for instance, in China the word ‘Guanxi’ specifically refers to this issue (Xin and Pearce, 1996). Grainger (2002) argues that in a high context society such as China, one’s understanding and respect of the superiors’ position is the key to developing good relationships and creating opportunities.

The same principle applies to foreign or expatriate managers who are running hospitality or any other type of businesses in China. In an article titled “Gifts, Favours and Banquets: the art of social relationships in China” Yang (1994) reveals the secrets of developing meaningful and successful business relationships in Middle Kingdom and provides invaluable advice on how to engage in with officials and businessmen in a way accepted and understood in Chinese culture. Grainger (2002) provides a case study of the Roaring Dragon Hotel in South-West China and reveals how after the merger of the hotel with a European hospitality group some of the employees who were finding it difficult to work with the Western Manager use their Guanxi with the a Chinese senior manager to be transferred to a branch run by a local.

Grainger (2002) further adds that many foreign managers in hospitality industry fail to secure good deals as they lack the expertise and right links to do so. There is no denial about the fact that in China favours are performed frequently, but only at the right price and to the right persons. The very concept of Guanxi is a euphemism for favouritism and subtle bribery (Yang, 1994). However, to a foreign manager the dilemma is how to go about asking for favours without exposing themselves or those who are able to provide the right opportunities (Park and Luo, 2001). Such situations perfectly highlight the importance of understanding different culture (Chinese in this instance) and finding ways of accommodating for the needs and requirements of that specific culture.

In an article published in New York Times (2009) Selignon argues that many foreign managers do not understand the importance of building Guanxi not only with local authorities and business owners, but also with the employees. She goes on explaining that majority of Western managers follow the same practices that they would do back home and fail to understand the importance of building relationships with their subordinates. In Chinese context employee and manager relationship goes beyond the office hours and interactions expand to house visits, dinner gatherings and etc. (Yang, 1994). Therefore, to most hospitality managers deployed in China success or failure is a matter of understanding or failing to understand these differences.

Understanding customers from their cultural perspective:

Kandampully et al, (2001) postulate that hospitality managers in China are predominantly dealing and catering for the Chinese customer, although the number of foreign customers in China is on the rise, which only adds to the diversity of the cultural differences that should be understood and accommodated. This point is confirmed by Reisinger and Turner (1997) who assert that: “Greater cross-cultural awareness, understanding, and acceptance of cultural differences is needed by tourism practitioners” (pp. 1). However, in a strictly Chinese context it is upon the foreign manager to gain insight into the needs and wants of the Chinese customers in order to meet or exceed their expectations.

Park and Luo (2001) argue that to a foreign manager of a hospitality firm the main point of contact with the cultural requirements of the customers are the local employees. Thus, in order to understand the market and its requirements managers must be able to get through the first hurdle which is to get through the management issues they will face with their employees. Reisinger and Turner (1997) assert that “managers of services firms deployed to foreign countries have to deal with the perpetual dilemma of learning, understanding and adapting to what can best be described as untested waters; their failure or success solely depends on their ability to overcome the cultural one by one through continuous learning and adaptation”.


Cultures as value systems that permeate human beings’ lives and determine how they behave, act and react are increasingly gaining in importance and over the past few decades a large body of literature has been developed to aid the commercial world in dealing with the ordeals of dealing with cultural differences and difficulties that arise from these cultural incongruities. This paper tried to highlight how an understanding of cultural differences can play a crucial role in helping foreign hospitality managers deployed in China to make a successful cultural transition across cultures. In the course of this paper it was discussed that culture as unwritten manuals of behavioural patterns play a significant role in how many interactions develop and flourish into meaningful relationships. Moreover, it was highlighted, through provision of real life examples, how a lack of understanding of cultural differences can limit or block the success of foreign managers in China.

As a means of substantiating this argument this paper looked at three different concepts (i.e. Hofstede’s five dimentions, Klutchohn and Strodtbeck’s cultural orientation and Hall’s cultural context) each one of which was studied and analysed in terms of its relevance to the context of management (hospitality specifically). In conclusion, this paper reveals that while the two concepts of Five Dimensions (Hofstede) and Cultural Context (Hall) carry greater fit and are more applicable to management issues than cultural orientation concept (Klutchohn and Strodtbeck). Nonetheless, overall impact of such concepts and cultural intelligence on facilitating successful cultural transition for managers cannot be over emphasized.

As it was noted in this study in-depth cultural learning and transition not only allows managers to be more effective in managing their human resources, it will also allow them to negotiate access to better opportunities for greater development and profitability. Therefore, understanding cultures and finding ways of bridging the cultural gap is an essential when it comes to managing across cultures. In this way a manager would be able to improve his/her efficiency through understanding the host culture as well as reducing the risk of misunderstandings and possible disagreements that can otherwise be avoided.

Grainger, S., (2002) “Guanxi Neglect at the Roaring Dragon in South-west China: The Demise of an International Management Contract”, Proceedings of the 15th Annual Conference of the Association for Chinese Economics Studies Australia (ACESA) Guffey, Mary Ellen (2009). Essentials of Business Communication. South-Western/ Cengage Learning Hills, M. D. (2002). Kluckhohn and Strodtbeck’s Values Orientation Theory. Online Readings in Psychology and Culture, Unit 4. Retrieved from 1/11/2012 Hofstede, G. (1980). Culture’s Consequences: International differences in work related values. Beverly Hill, CA, Sage. Kluckhohn, F. R. & Strodtbeck, F. L. (1961). Variations in value orientations. Evanston, IL: Row, Peterson.

Luo, Y. (1997) Guanxi: Principles, philosophies, and implications, Human Systems Management, 16: 43 – 51. Newman, K. L. (1996). “Culture and congruence: The fit between management practices and national culture.”
Journal of International Business Studies 27(4): 753.

Park, S. H. & Luo, Y. (2001), Guanxi and Organisational Dynamics: Organisational Networking in Chinese Firms, Strategic Management Journal, 22, pp 455 – 477. Russo, K. W. (Ed). (2000). Finding the middle ground: Insights and applications of the Value Orientations method. Yarmouth, ME: Intercultural Press. Samovar, L. A. and Porter. R. E. (2004) Communication Between Cultures. 5th Ed. Thompson and Wadsworth. Segall, M. H., Dasen, P. R., Berry, J. W., & Poortinga, Y. H. (1999). Human behavior in global perspective: An introduction to cross-cultural psychology (2nd ed). Boston, MA: Allyn and Bacon

Seligman, Scott D. (1999). Guanxi: Grease the wheels of China. China Business Review. Sep/Oct, Vol. 26 No. 5, pp 34-38. Smith, P. B., & Bond, M. H. (1998). Social psychology across cultures (2nd ed.). London, UK: Prentice Hall.

Solomon, Michael (2011). Consumer Behavior: Buying, Having, and Being. Pearson/ Prentice Hall Yang, M. (1994) “Gifts, Favours and Banquets: the art of social relationships in China”. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.


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  • University/College: University of Arkansas System

  • Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter

  • Date: 2 October 2016

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