This Cultural diversity case study describes the impact that cultural differences can have on a large multinational (travel) organization. It also covers the effect that cultural competence training can have to, ultimately, save time and money.

[4-min read]

What Are The Key Take Aways?

After following a two-day cultural competency workshop this is what came out:

  • Nobody is right or wrong, we are all just different, so we all need to be open and compromise.
  • We often “joke” about our differences, which really helps break down barriers & frustrations which we definitely didn’t know how to deal with before.
  • When I’m recommending your courses to others I often tell a story (a true one) of a conversation I had after I attended the course and a French colleague of mine attended the one in Belgium later in the week.
  • After discussing how much we had enjoyed and learned from the course, I then asked Laurent for some information.
  • His response was “But Irene, you now know that as I’m French I can’t just give you the information I must verify with my manager first!”
  • I responded, “ But Laurent you know I’m British so I need it NOW!
  • After much laughter, we did agree on a compromise date to suit both our needs.
  • The openness and the appreciation for each other’s culture certainly helps support our working relationship and mutually agree on an action plan.

The company name, numbers, and other specifics have been slightly modified to make it more suitable for describing this Cultural diversity case study.

The Company Description

  • Name: Universal International Travel
  • British based, founded in 1932 with head office in London
  • Number of employees: 76,000 mainly European based
  • Revenue: €23.000 billion
  • Products: Chartered and scheduled flights; hotels; travel services

Change Management at its Best

Since the beginning of time, Universal International Travel had been run on a “per-country-basis“. The Germans took care of the Germans, the Dutch of the Dutch, the French of the French, the Belgians of the Belgians, and the Brits of the Brits. Oh, I forgot the Nordic region…

Each had its own management, staff, planes (the bigger the source market, the more planes of course), etc. But they all flew to the Cultural diversity case study; boeing dreamlinersame destinations:

  • Spain,
  • Greece,
  • Italy,
  • Asia,
  • Caribbean
  • North America

In 2015, the top management of the company decided that it was time for a major restructuring. This is to make the company ready for the future of demanding business and leisure travelers and also to better deal with increasing (low-cost) competitors.

The French, Germans, Dutch, Belgians, Nordics, and the Brits all had to go and do things together

On paper, that sounds easy. Even if you take out language difficulties, because everyone spoke and speaks English, right?

But in practice, it turned out different…

The Biggest Surprise for Management

In 2016 the HR department of Universal International Travel (UIT) distributed a questionnaire among its first three layers of management. From C-level management to Project management. This is to find out what specific skill needs their management still needed in order to facilitate this cross-border integration.

Their initial expectation was that topics like:

  • Sales,
  • Communication,
  • Presentation skills,
  • Negotiation skills,

would be the outcome. But that was not the case. Much to their surprise, almost unanimously these three layers of management suggested the one skill that they were missing was… How to Deal With Other Cultures.

Most people were not so much against the new company structure. But they struggled with the different cultures they now had to deal with. For some reason colleagues from other companies acted strangely; replied in weird ways; didn’t work logically, were wasting time (yes, and money) by doing so.

And the trouble was that they all thought this of each other. Back and forth. Criss-cross…

Not Everyone Needs to Know Everything

Sandra, who worked in the London head office, contacted me to see if I could be of help to them. I could. We discussed at length what the objectives should be:

  1. Awareness of one’s own culture.
  2. Understanding other cultures.
  3. Being able to communicate effectively with each other.
  4. Specific management skills (like negotiations, teamwork, leadership).

But not for everyone. For some people, it would suffice just to be aware of one’s own culture and a better understanding of other cultures. But for some, the level of knowledge should go deeper.

For that reason, I designed a one-day and a two-day workshop.

These workshops were promptly executed in three locations:

  • London
  • Berlin
  • Brussels

Some other workshops, shorter, were held in Spain, Turkey, Bangkok, Mexico, and Amsterdam.

On average, there were about 15 to 20 people per workshop. Enough to give each individual enough “air-time” but also to create the necessary group dynamics.

Did C-Level Management Get Involved?

Yes, they did. At one of the workshops in Berlin, Peter, COO based in London, sat in on the two-day workshop. He realized that his C-level colleagues also had to go through this for real change and cultural competence starts at the top.

So, that’s what happened. A couple of weeks later all the big shots (15 of them) had cleared their agenda to spend two days with me in Brussels.

We had good fun but also covered a lot of ground. Management finally realized that wishing an integration to happen doesn’t make it so.

How Did It Trickle Down the Organization?

Something must have been right about the design and execution of the workshops because soon after the first batch of workshops was given, other departments (Aviation, Accounting, Destinations, and IT) started requesting their workshops as well.

I must have seen hundreds of people over the course of two years.

What Were the Main Pain Points?

Here are a couple of typical pain points that kept coming back. Throughout all organizational disciplines:

  • The Brits couldn’t deal with the detailed planning that the Germans wanted; they thought the Germans were far too rigid.
  • The Germans didn’t like that the Brits simply wanted to “get on with it” without really knowing what to get on with; there was no plan.
  • The Brits also couldn’t deal with the indecisiveness of the Nordics. They just kept on talking and talking and talking without ever reaching a decision.
  • The Nordics, as the Germans did, found the Brits just wanting to move and move and move. They didn’t involve anyone, which, according to them, they should.
  • The French and Belgians said that the Dutch were just lawless and didn’t listen to anyone, but simply did their own thing.
  • While at the same time the Dutch said about the French and the Belgians that they couldn’t make a decision if their boss wasn’t there.

And of course, there was a lot more that was covered.

What’s the outcome Cultural diversity case study? Who benefitted?

The proof of the pudding is always in the eating. So, I did a little tour through the organization to see how they benefited from being better culturally competent.

Here’s what they had to say:

  • There’s a lot less frustration now when I work with my colleagues from other countries. It has become much more relaxed to communicate.
  • I managed to save quite some time because I now could approach my colleagues much more targeted; I would distribute certain tasks and projects to colleagues whose culture would better support that specific task.
  • And of course, with the above, I managed to save time and therefore also money… the throughput time of certain projects got reduced, which of course means more cost-effective and less cost overall. Which would lead to people having more time to work on other projects, which would make things move faster. Well, you get the point.
  • Many people have also fed back that one of the biggest learnings they have from the course is how others view them and their culture. This makes you very mindful of how others see you and when appropriate impact the way to contribute to meetings and projects.
  • As a native English speaker, I’m very mindful of the words and phrases I use. I can no longer say “interesting” even if I do think something is really interesting! [/et_bloom_locked]

What Can You Do?Cultural diversity case study; Netflix logo

This real case study does not only pertain to the travel industry. Think about global regional companies like:

  • Netflix (American with its European head office in Amsterdam, the Netherlands)
  • Spotify (Swedish with a global audience)
  • ASML (Dutch company, operating internationally)
  • Eurostar (UK, France, Belgium, the Netherlands)Cultural diversity case study; ASML Logo
  • Hotel chains
  • Car manufacturers
  • Etc.

Realize that Culture Matters and that you can become culturally competent too.

Keyword: Cultural diversity case study

Get in Touch

If you want to read more read this article: 9 Signs You’re Not Getting It (It’s Culture Stupid!)

An example of a retail business can be found here.

An article about how the travel business can benefit from cultural awareness can be found here.

The cultural divide between Boing and Airbus. Read the article here.


Get a Taste of How Chris Presents, Watch his TEDx Talk



11 + 5 =

call culture mattersCall Direct: +32476524957


whatsapp culture matters directlyEuropean Office (Paris) Whatsapp: +32476524957


The Americas (USA; Atlanta, GA; también en Español):  +1 678 301 8369

Book Chris Smit as a Speaker

If you're looking for an Engaging, Exciting, and Interactive speaker on the subject of Intercultural Management & Awareness you came to the right place.

Chris has spoken at hundreds of events and to thousands of people on the subject of Cultural Diversity & Cultural Competence.

This is What Others Say About Chris:

  • “Very Interactive and Engaging”
  • “In little time he knew how to get the audience inspired and connected to his story”
  • His ability to make large groups of participants quickly and adequately aware of the huge impact of cultural differences is excellent”
  • Chris is a dedicated and inspirational professional”

In addition, his presentations can cover specific topics cultural topics, or generally on Cultural differences.

Presentations can vary anywhere from 20 minutes to 2 hours and are given World Wide.

Book Chris now by simply sending an email. Click here to do so.

Read more about what Chris can do for you.

  • Percentage of People Rating a Presentation as Excellent 86% 86%
  • Rating the Presentation as Practical 89% 89%
  • Applicability of Chris' presentation 90% 90%

About Peter van der Lende

Peter van der Lende International business development

Peter has joined forces with Culture Matters.

Because he has years and years of international business development experience joining forces therefore only seemed logical.

Being born and raised in the Netherlands, he has lived in more than 9 countries of which most were in Latin America.

He currently lives in Atlanta, Georgia (USA) with his family.

You can find out more at

Or find out what Peter can do for you here.

Chris Smit
Latest posts by Chris Smit (see all)
We're looking for new Podcast Guests!

We're looking for new Podcast Guests!

If you think you or someone you know would make a good guest for our Culture Matters on International Business, drop us an email.

(make sure you or the person you know will be able to talk about International affairs!)

Thanks, we'll be back to you soon!