Travel and culture. Do They Go Hand in Hand?

The obvious answer would be yes. Or rather should be yes.

Watch (part of) this 5 min. video. It’s a bit stereotypical but in the core it’s correct:

This Came Out of a Management Survey of One of the Biggest Tour Operators in Europe:

One of the biggest European tour operators asked their first and second line of management what skills they needed to perform their (international) work better. Much to the surprise of HR, this came out on top:

Understand different cultures better

Much to the surprise of HR, who’d expected that “negotiations” or “presenting” or “bad news conversations” would come out.

If you travel you get to see, hear, feel and overall experience the different cultures you’re visiting. Right? Well, let me tell you that over the last 20 years that I’ve been a professional interculturalist and having traveled across the globe, I’ve met many people who had traveled but didn’t have a clue about cultural awareness.

So yes, travel and culture go hand in hand, but travel is not equivalent to cultural awareness.

We’re traveling more and more, but often don’t go outside of our comfort zone to really experience a different culture. When we see something we don’t understand from another culture, we often make up our own minds about what it is we see, rather than asking what is going on, and thereby enriching our experience and ourselves.

This is the perspective of a tourist. Next to that, there is also a perspective of the people that work in the travel industry. Also there travel and culture play a role.

Welcome (Cultural Awareness)

travel and culture and cultural awareness

Big travel organization often rely on local people to run their holiday destinations. But it’s not only local people running the place. Often holiday locations are managed by non-local people. In other words, people from different cultures who need to work with people from different cultures.

In addition, the management layer that is above that sits in a remote office and people from those management teams often travel to those holiday destinations. Also, their cultural differences play a role.

Imagine this Scenario:

A German manager from a travel organization visits one of their holiday destinations in Asia. Locally in Asia, a Brit runs that local office where the majority of the people working there are Asian. During this visit, the local people and the British local manager are welcoming Dutch tourist going on holiday.

Interesting mix, don’t you think?

What is Your Frame of Reference?

If travel and culture do not go hand in hand with cultural awareness, does having traveled count for nothing then?

No, that’s not true.

Travel without formally understanding cultural differences mainly adds to developing a frame of reference; whenever you travel you build your frame of reference. You do get to see new things and experience them. And even if you don’t understand what you see and experience, you still build your frame of reference. “Stuff is different here then it is back home…“.

When people who have traveled go for a cultural awareness training they much faster pickup the theory then young students do who have not traveled as much yet.

How Can You Benefit From Cultural Awareness?

There are two groups to consider:

  1. Tourists
  2. People working in the travel industry


As a tourist, you can benefit from cultural awareness to having a richer experience of your holiday. Everything will make more sense to you. You will be less judgemental when you see things you don’t understand (because that is what people do; we judge). You will come home a bigger person than you were before. And no one can take that away from you.

Travel Industry

If you work in the travel industry, I would hope that it is obvious that and how you can benefit from better understanding cultural differences. Travel and culture should go hand in hand. In the end, you (as an organization) will save time and money by becoming culturally aware. As a person, you will understand your colleagues from the other culture better. You will be less frustrated with them and they will be less frustrated with you. People will also stay in their jobs longer as they enjoy their work more.

Which in turn will be good for the organization.

What Next Steps to Take?

The obvious next step to take is to get in touch with me to discuss how you and your organization could benefit from a better cultural understanding. You can do so here.

You can also check out this page, which talks about the different forms of intervention there are to further your cultural knowledge.

Reading up about different cultures is also an option. If you go here, you’ll find a list of books that can help you further. There you’ll also find two of my own books.

A real-world case study covering the Travel Industry can be found here.

Hope this helps…

Any comments are welcome of course. Just leave them below.


If you’re interested in learning more why not get one of these books?

Overcome cultural differences in business

Uncertainty Avoidance in International Business

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