A guide to doing business in Hong Kong

Going to Hong Kong on business? We’ve put together our ten top tips for doing business in one of the world’s great coastal cities, plus ten ideas for things to do during your time off.

10 tips for business

01 Look the part
Dress to impress in Hong Kong. A suit and tie are usually considered obligatory for men, as is a smart business suit for women. It’s also a very fashion-conscious city: sporting a few designer labels projects the right image. If you don’t have enough suits to last and can’t afford Armani, think about having some clothes made up at one of the city’s superb, and relatively inexpensive, tailoring shops. Bear in mind, though, that the city can get oppressively hot and humid in summer – lighter materials are a lot more comfortable when you’re out of the air conditioning.

02 Understand the company you’re dealing with
Hong Kong business is dominated by a few large conglomerates run along international corporate lines, backed up by literally hundreds of thousands of small- to medium-sized family businesses, run along paternalistic lines and epitomising the Chinese entrepreneurial spirit. In family-run enterprises, decision-making tends to be highly centralised, with the head of the company (often the oldest male family member) making all major business calls. Make sure you’re dealing with the decision-maker or you won’t get a lot done.

03 Respect your elders
Hong Kong’s millenia-old Confucian culture brings with it a deeply inbuilt respect for age and seniority – business managers are automatically respected simply due to their position, regardless of their professional abilities. Make sure you show appropriate respect for key people: stand up when they enter the room, treat their business cards carefully and talk directly to them, rather than through the most fluent foreign-language speaker present.

04 Keep calm and face facts
Hong Kong Chinese can sometimes seem unusually direct compared to other Asians (possibly the result of centuries of Western influence) although raised voices are likely to be a sign of animation rather than anger. In return, strive to remain calm at all times – confrontation or aggression leads to loss of face for all concerned. Avoid saying “no” whenever possible – a circumlocutory “I will see”, “It may be difficult” or suchlike is often preferable. Try to ensure that anyone working for you in Hong Kong is able to maintain face at all times, avoiding overt reprimands and even seemingly harmless jokes or leg-pulling which might result in embarrassment.

05 Women doing business
As you’d expect in a city so strongly influenced by Western attitudes, women play a much more important role in Hong Kong’s business life than on the mainland and in Taiwan – especially in the larger multinationals. More traditional attitudes to women can be found in smaller companies, although even there, female family members may occupy positions of power and influence. Visiting businesswomen are unlikely to encounter many difficulties doing business in Hong Kong – although you might find that the views of male colleagues command just a little bit more attention than your own.

06 Meet and greet
When meeting a group of business partners, always greet the most senior member first, and then work your way down the ranks. Traditionally, the Chinese greet one another with a bow, although as a foreigner a simple handshake will probably suffice. Address people using their title (or Mr/Mrs if no title is available) and surname. Be aware, too, that many Hong Kong Chinese use a ‘Western’ name when dealing with foreigners, which is easier for non-Chinese speakers to remember and pronounce.

07 Bring cards
You’ll need business cards in Hong Kong – lots of them. Most introductions are immediately followed by the frenzied exchanging of cards, and you’ll be expected to reciprocate. Business cards are given and received with both hands and should be treated respectfully. If you need more cards, head to the business card market on Man Wah Lane in Sheung Wan, where they can run some up for you while you wait, complete with a Chinese translation on the reverse side of the card.

08 Gift-giving
Gift-giving is an entrenched part of Chinese culture, and regarded as an essential element in developing business relationships. But don’t feel obliged to fork out on expensive presents – it’s the act of giving that is seen as important. Any gifts received should always be reciprocated. Gifts should be wrapped and may be refused two or three times before being accepted. When giving and accepting gifts use both hands and note that gifts are rarely opened in front of the giver.

09 Eating out
Vast, eight-course banquets are part and parcel of doing business in Hong Kong. If you’re entertaining, it’s worth doing it in style. The person who makes the invitation will be expected to pay for the meal – even if other people protest and offer to pay. Chinese tables are usually round. The guest of honour will sit furthest from the entrance. The host will sit opposite. It’s considered rude to finish everything on the table, since this implies that your hosts haven’t provided enough food. And remember that eating can be a noisy affair – belching and slurping being seen as signs of appreciation rather than bad table manners.

10 Trouble-shooting
Junior employees can find it difficult to convey bad news to their manager for fear of the loss of face, meaning that crucial information may be withheld at vital times, so double check that all relevant information has been supplied. Standards of spoken English are usually excellent in larger multinationals, less so in smaller companies – find out in advance if an interpreter is required and always check that what you have said has been understood fully. Make sure, too, that you issue clear instructions: anything omitted from your original brief is unlikely to be performed.

10 tips for time off

01 Stroll along Tsim Sha Tsui Promenade
For further eye-popping views of the Hong Kong skyline, take a walk along the Tsim Sha Tsui Promenade as it winds around the north side of the harbour. It is best visited during the nightly Symphony of Lights sound-and-light display, during which buildings around the harbour come alive in a blaze of colour.

02 Take in the view from The Peak
Rising high above Hong Kong harbour, The Peak is a must-see on any trip to the city. Ride the famous old Peak Tramway as it climbs up an unfeasibly steep gradient to the summit, where you’ll find the anvil-shaped Peak Tower from whose viewing platform you can fully appreciate the jaw-dropping view of the harbour, skyscrapers and mountains beyond.

03 See the wild things at Ocean Park
Theme park, zoo and aquarium rolled into one, Ocean Park does several things and does them very well. Creatures range from king penguins to giant pandas, while elsewhere you’ll find assorted theme-park rides and Old Hong Kong, featuring recreations of Kowloon and Wan Chai from yesteryear.

04 Browse Temple Street Night Market
A slice of traditional Hong Kong in the raw, Temple Street Night Market looks exactly like the archetypal Chinatown in every Hollywood movie ever made. Stalls sell everything from antique jade to cheap electronics, while troupes of opera singers work the crowds in the hope of a tip or two.

05 Marvel at Chi Lin Nunnery
This serene Buddhist nunnery is a collection of Tang dynasty-inspired wooden buildings. Also visit the beautiful Nan Lian Gardens next door.

06 Ride the Star Ferry
Hong Kong’s legendary Star Ferry has been shuttling to and fro between Kowloon and Central since 1888 and still offers one of Hong Kong’s quintessential experiences, providing superb views of the harbour, skyscrapers and assorted vessels, from millionaire motorboats to old-fashioned junks.

07 Try a selection of Dim sum
No question about it, Hong Kong is the best place in the world to eat dim sum, from delicious char siu (fork-roasted) BBQ pork buns to crunchy chicken feet. The Lin Heung Tea House in Central remains a top spot for dim sum at low prices and in an appropriately boisterous atmosphere.

08 Gaze at the giant Buddha on Lantau Island
Ride the ferry out to beautiful Lantau Island, home to the quaint Po Lin Monastery and the gigantic Tian Tan Buddha, a seated bronze colossus rising over 25m high, then take a ride on the adjacent Ngong Ping 360 Cable Car, with heart-stopping island views.

09 Peruse the Museum of History
The best of the city’s various museums, and a good place to get up to speed with the history of the territory, from the Devonian era up to the handover of power in 1997. Past times are bought vividly to life with exhibits including an entire reconstructed colonial-era street, complete with double-decker tram.

10 Experience the heady atmosphere at Wong Tai Sin Temple
One of Hong Kong’s most colourful temples, usually busy with crowds of worshippers and the air thick with smoke from thousands of burning incense sticks. Fortune tellers do a brisk trade here. Kau cim is a particularly popular form of prognostication: shake a wooden stick out of a bamboo cylinder and see what the future holds for you.

One for the kids
HK Disneyland may be smaller than its sister parks, but it’s friendly, immaculate and the food is excellent. As well as all the regular rides, like Space Mountain, Buzz Lightyear and Autopia, there’s an arboreal adventure in Tarzan’s treehouse and the jungle cruise has been spiced up with geysers and erupting volcanoes. Mickey opens the doors at 10:00 and it’s a piece of cheese to get there on the slick Mass Transit Railway (MTR) to Sunny Bay, followed by a ride on the Disney train.