The Chinese Takeaway ¨C The Beijing International Travel & Tourism Mart 2005 Follow-Up ¨C Meet Manaca Travel & Tours CEO, Andreas Kristinus.
06-21-2005 4:55 am

by Mel Webster,

When Manaca Travel and Tours CEO Andreas Kristinus (also Principal of United Fairfax Travel / American Express) decided to reserve a stand at Beijing¡¯s first BITTM travel trade exhibition (April 20 ¨C April 23, 2005), there were a number of staff rolling their eyes and giggling at his quixotic mission.  The opening of a ManacaChina representative office in Beijing under the name of ManacaChina on May 25th, just one month after the BITTM closed its doors, has silenced them. 

Manaca / UFX got off on the right foot in Beijing from the beginning.  They hit the ground running as they distributed printed materials in Chinese and were one of the few exhibitors to have a Mandarin version of that all-important admission ticket to dialog in Asia: the business card. Staffers were amazed at the sheer number of tour operators clamoring for information on destinations, schools and tours in the US, particularly in view of the fact that such travel still constitutes a great financial burden for the average Chinese.

The presence of a skilled translator at the stand assured Manaca / UFX access to Chinese outbound tour operators and their clients very real concerns regarding travel to the United States.  It soon became quite clear that the primary stumbling block involves the non-immigrant visa required for all foreign tourists to the US (not only Chinese nationals as is commonly believed here) and misconceptions surrounding the visa process in general.  Mr. Kristinus and his exhibition assistant Ms. Colleen Stricker, now heading the ManacaChina office, were prompted to personally visit the U.S. Embassy visa section for clarification and found embassy staff optimistic and helpful.

Armed with printed visa applications, facts and figures, the UFX stand at the BITTM 2005 became the perfect venue to dispel many of anecdotal accounts circulating as fact.  Sadly the introduction of post-9/11 increased security measures by the US government coincided with a sharp increase in the number of visa applications filed by Chinese nationals. The numbers are now recognized to be in the area of 800 per day, or 250,000 a year and rising.  The unanticipated influx of visa applications was met head-on by a greater degree of scrutiny than in the past.  New staff had to be hired and trained to implement changes in procedure, prolonging the waiting period. It currently takes 45-90 days for a visa applicant to be vetted and issued with a visa, but local agencies are reporting an average success rate of 75%, up 10%.  Many Chinese travelers are unaware of the need for a visa or the time it takes to get one.  Local agents are quick to point out most Chinese are not inclined to plan far in advance.  Many have paid their non-refundable processing fee only to find themselves left behind on the runway the day of departure.

Often, visa applicants are so anxious about the mandatory interview they feel that they need to misrepresent their intentions. In reality, if they simply detailed exactly what they're planning, it not only has the virtue of being the truth, but it comes across as more sincere. People who are able to articulate who they are, what they do, why they want to go, what they're going to do when they come home are going to do well in their interviews. ManacaChina has proposed conducting preparatory sessions with a native speaker.

Another main issue raised repeatedly by tour operators at BITTM 2005 was travelers very well-founded fear of the unfamiliar, fear of getting lost in a place where they can¡¯t read the signs or ask for help, fear they won¡¯t be able to eat familiar foods or communicate with family left at home.  The exhibition provided an invaluable lesson in the importance of the human element in travel.  Mr. Kristinus returned to his UFX offices in Washington DC with a brave new plan ¨C to provide the Chinese visitor to the US a safe and exciting first glimpse of the country while being extremely sensitive to cultural differences in life¡¯s most basic essentials such as food and communication. UFX and ManacaChina are taking the company¡¯s fundamental policies of altruism and conservation to the human sector, incorporating the appreciation of cultural differences into every phase of group tour planning and execution.

We will check in with ManacaChina and Andreas Kristinus for updates on their commitment to China and the success they enjoy targeting this immense outbound market.   The ManacaChina business model is bold and well thought out, strategically addressing barriers and providing solutions that are enabling them to intelligently target this vast market.  

Copyrights 2005 ManacaChina. All rights reserved.
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