Houston is the fourth largest city in the United States, which often surprises visitors. Much like comedian Rodney Dangerfield, it seems like Houston “gets no respect.” But the growing recognition of Houston’s global business opportunities could change that perception.

The Houston Airport System has historically experienced strong passenger air service to Europe and Latin America. And now the Asian market has received a number of boosts, such as Air China Beijing’s direct flights to Houston four to seven times a week, United’s additional daily flight from Houston to Tokyo, daily direct flights from Istanbul to Houston on Turkish Airlines and direct flights from Seoul to Houston on Korean Air.

So how did Houston’s leadership grow these opportunities with China and other Asian markets?

Perseverance and vision

One of the reasons Houston is a great city is the perseverance and vision of its leaders. A direct flight from China to Houston had been discussed among community leaders since the early 2000s. It took the Houston Airport System working alongside business and government leaders to get a deal in place.  

“We were very confident that the Houston-Beijing route would do well, primarily because of the strong economic and cultural ties that exist between the two destinations,” says Mario Diaz, director of the City of Houston Department of Aviation. “We knew that the demand existed, and we knew that Air China was capable of developing a strong, personal connection with the people of Houston.”  

Preparation, timing and patience

Houston’s vibrant economy and cultural diversity played an important role in Air China’s decision to enter the Houston market in 2013 and expand its footprint in the city and the region as a whole.

“Strong demand from business and leisure travelers to China and destinations in Asia has accelerated the implementation of our growth strategy for Houston and the south central region of the United States,” says Zhihang Chi, vice president and general manager of North America for Air China. “The additional flights will provide more options and flexibility to international travelers, allowing them to have more convenient connections to cities within China and beyond via our Beijing hub.”

Long-term relationships

Establishing long-term relationships has been important throughout this process. The Houston Airport System has cultivated strong relationships with Air China, the Civil Aviation Administration of China, travel agencies throughout China and the media.

The Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau has helped support airport efforts for many years. It’s managed the travel agency and media relationships overseas through their third-party affiliations in China, which included a training program for Chinese media and travel agencies to learn about Houston.

Support from the Greater Houston Partnership, the mayor’s office and various city council members during previous trade missions to Asia developed business connections that were helpful in establishing this new service.

Houston is an entrepreneurial city with limitless opportunities. The increase in international interest in the city is a sure signal of the city’s infinite possibilities. Onward and upward, Houston!

Linda Toyota is president of the Asian Chamber of Commerce, Houston. With more than 20 years experience in the nonprofit community, Linda has worked with a wide array of nonprofit organizations including the Holocaust Museum Houston, the Houston Technology Center, the Texas Heart Institute and the Houston Area Women’s Center. Reach her at ltoyota@asianchamber-hou.org. Learn more at www.asianchamber-hou.org

Published in Columnist
Monday, 23 December 2013 07:15

Working Globally: Linda Toyota

‘As the World Turns:’ We can be more productive together if we are aware of cultural nuances

When I look at Houston, the title of the long-running television show, “As the World Turns,” comes to mind. Houston is undergoing an ethnic and cultural transformation and at the same time its reputation continues to grow as a place where people can dream and succeed.

The city’s transformation into an international megalopolis has happened within the past few decades. The metropolitan region is now home to nearly 6 million people. This growth has been significant, but the nature of the growth is also of interest.

Between 2000 and 2010, Houston added more than 1 million people, which is more than any other metropolitan area in the U.S., according to the Kinder Institute for Urban Research at Rice University. Additionally, the Kinder Institute found that Houston has become the most racially/ethnically diverse metropolitan area in the country during this period. Thus, it is not only Houston’s size that has grown but its diversity as well.

The Asian-American segment is booming

One demographic that continues to grow in Houston is the Asian population. According to the Greater Houston Partnership, the Asian population in Houston has grown 70 percent between 2000 and 2010. This trend is not exclusive to Houston. Asian-Americans are the fastest growing multicultural segment in the country, increasing nearly 58 percent between 2000 and 2013, which is nearly five times faster than that of the general population, according to The Nielsen Co. report “Significant, Sophisticated and Savvy: the Asian American Consumer.”

As the president of the Asian Chamber of Commerce, I have the opportunity to interact with Houston’s Asian business community and Greater Houston’s business community. Both of these groups continue to have increased interaction with one another as Houston’s internationalism continues to rise. As such, this vantage point has allowed me to pinpoint the issue of cultural misunderstanding as a barrier to better collaboration and productivity for all.

Understanding the relationships

The pattern I perhaps see most is related to how misconceptions of cultural behaviors lead to misunderstanding and sometimes missed opportunities. The truth is that when working within a global context, we encounter individuals whose behaviors in business environments are markedly different than to what we are accustomed. Sometimes misinterpretations of these different behaviors act as a barrier to productivity, collaboration and innovation.

In his book, “The Difference: How the Power of Diversity Creates Better Groups, Firms, Schools, and Societies,” Scott E. Page, a professor of political science and economics at the University of Michigan, asks the essential question for a rapidly globalizing world: “How can we all be more productive together?”

Page says the answer is actually in environments with individuals from vastly different backgrounds and experiences. Our differences are what make us stronger. Other studies have shown that groups that include a range of perspectives and skill levels outperform like-minded experts.

In the global world today, we must all play an active role in breaking down barriers that prevent us from reaping the rewards of embracing diversity. One of the most common barriers we face are cultural ones. We may perceive the cultural social practices of one group to signify something completely different than intended because we understand it through our cultural lens. However, it is to our benefit to educate ourselves and look below the surface.

This can often be done by studying the practices of other countries or by joining diverse organizations. Often, we share the same values with those we interact and hope to collaborate with. We must not let misperceptions stand in the way of realizing the true potential of what can come of embracing diversity.

Linda Toyota is president of the Asian Chamber of Commerce of Houston. With more than 20 years experience in the nonprofit community, she has worked with a wide array of nonprofit organizations including the Holocaust Museum Houston, the Houston Technology Center, the Texas Heart Institute and the Houston Area Women’s Center. Contact her at ltoyota@asianchamber-hou.org.

Published in Columnist