No China travel until end of 2022

One of our clients was so determined to meet his China suppliers in person that he traveled to China, stayed in quarantine (isolated in a hotel) for two weeks and subjected himself to all the required testing. After two weeks, he was told he would have to stay an additional week due to some rule change.  At that point he gave up and went back home. 

It is extremely difficult to develop business without in-person meetings: buyers must meet suppliers.  That is why importers have been traveling to China for decades – and why Chinese suppliers have been coming to the USA.  But normal travel has been interrupted for nearly two years now, and it likely will not resume until the end of next year.

Three questions:

  • Why is China travel so hard?
  • Why does it matter?
  • What can we do about it?

Why is China travel so hard?

Part of the problem is that China did a great job containing the Pandemic. Things are pretty much back to normal within the country.  But Covid19 is flourishing outside of China, especially with the Delta variant. And there is no herd immunity within China, so the virus must be kept out at all costs.  Vaccines, for several reasons, are not yet a solution.  So, for now, travel must be severely restricted.  The bad news is that this is likely to last until the end of 2022.  (For more details, see The Economist article)

Why does it matter?

We could all stay home, no need to travel, right?  Sure, it seems logical. And that is what people said about going back to the office: no need, work from home instead.  The concept is appealing. I, for one, used to travel to China more than 12 times per year. I have not been there since December 2019 and I don’t really miss it.  But humans are gregarious, business depends on meeting people, we need person to person contact; we must “press the flesh”, “have lunch”, etc…  So much so that we are willing to travel for long hours and for thousands of miles just to do that.  

I suppose there are 2 basic rules: If it is important and if it is about change, you’ve got to meet the people. And since the China supply chain is important for many and it is all about change and growth and beating the competition, traveling to China will always be part of the buying process: one simply must keep in close touch. 

What can we do about it?

Plan B is to meet people via video, audio or via a third party.  Or postpone the meetings, postpone the travel, go later.  If China was to open soon, say, the end of this year, this would not be a big deal, plan B would work. But waiting until the end of 2022 is another story.  To bridge the gap without traveling, think of it this way: Meeting people face to face is a means to an end.  So, focus on that end: be granular, what exactly is it that you need to achieve? Then figure out how best to achieve that without traveling. 

The solution for our clients was having a China-based CPG team.  They are the ambassadors, the strong foundation of the relationship with the suppliers. The combination of their special touch and the real-time CPG US presence made communications easy and reduced the imperative for travel.  

Granted, really determined people can still travel to China, it can be done.  And we will publish another blog next week about what is involved for the brave few who want to go. But one thing is certain: most of us will not be prepared to do this.  Three weeks wasted + the risk and uncertainty of change is something that we cannot afford. 

It will be interesting to see what happens during the Winter Olympics in February 2022, when Beijing, the most protected city of China, will be welcoming tens of thousands of foreigners.  Until then, stay safe and have a good plan B. 


By Michael De Clercq

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