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The island of Hainan, China.

Island number 1 (out of 100). Country number 1 (out of 25). Month 1 (out of 100)


The island of Hainan, located off the southern tip of China, is often called “The Hawaii of China”. In many ways it is a good description. It’s a big, tropical island – full of coconut trees – that the country’s citizens can reach without having a passport. Hainan feels like home, yet at the same time like a paradise getaway for the Chinese. Just in the same way as Hawaii does for the Americans.

I spent one day here while doing a speech for the Chinese managers of a multinational American company. The conference was held at the massive newly built Westin Blue Bay Resort & Spa.

During my stay there I got the chance to have a chat with the General Manager of the Blue Bay Resort mr Douglas Ariza Giammaria. Douglas, who comes from Colombia and has made a career of going around the world to run hotels was now in China managing this resort. I asked him what he had learnt by coming to China.

He said: “I have learnt to appreciate the Chinese approach to service.”

I found his answer very, very interesting, because many non-chinese, (and perhaps also many Chinese) will argue that service in China absolutely sucks.

I sure know that when I arrived in China for the first time in 2005 I was equally amazed and appalled by how waiters would throw the food infront of the guests and how guests would spit on the floor of restaurants. But I also understood what mr Giammaria was trying to say, because few things are purely one-sided.

He said: “I have come to realize that the Chinese are warm and friendly people. When they serve you they do not look for the tip, they just want to serve you, it’s about face for them.”

He explained that the first impression of Chinese for many might be that they are rude, harsh or unfriendly but, as he said “you have to look deeper. At the core they really are warm and friendly people.” With this I agree.

In many ways they can be the most genuinely service minded people you can meet. In other ways they can be the least service minded people you can ever meet.

And here is the interesting thing: Service-quality in China has increased leaps and bounds in the last few years. Sure, you can still get the “plate-thrown-on-the-table-service” in many local places, but in places like the Westin, there service quality is on par – if not better – than in any other place on earth where there is a Westin.

Ask a waiter at the Westin Blue Ray Resort for a glass of Coke and she will reply “Certainly, sir.”
Meet a cleaner in the corridor outside your room and she will look you in the eye, smile and say “Good morning.”

Thanks to massive service training by companies like the Westin (and Hyatt, Ritz Carlton, Four Seasons etc.) the best practices from the rest of the world has now arrived in China.

At the same time they have kept many of the best practices of their own way of thinking of service.
The result is world class service as a result of the best of both worlds.

Globalisation gets a lot of bad rep, and especially around how local products, customs or traditions are traded for new foreign ideas.
And sure, it can be sad in some cases.

But we seldom talk about the opposite: about how the global distribution of ideas and customs are transfered around the world in order to improve how things are done.

Like, for example, how the service in China has gone from being one of the worst expericences in the world, to today being a place where you can get some of the best service on this planet.

Who would have thought.

Well, that’s what happens when you are open for new ideas from the outside. Which brings us to the coconuts.

Did you know that coconuts floats? Well, they do.

And because they float they can travel from their “hosts” to new shores to plants their roots in new places.

That is how I look at ideas. Ideas should be allowed to float. To spread. To travel.

And we should all be open to picking up those ideas from other shores if doing so makes our lives better.

That is what the island of Hainan has thought me about the world today: That we should be more like coconuts.


Fredrik Haren, aka “The Island Man”, plans to visit 100 islands, in at least 25 countries, on at least 6 continents – in less than 100 months. The purpose of this “World Tour of Islands” is to get a better understanding of the world, a deeper understanding of the people who live here and a broader understanding of life.
Hainan was island number 1, China was country number 1 and this is month number 1.


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