Digital Bootcamp Asia Podcast

Travel and Tourism in China and Beyond with Casper Tollerud, CEO China of Beiou360

July 20, 2020 Season 1 Episode 3
Digital Bootcamp Asia Podcast
Travel and Tourism in China and Beyond with Casper Tollerud, CEO China of Beiou360
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Digital Bootcamp Asia Podcast
Travel and Tourism in China and Beyond with Casper Tollerud, CEO China of Beiou360
Jul 20, 2020 Season 1 Episode 3

We invited Casper Tollerud, CEO China of Beiou360, an inbound agency based in Denmark which organizes tours to the Nordic countries for our Chinese partners, to share his experiences in running the business in China.

Casper Tollerud has lived in China since 1999. In 2003 he entered the tourism industry and has worked with tourism ever since. In recent years Casper’s focus has been on developing sustainable marketing and sales solutions for European incoming agents, mainly in Scandinavia.

Connect with Casper Tollerud on LinkedIn.

This show is powered by Digital Bootcamp Asia, sponsored by Tolmao Group. Natasha Fang is the Founder and CEO of Tolmao Group, a leading integrated marketing agency headquartered in Shanghai City, China. Recognized for original content, persuasive digital marketing strategies, interactive website designs, and influential event marketing campaigns, she has worked with a variety of clients. Connect with Natasha Fang on LinkedIn.

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/DigitalBootcampAsia
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/company/dbasia
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/digitalbootcampasia
Twitter: https://twitter.com/DB_Asia

Show Notes Transcript

We invited Casper Tollerud, CEO China of Beiou360, an inbound agency based in Denmark which organizes tours to the Nordic countries for our Chinese partners, to share his experiences in running the business in China.

Casper Tollerud has lived in China since 1999. In 2003 he entered the tourism industry and has worked with tourism ever since. In recent years Casper’s focus has been on developing sustainable marketing and sales solutions for European incoming agents, mainly in Scandinavia.

Connect with Casper Tollerud on LinkedIn.

This show is powered by Digital Bootcamp Asia, sponsored by Tolmao Group. Natasha Fang is the Founder and CEO of Tolmao Group, a leading integrated marketing agency headquartered in Shanghai City, China. Recognized for original content, persuasive digital marketing strategies, interactive website designs, and influential event marketing campaigns, she has worked with a variety of clients. Connect with Natasha Fang on LinkedIn.

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/DigitalBootcampAsia
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/company/dbasia
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/digitalbootcampasia
Twitter: https://twitter.com/DB_Asia

Natasha Fang :

You're listening to Digital Bootcamp Asia Podcast, where entrepreneurs and business owners share their real-life stories and lessons learned on how to start, grow, and excel in their business in the digital era. This show is brought to you by Tolmao Group, an integrated marketing agency. I'm your host Natasha Fang. Casper Tollerud has lived in China since 1999. In 2003 he entered the tourism industry and has worked with tourism ever since. In recent years Casper’s focus has been on developing sustainable marketing and sales solutions for European incoming agents, mainly in Scandinavia. Hi, Casper, welcome to the show. Thank you so much for joining us today. Please introduce yourself to us.

Casper Tollerud :

Hi, Nata. My name is Casper Tollerud. I'm originally from Denmark has worked in tourism in China since 2001. I run a company called BEIOU360, which is a company that specializes in in-depth and quality tours for Chinese travelers to Scandinavia, we also do inbound. But that's sort of not on my hands now our company in CNS running that. And then I also own and run a company called LEEMIAN, which specializes in strategic marketing in China, and the construction of cultural centers around China.

Natasha Fang :

That's very impressive. How did you get into the tourism industry?

Casper Tollerud :

Quite simply, actually, was when I graduated from university, I needed a job and the back then the inbound business was quite big. So I got a job as a tour guide. And then after a few years, I started on my own. So a very simple approach, really.

Natasha Fang:

And when did you arrive China?

Casper Tollerud :

in 1999

Natasha Fang :

Wow. So can you share a little bit your experiences first coming to China back then?

Casper Tollerud :

Yeah, sure. I mean, I actually came in 95 or six. I came back in 97 and 98. But in 99, my wife and I moved here. We first went to Anhui Province to study Chinese language. And to be honest, back then it was quite a, you know, a backward place to be, to be quite honest. It wasn't so much of a shock, it was more because we are from Denmark and Denmark is a small country, the population is very small, everything runs quite smoothly. And it was certainly different to come to a place where things were, it seemed to us, you know, like the, you know, the 1800s of Europe. But certainly, in the past 20 years, China has developed fast, so you don't see much of that anymore. But I mean, I remember we used to take the bus for two, three hours to Nanjing just to buy bread once a month. But it was a really good experience. And we chose a small place in China because we wanted to immerse ourselves in it. In the language and culture, and that certainly worked out for us that there were I think seven eight foreigners in the whole city the first year.

Natasha Fang :

You speak Chinese fluently, how did you learn that?

Casper Tollerud :

Well, I mean, I learned some in university, of course, and then just from working, I mean, I, you know, I think one of our company's strong points is that we never hire people to sort of do the cultural or language translation for us. We learned everything ourselves, the first company, we registered in China, me and my partners, I did all the stuff with the lawyer and the government etc, and everything is in Chinese. So through that you also learn a lot I took some pride in being able to read the contracts myself and reply, etc. And so I guess I mean, the base was learned in university obviously, and then just through years of working in China and becoming better and better and understanding more, you know how you do business in Chinese. And that helps me a lot now, because not so much in tourism. But when we do work with the Chinese government on the cultural centers, these guys from the government, they rarely speak English. So it's a great help for me now that I can explain what we do. And we can do all the contract negotiations and everything in Chinese. For them, it's not only a sign of politeness, but also, they feel like we cut out the translator or the middleman, meaning that we can have much more direct communication between us. And that's a very big help in what we do now.

Natasha Fang :

That's awesome. Been able to communicate in a very technical term, especially contract negotiating.

Casper Tollerud :

Yeah, yeah. I mean, because I had to force myself to do it. We couldn't in the beginning, we couldn't afford English speaking Chinese people. They were much more expensive than just like, you know, real local stuff. So we decided back then it was I was the only foreigner in the company so we just decided okay, It's not worth spending money, we basically don't have to hire some expensive person. It's better than because I was the problem, right? I was the only one who couldn't speak fluent Chinese in the whole company. So the problem was, was me. And so it was better that I went and learned how to do it in Chinese, then we spent a lot of money hiring people to solve the problems for us. And that certainly helps. Now, like I said, I mean, all the stuff with the lawyers and the government and how you do your contracts, everything I did on my own in Chinese in the beginning, and that means that right now we are, I think one of our strong points is that we can actually compete with Chinese companies on a very local level, because we are a Chinese company. We are not a foreign company who came to China and spend, you know, a ton of money setting up. We are a foreign owned, but Chinese company and that means that we can, we can do business on the same level as everybody else and we could compete with prices, etc. The same as everybody else. The only difference in our company is that the boss is a foreigner, other are Chinese but everything else is just run like a Chinese company.

Natasha Fang :

So do you think that able to speak a language itself will help you to run the better business in China.

Casper Tollerud :

And it depends a little bit I think if you are coming over here to set up a, for instance, a brand name, and you already have a brand in Europe, I don't think the foreign boss if he or she comes over to China, necessarily need to spend a lot of time learning Chinese because, you know, it takes quite a few years to reach a level where it becomes really useful. But I've been here for 20 years. And that means that now we can do things that non-Chinese speakers cannot do. And especially like I mentioned before, when we are in contact with the government, still in China, although it's changing, but still in China, it's quite important for the government to see that it's a foreigner when we do a foreign projects, you know, they take that quite seriously. So we have a foreign me. But also, we have the foreigner who can communicate more or less fluently with them in Chinese. And that helps a lot. And not that many people can do what we do right now, because we both have the Chinese structure of the company, we are not super expensive, just because we're foreign. So, we can do things in Chinese. But at the same time, we can provide that foreign content that the governments and Chinese investors are looking for. So, it's not something I set out, you know, 20 years ago and said, this is our goal that we have to I have to learn more or less fluent Chinese, and we have to do this and these things. It just kind of happened along the way out of necessity, and, of course, also out of interest. And now we had a spot where, you know, I'm running around. We are working with I think 12 different Chinese cities and provincial governments right now, and it's just really good business for us. But I can't say you know, a lot of Chinese people say to me that my yǎn guāng ( foresight) was very good. And that's not the case. You know, this, this young thing is it. I came to China because I studied Chinese history in Europe and then came over here and learned a bit of the language and then things just happened. And we're here now. But I don't think you know, if you come over here and set up a company, I think instead of learning Chinese, okay, learn a few phrases. It's fun to speak with the taxi driver, and you can buy stuff in the shop, right? But if you want to take it to a level where you can actually do full scale, government level contract negotiations, that's going to take a few years, so it's probably better you spend your time learning how does the tech system work? How do I get the proper licenses for my company? What marketing channels should I use to Are there any Chinese partners in my industry that I can, you know, cooperate with and get, get some, you know, useful cooperation out of etc. I think that should take the front seat and then learning the language etc. Probably is not that important, as everybody says. So I'm not saying it's going to be very helpful if you learn the language, it's just that it's going to take some years and maybe especially in the beginning, that time is better spent running your business and getting a foothold in China. And then you can begin adding on,

Natasha Fang :

right, it also depends thing on which city you live in, right? If you're living the tier one cities such as Shanghai, you don't really need the Chinese just to get around the city if you just come into China.

Casper Tollerud :

Yeah, I mean, there are of lots of examples of people you know, the owner of Wagas the chain restaurant, he's a Danish guy, he doesn't speak Chinese. He's doing fantastic in China. So it's not set in stone that you have to learn Chinese to be able to, to manage. I mean, my wife is Danish and I guess a lot of foreigners come over here and find a Chinese wife or maybe a Chinese husband. And maybe they can somehow help out or support one another. I didn't really do that. And that meant I'm quite happy. That didn't happen because it meant that I had to force myself to learn it. I couldn't just go home and say, Hey, can you read this document for me? You know, stuff like that I had to do it myself and that helped out. But, you know, if you manage to learn Chinese well enough to do business and you know, all the power to I think it's fantastic if you do, but I do think it's more important to learn how, you know, the structure of China works with the laws and regulations and texts, etc. Before you, you know, you spend a lot of time I don't think Chinese is a language that you can study two hours a week and then learn it fluently. You probably have to do 10/15/20 hours a week and very intensively right. And maybe you don't want to take that time out of your business. I'm sure.

Natasha Fang :

So what was the number one challenge you have encountered over the years of running your business in China?

Casper Tollerud :

I think now it's pretty easy in China. But in the beginning, when we started setting up both the travel agency and our consultancy, I mean, I think the very difficult part was that the government organizations and the various branches you have to go to get stamps and permits, etc. They weren't actually that good. You know, you couldn't go to one place. You know, you went here and to this place, and then they would tell you, oh, you're missing a stamp from this other office. And you would ask them, so where's this office? How can I get in touch with them and they didn't even know. You know, so just getting a business license could take months. And I think now the standard of service from the Chinese government has improved immensely. I mean, I think it was last year, the year before I went to change our business license and I have to do it because I'm the legal Rep. And it took like 10 minutes It was an incredible improvement of the level of service I think Finally we are this way them, you know, Work for the people kind of attitude that the government has been saying all along, but probably didn't, 15 years ago? Not very much anyway. So I think that was the biggest issue. Now, it's probably more that the first few times we aren't speaking with a new investor or a new government, they are, they see me and they see on the foreign and then they tend to think that I don't understand what's going on. So they again, explaining like very simple things, and this is how we do in China. And, you know, asking me these very simple and weird questions. And I'm sitting there thinking, Well, guys, I mean, if I'm sitting here it means I understand, you know, this, otherwise I wouldn't be sitting here with you guys. So that's quite strange from you still, but I guess maybe these people also meet a lot of foreigners who maybe just came a few months ago or last year, whatever. So they're probably used to that. But it feels very strange for me. And that takes some getting used to I mean, we just, we just signed with an A new Chinese investor in some projects in Anji, Zhejiang Province. And the first meeting with this the big boss of the company, he was sitting there explaining simple things. And you know, we went for lunch and he was asking me Oh, do you know how to use chopsticks? Well, yeah, I mean, I’ve been here near 20 years, you know, I'll, you know, I've tried it before. And that's somewhat of a hurdle, I think. And also something that is, is a hindrance for Chinese companies going abroad because the Chinese companies unfortunately have this attitude that no Westerner can ever understand what's going on. And in reality, China is not that complicated. It is complicated, but it's not. You know, it's not North Korea, and it's not Mars, you know, it has laws, it has regulations, it has some sort of logic behind what's going on. And if you understand how that logic works, you can figure it out. And that is an attitude. I think it's changing, but unfortunately, is still with a lot of people, they tend to, you know, say to us, yeah, but you're a foreigner. So you don't understand this. No, no, it's not that complicated. And actually, what you're saying is pretty much like in Europe, you know, how the tech system works, for example, it's just that you haven't found a good way to explain it to a friend yet. So I guess those are the two main ones lack of quality of service in the beginning, and now it's more this Chinese sense that, you know, foreigners will never get this place. And I think that's not true. I mean, you read a bit of Confucius a bit of Dao and a bit of history, and it's quite obvious how a lot of society works. Yeah,

Natasha Fang :

yeah, I do believe because of social media are booming in China. So because the social media the government is much more open than before and you're able to assess a lot of information online, where you can find the information via website, WeChat, weibo and the other channels. So it's accessible for sure. Easier than before. Yeah, for sure. And also, so because of the COVID-19. So I had to ask this question because tourism is one of the most heavily hit industry. So do you think it becomes a little bit more challenging for you to run the business during the Covid?

Casper Tollerud :

Yeah, for sure. I mean, we run two kinds of businesses. One is tourism. And that's that now. And I don't think it's gonna start up again until after Chinese New Year. So in 2021, not really, I mean, domestic tourism has begun to pick up but people are still, you know, very, very of going out and people tend overall anyway, to stick to local experiences in their own city or province. What we do is outbound tourism, and that's not going to pick up for at least another eight, nine months, I think and maybe even longer. I mean, Chinese people are quite safety conscious. So, you know, we saw with the migrant crisis in Europe a few years back that that influence the Chinese outbound tourism to Europe quite a lot. And I think COVID-19 will do the same. So on in the tourism part of our business, we're just dead in the water, nothing is happening. But, you know, like I mentioned, we also do these cultural projects. And you know, we're doing really well there because of the COVID-19 because, first of all, many of the Chinese investors big ones like LuCheng (Greetown) , Jindi and CFLD ( China Fortune Land Development Co., Ltd. ) whatever they all called, have been sort of asked by the Chinese government to focus more on the investment domestically. Many of them are going to Europe and America established rep offices in whatever city in Europe etc. And we're planning to do heavy investment in Europe in the coming years because of the COVID-19, possibly also because of the price. The trade war with America, the Chinese central government has asked many of them to try and refocus their investment domestically. And maybe as you know, NASA, the way this happens in China is that if you want to purchase a large piece of land to build, I don't know, a shopping mall or housing, quite often the government will ask you to provide some kind of cultural project to go with this project you're building. And so many of these Chinese investors, they don't have this content. They don't have the cultural content. That's something that's been happening in the last few years mainly. So that's our chance because of COVID-19, they have refocused their attention to China, that there's a lot of projects up for grabs. But if you don't do quality and do cultural content, you're probably not going to get the project and that's where we come in. So tourism is dead. But on the cultural project situation, we have been extremely busy basically since the day after Chinese New Year when the government came in came back to work. So we've been, we've been dead in one, one end and we're doing super, super good in another part of our company.

Natasha Fang :

That sounds awesome. And also, I read news like a lot of Chinese investors may, for instance, when you talk about focus on the inbound like inside of China, there are some Chinese investors, they go to buy hotels who are shutting down for instance, in Japan, it's just by the hotel. They not only get the license but also get a visa. So only a lot of Chinese investors has been by

Casper Tollerud:

Singapore they're starting up now they have some new schemes to attract Chinese investment.

Natasha Fang :

Yeah. So let's interesting way to look at it.

Casper Tollerud :

Yeah, I mean, COVID-19, of course has been really bad for many, many things. Lots of people have died and gotten sick, etc. It's a horrible thing, but from my personal perspective, I mean It's a challenge, but it's a challenge we can overcome. And I'm not gonna let, you know some virus just stop us dead in the water. If we can't do tourism, we'll just focus 99% of our energy and energy on our other projects. And we're doing fantastically in those areas right now. So we'll continue to do so.

Natasha Fang :

Yeah, I think it's definitely important to have varieties in your business scope, especially in China when the market is enormous. Right. So there are definitely a lot of opportunities can be discovered, or there's opportunities we're not in the market before but it's, it's you know, a challenge is becoming the new opportunities. And also the local like local airlines are selling like every single weekend, you can pay for certain amount of money you can fly unlimited to different cities that have also been adopted. The strategy is being adopted by the Chinese local airlines. So you mentioned you probably see the outbound tourism can be happening after Chinese New Year. So are you working also in preparing yourself your business for that?

Casper Tollerud :

I mean, we don't do very much right now to be honest. Because we have been doing outbound tourism for a number of years, we have all our products ready you know everything is smaller set to go. So we can't do very much more until the tourism starts up again and I don't think we'll be first in line. I think the very large OTAs they will, most likely anyway, they will try to fill up whatever they had last in the last few months with some fast products. We don't do fast travel we do slow travel, healthy living etc. And we are not going to be first line, especially if we start up around March say after Chinese New Year. It's not a good season for in depth traveling that's usually in the major holidays, especially summer for cold areas like Scandinavia. So we are not in a great hurry to get everything ready. I mean, I think we are probably looking at eight, nine months before we'll have the first bookings back. And we have everything ready so we don't really need to do much except work on like I mentioned everything else we're doing we are also building a tourism portal it's actually finished but now we're improving it because we have time where Chinese agents can find accurate information about travel to Scandinavia. So we're doing these things right now improving our way of servicing the market but to get towards reading we did that, you know, a long time ago when we don't need to work very much on that right now.

Natasha Fang :

Right. So how do you see yourself like personally in the in the upcoming months and also your business? Where do you see it heading in the upcoming months and also years.

Casper Tollerud :

Well, I mean, for me personally, I'm gonna have to work on the cultural projects where we are doing I mean, we are a month away or so from signing with the project in Jiaxing. We're working in Changsha, Changzhou, Nantong, Beijing, Xi’an, Chongqing, Chengdu, Ningbo, Hangzhou, Anji and Shang’rao in Shanxi Province, and we're even speaking with several others. So for the coming months, we're just gonna go all in and trying to get our negotiations going with these places. So probably Jiaxing for sure will sign for this year. I think Changsha and Jia Shan will sign this year as well. And then the rest of them will get prepared, you know, give proposals to the government etc. So we can maybe sign up the Chinese new year next year. Get those things going. And for me personally, that means that I have to travel back and forth, because I'm the lead negotiator. In these cases, so I'm going to have to go out and meet the governments and investors in all these places. And it's not just one trip. I mean, you have to do, you know, five or 10 trips before everything is in place. So I think for me personally, the next half years is going to be running around China trying to get all these deals sorted. We'll see how that goes.

Natasha Fang :

Sounds good. So Casper, thank you so much for joining us today in the show. Can you tell our listeners how to find you online if they want to get in touch?

Casper Tollerud :

Yeah, sure. So they can find me on WeChat. Of course, my name on WeChat is Beiou 360 Long Si Bo, which Long Si Bo is My Chinese name, but probably if you tpe in Beiou 360 I will pop up. That's one way they can find me by my Danish name Casper on LinkedIn. I think those are the two best options, I guess. Cool. Natasha Fang Thank you so much, Casper. Casper Tollerud Thank you.

Natasha Fang :

Thank you for listening to the Trouble until next time.