Culture Shock

Culture Shock


             Culture shock is an experience an individual may have when they move to a cultural environment different from their own. It is also the personal disorientation one feels when experiencing unfamiliar ways of life due to a visit or immigration to another country. Companies and organization also experience cultural shock as they expand into new markets. Businesses in the hospitality sector are not any different (Saee, 2013). To survive the market or achieve an edge, hospitality companies look for new markets to expand to increase their customer base as well as spread their business risk. In the process, they are exposed to market with unfamiliar cultures. As a consequence, they are forced to adapt failure to which their ability to enter the markets may be compromised. In most cases, companies adapt through the development of strategies to effectively manage cultural diversity (Timm, 2011).

This paper analyzes culture shock in hospitality related companies using Oberg’s four stages and Hottola theory.

Culture Shock in Hospitality Related Companies

            As mentioned in the introduction, companies in the hospitality industry from time to time experience culture shock. Multinational organizations are significantly affected as compared to their local counterparts. This can be attributed to the fact that they enter countries with unfamiliar cultures (Chew & Debowski, 2013). However, the level of shock suffered by a company is largely dependent on the cultural differences between the country of origin and the target state. Usually, a company struggles to survive in the market when business practices in the host country are far different from the case at home. For instance, a hotel organization from a western country suffers a more culture shock when they enter a country in the Far East as compared to when they enter another western country. This is because western countries share many cultures as compared to the case of a western country and another from the Far East. For example, Hilton Hotels & Resorts suffered more regarding culture shock when entering China as compared to when it entered Canada. Different theories can be used to explain how companies experience culture shock and how they adapt (Chon, Yu, & Yu, 2012).

Oberg’s Four Stages

            The four stages theory explains the phases a company goes through when it suffers culture shock. First, a company goes through the honeymoon stage. At this point, a company through its people is keen to learn new things or cultures. Emphasis is placed on positive aspects of the new cultures. As such, minor problems are overlooked such as cultural differences and their impacts are overlooked. Individuals are fascinated by the new culture and how it compares to the situation at home (Chon, Yu, & Yu, 2012). Typically, the phase can last for a few days or weeks depending on how quickly individuals can learn. For a hotel company, the step is likely to take weeks. A company has to learn a lot about cultural practices in a country before it can adapt accordingly. Failure to ensure the same can make it hard to develop strong strategies to manage cultural diversity as expected. Many companies complete the honeymoon phase within the shortest time possible as taking long can impact negatively on their ability to achieve an edge (Saee, 2013).

The second phase is the crisis, frustration, or culture shock. In this phase, a hotel firm starts to view culture in a more realistic way. Individuals in the company in question begin to realize the negative aspects of the culture of the host country. Confusion, frustration, and irritability become significant challenges. For example, Hilton Hotels experienced frustration when it entered China as the company had to adapt to a culture characterized by high levels of collectivism (Chon, Yu, & Yu, 2012). The company also had to deal with the issue of Chinese people showing low levels of indulgence. Essentially, the company had to come up with strategies on how to market its products and services to attract more customers in a culture where people place less emphasis on leisure as compared to the case at home. In the second phase, the language barrier is also a huge obstacle(Timm, 2011). For example, a hospitality company from a French speaking country is likely to experience a culture shock when it enters an English speaking country. The discrepancy between reality and expectations, rejection and disappointment also become a challenge. It is only through the implementation of effective cultural diversity management strategies that a company can move to the next phase (Woodside, Megehee, & Ogle, 2014).

Adjustment or recovery then follow culture shock. Enterprises that survive the crisis phase adjust to the new culture to ensure survival. There are others that fail to survive the second phase. As a consequence, they chose to return home or enter other countries. Adaptation is achieved through the company in question acquiring more knowledge of the new culture and language. Knowledge is collected through interactions with people, for example, suppliers, customers, and experts in the host country (Chon, Yu, & Yu, 2012). Multinational hotels such as Ritz Carlton and Hilton Hotels go to hire locals to enhance their understanding of how the local market works. Hiring expats is deemed inappropriate as such individuals may not understand how the new culture works. With greater knowledge, predictability and control are achieved. Persons in the organization in question avoid the use of home culture as this can affect its capability to adapt to the new culture. They look for similarities and differences. In the case of similarities, home country strategies are applied to adjust. On the contrary, cultural differences are addressed to avoid a situation where a company uses the wrong adaptation strategies (Wang, 2012).

The last phase is the mastery. Effective adjustment enables a company to master the new culture. At this point, individuals in a hotel organization accept the new culture. They also appreciate the fact that the new culture has a lot to offer hence, develop dual culture identity. Equally, they begin to understand why people and businesses in the host country behave the way they behave. It is hard for one to accept a new culture until they appreciate the basis (Timm, 2011). Mostly, hospitality organization integrates their home and host countries cultures to survive. Hilton Hotel & Resorts adapt to other cultures through localization. The company understands the fact that the one size fits all strategy does not always work. It learns new cultures in host countries and develops strategies that reflect on the same. To achieve great mastery, the company works closely with its partners in the new market. For example, it collaborates with customers to master their buying behaviors as well as their needs and expectations. Mastery is also achieved through the management of a culturally diverse workforce (Chon, Yu, & Yu, 2012).

Hottola (2004) Theory

            The Hottola theory argues against the supposition of culture shock. It is of the view that the model lacksenough empirical evidence to prove its ideas. The issue of out of date information is also evident. According to the Hottola theory, cultural shock is exaggerated. Exposure to a new culture can easily cause fatigue and stress among people. The same challenges are experienced by hospitality organizations operating in unfamiliar territories. Usually, stress is associated with the frustration people experience as they try to adapt to new cultures (Hottola, 2004). The level of stress is increased when individuals are exposed to cultures that are very different from the case at home. The fact that individuals have to dedicate more effort to adapt increases fatigue. There are times when individuals may be forced to work around the clock to learn new ways of doing business and competing in a market. Stress levels are also impacted by the differences between cultures. The more the differences, the higher the level of stress. Hotel companies also come up strategies to reduce the degree of stress among their people. This is also done to avoid the issue of people or the company retreating to known territories (Hottola, 2004).

Exposure to new cultures can result in a company achieving full integration. Companies ensure they learn new habits and the impact they have on their competitive edge. They also examine themselves to determine whether or not they have what it takes to adapt accordingly. In most cases, hospitality organization target countries where they can adjust with ease. Eventually, they also enter other countries with very different cultures (Woodside, Megehee, & Ogle, 2014). All in all, they pass through different adaptation strategies as they experience and learn the local cultures. Most organizations require the aid of locals to adapt. Nonetheless, they also work with expats to effectively integrate their home and host country cultures. In essence, they need knowledge of both the local and home cultures to achieve consistency. Metaworlds are also used to improve a company’s ability to adapt (Hottola, 2004). These are safe havens where individuals in unfamiliar territories can retreat to for information and support. They are also used by corporations to regain perceived and real control over their situation. Nonetheless, it is hard for businesses to find safe havens. Most of them turn to other firms from the same home country already operating in the country to determine their survival or adaptation strategies (Woodside, Megehee, & Ogle, 2014).

There are times when a corporation finds it hard to adapt to the new cultures in the host country. In such a case, the chances that the firm in question will choose to go back home or retreat are high. This is also common among companies in the hospitality industry. A company can enter a market with the hope of surviving it only to realize it cannot adapt to the new culture. Continuing to operate in the country in question is deemed unrealistic as the company in question will struggle not only to enter but also survive the market in question (Chew & Debowski, 2013). Some suffering culture shock may choose to retreat to the metaworld with hopes of learning new knowledge and capabilities to survive. Nevertheless, this does not always work as some companies are still forced to return home or try other markets after they find no help in the metaworld. Integration helps in ensuring proper adaptation. Hilton Hotel is one of the major companies in the hospitality industry that capitalize on integration to adapt to other cultures. The hotel is operational in many countries across the globe. It utilizes its experiences in other different markets to develop reliable cultural diversity management strategies (Wang, 2012).


Clearly, companies in the hotel industry face cultural challenges when operating in unfamiliar markets. This problem is common among multinational or international hotels. Both Oberg and Hottola theories support the supposition that being exposed to new cultures lead to individuals experiencing frustration and confusion. As a consequence, this can create a barrier to a company’s ability to enter a market. However, there are strategies that firms can employ to ensure their capability to learn and adapt to new cultures. In essence, the development of effective diversity management strategies is imperative. The models emphasize different adaptation strategies. Nevertheless, they call for individuals to learn the similarities and differences in cultural practices before they can develop the right strategies.

Geert Hofstede dimensions are used to show the differences in cultural practices among different countries. The dimensions include power distance, individualism, masculinity, uncertainty avoidance, long-term orientation, and indulgence. Various countries show varying levels regarding power distance, uncertainty avoidance, and masculinity. For example, China shows a high rate regarding power distance as compared to the case in most western countries. A hotel company from the world of the West interested in entering the Chinese market will most definitely experience a cultural shock (Saee, 2013). Inequality characterizes countries with high power distance as compared those committed to ensuring equality. In general, Hofstede dimensions can be used to determine the causes of cultural shock suffered by companies in the hospitality industry. Its ideas are more or less similar to those forwarded by the Oberg theory. The method can be used to identify haven or metaworlds in a country where companies through their people can access information required to adapt to new cultures (Woodside, Megehee, & Ogle, 2014).

It is advisable for hotel companies to understand cultural practices in their target state before making the decision to enter it. They need to pick on countries that have many cultural characteristics as their country of origin. This helps in ensuring successful integration. The strategy is more applicable to companies entering unfamiliar territories for the first time. On the other hand, large and well-established companies are in a better position to enter markets with different cultural practices. This is because they have what it takes not only to learn but also make sense of new habits and how to handle the same to ensure their company earns an edge over the competition including local businesses. Effective cultural diversity practices are developed after a careful consideration of cultural practices in the new country and how they differ or are similar to the habits back at home (Chew & Debowski, 2013).

Most hospitality deal cultural shock or frustrations experienced in other countries through localization. Fundamentally, they consider the practices in the host country and develop strategies that are based on the same. They also work closely with their partners in the market to collect information on how businesses survive the market and avoid failure. Working with customers mainly enable the company to determine which strategies will allow them to attract as many customers as possible. They avoid applying home strategies that may be ineffective in serving target clients in the market (Chon, Yu, & Yu, 2012).


Many hospitality organizations experience cultural shock when expanding to another market. The level of shock suffered depends on with the differences in cultural practices between home market and other markets. If there are many differences, a company finds it very challenging to adapt to the market. This is because it has to learn new ways of doing things to adapt to the new culture. Failure to embrace similar practices can result in it relying on the wrong strategies which make it problematic for it to compete. Oberg theory helps in explaining cultural shock experienced by hotels and how they deal with it. Hottola theory criticizes the cultural shock model citing lack of clarity and the use of out of date information. All in all, both methods agree to the fact that companies in the hospitality industry must adapt to new cultures if they are to survive new markets. There are times when these companies find it hard to handle the cultural shock. In such a situation, the best solution is to retreat as continuing to pursue the market will only result in losses.


Chew, J., & Debowski, S. (2013). Developing an Effective Repatriation Strategy for MNC: A Model and Tools for International Human Resource Management. Journal of Comparative International Management, 11(2), 902-928.

Chon, K. S., Yu, L., & Yu, L. (2012). The International Hospitality Business: Management and Operations. New York, NY: Routledge.

Hottola, P. (2004). Culture Confusion: Interculturl Adaptation in Tourism. Annals of Tourism Research, 31(2), 447-466.

Saee, J. (2013). Managerial Competence within the Hospitality and Tourism Service Industries: Global Cultural Contextual Analysis. London: Routledge.

Timm, A. (2011). Intercultural problems in the tourism industry. Munchen: GRIN Verlag.

Wang, Z. (2012). Intercultural Conflicts of International Marketing Activities – from the Perspective of Chinese Companies. Review of European Studies, 4(2), 290-319.

Woodside, A. G., Megehee, C., & Ogle, A. (2014). Advances in culture, tourism and hospitality research. Volume 3, Perspectives on cross-cultural, ethnographic, brand image, storytelling, unconscious needs, and hospitality guest research. Bingley : Emerald.

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