Asian Hospitality: Love the Culture, Support the People

By Bashar Wali

I left my phone in a taxi in Tokyo. No, that’s not some hot single from a garage band in Portland, that was my reality. I stood in the hotel lobby wondering what the hell I was going to do. 

I was so busy admiring the white glove taxi service, the white lace seats, the floors I could practically eat off of, that I left my phone in the back of the cab. It was long gone and there was no Uber, no map, no nothing. 

The concierge was quick to offer help, but how? There were hundreds of cab services and drivers in Tokyo. To my surprise, the concierge picked up the phone and started calling, one by one. After about 30 minutes, the cab driver pulled up to the valet and ran straight for me with his arms outstretched, waving my phone. He bowed, apologized profusely—for my stupidity—and was as grateful as I was to return the phone to its rightful owner.

Meanwhile in NY, I left an iPad in an Uber. No, that’s not some millennial euphemism. That was my reality (again) in Manhattan. I reached out to the driver on the Uber app as I watched him circle the neighborhood. No response.

I called the driver. No one answered. After the third try, he picked up and asked, “So what are you going to do for me?” 

“I’ll Uber you back to my hotel to drop off the iPad.”

“Well, you have to do better than that.”

An Uber ride for my device and $100 later, my iPad made it back to the hotel.

Don’t get me wrong, I love New York. It’s my second home. But what if our culture had that same innate hospitality as they do overseas? Asian hospitality is baked into every interaction, and it makes a world of difference. 

If you’ve traveled in Asia, you know. If you’re a world traveler, you’ve checked Japanese cherry blossom season off your list, wandered the Supertree Grove in Singapore, and caught the sunset from the Marina Bay Sands 57th floor infinity pool. 

If you’ve stayed closer to home, you also know. With feet firmly planted, maybe you have a family tradition of Dim Sum brunch, Chinese food on Christmas Day, or maybe you take your kids to karate on Wednesdays. Along with bucket list trips and weekly rituals, the Asian community needs our support, love, and attention right now—and always.

Take a look around—from the streets of Beverly Hills to the ski slopes of Switzerland, Asian Hospitality is the gold standard around the world. It’s influenced so much of our hotel operations, service standards, and style. Now, if only it influenced my Uber driver.

In Asian culture, there’s hospitality everywhere.

It starts at home. Asian culture centers around family, serving family, and treating people who walk through your doors as family always. It’s worth noting that this is an honor, not a duty.

Family-style dining we know and love? It comes from the Asian culture of inclusion, warmth, and welcome. In Chinese culture, the first thing that’s asked of a guest is, “Have you ate?” If the answer is no, get ready. It doesn’t matter what language you speak or where you’ve been, you’ll not only get a seat at the table, you’ll be treated as an esteemed guest.

In Asian culture, service isn’t a form of work or wage, it’s intrinsic. Even the act of buying a gift is ceremonial. Every little thing is cared for, carefully wrapped in beautiful paper, and sent off with a smile. It’s no wonder this way of life has informed hospitality, not just in Asian countries, but around the world. 

If our culture was deeply rooted in the same intrinsic honor to serve, imagine the possibilities. We have so much to learn.

Take Singapore Airlines. In July 2020, Singapore Airlines was named best international airline by Travel + Leisure for the 25th year in a row. I’ve flown Singapore Airlines to Bangkok many times, and the experience is consistently over the top, from mouthwatering food to elaborate suite upgrades. The airline continues to uphold a new standard when it comes to Business Class. Even as many other airlines compete and create luxury flying experiences, Singapore Airlines’ service standard remains unmatched.

I fell asleep on a long haul ANA flight to Tokyo, and woke up to the flight attendant tucking me in. On our flight home, with the same attentive service, my son asked me to tell the flight attendant to leave us alone. Meanwhile, flying domestic, you could be dying of thirst with no flight attendant for hours on end.

Don’t get me started on hotels. Okay fine, just a few.

Each of The Peninsula Hotels around the world consistently earn top spots on the world’s best lists for good reason. Founded in Hong Kong nearly a century ago, the brand itself is synonymous with luxury. How many of our domestic hotel brands can say the same?

Meanwhile, Aman Hotels, best known for incredible locations woven into natural settings, are considered the most exclusive in the world. Headquartered in Singapore, the hotel and real estate group focused on sustainable development, with commitments to local culture, people, and social responsibility. Needless to say, Amangiri blew me away. 

Then there’s Banyan Tree Hotels & Resorts, next on my list. Another Asian-born group setting a new standard of sustainable luxury with its all villa, sanctuary-like properties. Back in 2009, before opening its first resort, the group launched The Banyan Tree Global Foundation, creating long term value for stakeholders and destinations. As part of these efforts, each resort plants 2,000 trees per year, with the help of the community and resort guests alike. 

There’s a common thread—the gold standard established by Asian hospitality is about more than luxury, more than caring for guests, it’s about caring for our planet, too.

Let’s celebrate Asian hospitality and its influence on our industry and the world. Let’s celebrate the Asian spirit of service, from the friendly skies, to luxury and sustainable hotels, to cab drivers who go out of their way to make our day. Let’s celebrate Asian communities both in our own backyard, and abroad. 

Let’s do our part to stop Asian hate, and spread Asian love.