Planning International Events

While the U.S. economy sees continued growth, a key driver of the success of domestic companies comes from international business, making up almost 50% of revenue for the S&P 500 companies.   

It’s not just large companies that are seeing increased business outside of the U.S. borders. The International Congress and Convention Association shares in its most recent statistics report that international events are at the highest levels they have ever been. 

Whether you work for a large multinational corporation, an association with an international audience, or a small firm with a global client base, international meetings and events are an integral part of doing business and are growing.  While U.S. based planners may be well versed in the customs and trends of different domestic cities, states, and regions across the country, bringing your meeting or event abroad takes an entirely different skillset to effectively manage. 

To tackle this challenge, I’ve consulted with industry experts from around the globe to help shed some light on what you need to know when planning your next international event. 

Engage with a Local (and Trusted) DMC 

Especially when working in an unfamiliar territory, engaging early with a Destination Management Company (DMC) can make your life much easier when planning your event.  Lyndsay Hyde of the Four Seasons UK Collection shares:

“While you may know all the major landmarks in a destination, how will you get your group to the attraction? What’s the travel distance from point A to point B?  Where will you host your off-site dinner?” 

A strong, local DMC will not only help address the logistics, but also help to build an itinerary specific to your group’s needs, tastes and budget. 

Marc Haeni of Kuoni Destination Management advises:

“Having boots on the ground allows for unique relationship building and keeping up with the latest product developments in the region to deliver creative events at the best value.” 

As you may not be a local expert on your host country, DMCs act as your local experts that will know what places will and won’t be a good fit for your group and can help to create a transformative experience for your attendees. Most qualified DMCs have a vetted list of vendor partners that they regularly work with and trust that often provide very competitive pricing compared to the open market. 

All Meeting Space (or Beds for that Matter) Aren’t Created Equal 

While in the U.S. we are accustomed to F&B minimums as the standard “charge” for a meeting room rental, you will seldom find that in places like Europe, where a flat rental fee is the norm. 

“Hotels will charge room rentals with no food and beverage minimum spends in place. It is likely you will find it difficult to find a hotel that is willing to offer an F&B minimum spend.”  

Lindsay Hyde

What you may find instead is a Daily Delegate Rate or DDR for short.  This is a per person rate that includes meals, snack breaks, minimal A/V, and the meeting room rental. 

Also, as some international cities struggle to accommodate larger programs (150 rooms+), you may want to consider a split-program. In Victoria, B.C., for example, for a large event at the convention center, many of the Victoria Harbor hotels all work closely together to make it easy on planners to run a split program for your group. 

On the topic of hotel beds, Julie Malecha of Prestige Global Meeting Source advises:

“While a ‘Queen bed’ is a consistent size in the U.S., the same ‘Queen’ may be two twin beds pulled together in Europe.” 

It is in your best interest to ask many questions before contracting with a property to ensure you are getting what you want.   

Research the Country’s Requirements for Customs and Immigration 

Miguel Angel Salazar of Olympus Tours recommends planning ahead:

“Don’t wait until the last minute to know what the country’s requirements are in terms of a visa. As not necessarily all participants hold a U.S. passport, it may take some time for them to get their travel documents in order.” 

The same holds true for customs restrictions, especially if your event includes machinery, working material, etc. 

“It is important to be fully aware to make the necessary arrangements or seek the help of a customs broker.” 

Thankfully, your trusted DMC should also be able to assist with this. 

It’s not just the customs and immigration requirements that you should be aware of, but also the cultural norms and religion of the host country.  Thulan Banh of the Rosewood Hotel Group counsels:

“If your group likes to party and drink, do not take them to a Muslim country. If your group tends to be a little rowdy, don’t take them to a 5-star property where they can’t enjoy themselves because of the hotel rules.” 

Understanding and planning for these cultural nuances can create for a unique experience for attendees.  

Time is the Ultimate Luxury 

Now that you’ve engaged with your trusted DMC and you’ve researched the immigrations and customs of your host country, it’s time to plan your event! 

Patrick Smith of Leading Hotels of the World recommends:

“Build in ample free time in your program’s agenda. The tendency is to pack a group’s program with too many activities (especially if they are traveling overseas) with the fear that their guests will be bored.  Free time is the ultimate luxury and the ultimate gift you can give your attendees.” 

Thulan Banh agrees:

“If you are planning an incentive program overseas, it does not make sense to make it just 3 or 4 nights.  By the time the jetlag is over, it is time to come home.  Make it a minimum of 5-7 nights if you have to fly more than 10 hours to get there. It is good to plan an agenda for the group that allows some free time for the guests to explore on their own.  That is often the best way to enjoy the journey.” 

Value Added Tax (VAT) 

Dean Swift of VAT IT advises:

“The majority of clients that are looking abroad for their next event are unaware of the ability to reclaim their VAT that is charged to them. While each country has its own VAT, it can range from 7% to 25% and is charged on nearly everything from a bottle of water to a hotel room.” 

When you calculate the total spend of your event abroad, even 7% can account for a significant savings.  As these countries aren’t in the business of making it easy to reimburse you for your VAT spend, it’s important to partner with a trusted and established organization like VAT IT to help facilitate the reimbursement process. 

In summary, working closely with trusted partners, whether in your market or abroad, can provide a wealth of local knowledge and information, as well as help reduce stress and risk from planning your next international event.  Teamed up with the right resources, you can create a transformative experience for your attendees with lasting memories for years to come. 

What are your international planning experiences or tips? 

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