Phelps R. Hope, CMP, is senior vice president of meetings and expositions for Kellen Company, an association management company with offices and representation in the United States, Europe, China, the Middle East, India and Southeast Asia. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 678-303-2962.
Taking your meeting international can be a heavy lift, regardless of the destination. But certain considerations can make it a lot easier. As you piece together a plan to go global (or if you’re still deciding whether to make that leap in the first place), ask yourself the following questions:
Is it worth it? As with any major decision, look at the potential return on investment (ROI). Is the meeting of value to the organization you represent, and does that value outweigh the higher costs inherent in global meetings? Is it a deal-breaker to keep your event at home? First, consider what it is your group hopes to accomplish — possibly expanding an international membership base or simply giving a nod to existing international members who would appreciate an event in their own backyard. Likewise, oftentimes it is of value to a U.S.-based group to expose its members or employees to the global brand by way of a non-U.S.-based event.
What destination has the most appeal? Going global means more than throwing a dart at the wall and packing your bags, and it certainly is not meant to be a vacation-planning exercise for the key stakeholders. Members of your group likely have preferences, be it tropical destinations in Mexico and South America or historical sites in Europe. Perhaps the Asia-Pacific region holds exotic appeal for your group, or maybe they hope to make key business connections in that region. First, consider the business case for any destination and the reasons that destination would work to satisfy a strategic goal of your organization. Next, consider how adventurous your group is and whether they would welcome that destination as the site for their conference.
Have you done your homework? Vet potential destinations well in advance. Safety and political stability should be a top concern. Next, look at infrastructure, such as public transportation options to and from the airport and to in-town hot spots. How well-connected are the regional airports? For example, direct flights from the USA to some Eastern European destinations such as Hungary and the Czech Republic are limited. A trip that requires multiple connections can drain enthusiasm from both attendees and speakers. The same goes for flight times in and out of the region — think jetlag and other inconveniences. Finally, find out if the destination offers a mix of special event and entertainment venue options for offsite events during the conference.
Are you keeping a sharp eye on costs? Expenses add up quickly abroad. It’s important to consider whether the higher costs of accommodations and entertainment would drive away attendees. That said, there are ways to rein in expenses and make the trip more appealing. International airfares are almost always more expensive than domestic, but hotel rates often can be lower (depending on time of year and destination). Likewise, many European hotel and meeting venues offer a Daily Delegate Rate (DDR) that makes it much easier to plan a cost-effective and inclusive per-person rate where savings can be realized due to the bundled offerings of a DDR.
What about regulations? This is where things can get hairy. Requirements for visas and other special documents vary by country. The U.S. State Department website www.travel.state.gov is an excellent resource to see what’s needed and communicate it back to attendees. China, for example, has a notoriously stringent entry process, and some countries require a “Letter of Invitation” just to get in. As a rule of thumb, let attendees know that they should allow two months for processing of a visa application, and remind attendees that they need to have at least six months remaining before their passport expiration date after they are due to return!
“Remind attendees that they need to have at least six months remaining before their passport expiration date after they are due to return!”
Are you ready to sell? Going international sounds sexy in the early stages, but you have to get exhibitors there. As shipping across borders can be challenging, help them with the legwork. A designated Customs Broker is an easy one-stop-shop for handling international shipments. Similarly, General Services Contractors often are an efficient way to manage subcontracting at the destination. And by negotiating blended labor and materials handling rates, you can save exhibitors a headache. Be upfront about difficult time lines (if anything, pad time lines with a buffer). Lastly, make sure you communicate the increased potential for a stronger ROI to help overcome the additional costs and headaches involved with exhibiting overseas.
Now for the nitty gritty: where to go. Here are a few regional hot spots to keep in mind as you decide on a location.
Europe continues to be a front-runner for international meetings.
Rome — This city is becoming a popular destination, with interesting venues both conventional and new. The city continues to invest in new hotels.
Paris, Strasbourg and Loire Valley — France is attracting more meetings due to corporate headquarters located in the Paris region. Consequently, the French corporate meetings industry is booming.
London — Already a major international hub, London’s investments in the 2012 Olympic Games brought new accommodations, attractions and more.
Vienna — Centrally located in Europe, Vienna is compact, accessible and boasts a solid infrastructure ideal for major gatherings. It also is home to professional and enthusiastic multilingual suppliers.
Berlin — As a world-class center for culture, politics, media and science — and with a booming economy that favors visitors — it’s no wonder this is among the most elite meetings locations.
Madrid — This city is one of the leading locales for international conventions and events. Attendees appreciate a dynamic mix of modern amenities and old-world attractions. And in the dead center of Spain, Madrid is a main hub between Europe and Latin America.
With well-known international hotel brands that put a strong emphasis on brand recognition and a welcoming sense of familiarity, the Middle East is quickly emerging as a popular global destination for meetings.
Dubai and Abu Dhabi — These two city-states located in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) are among the most popular destinations in this exotic region of the world. The geopolitical environment is stable, and the cities certainly prioritize world-class facilities and entertainment options. It’s also a practical destination, as English is a widely spoken language. Both cities are home to expatriate communities, which help to foster an impressive and diverse cultural mix. Additionally, eased travel restrictions and new flight routes have made this region much more accessible to Eastern European countries and India.
South Korea, Hong Kong and Singapore — These three regions stand out in the Asia-Pacific region as the political atmosphere is far less volatile. Likewise, an emerging middle class only adds more economic stability. All three destinations have the benefit of a comforting “Western” feel without sacrificing unique cultural aspects that allow event attendees to feel immersed in something exotic.
Taking a conference international can give you exposure to new markets, create lasting memories for attendees and reach future members, allowing your association’s footprint to grow. All decisions when looking to go international should be approached strategically for desired outcomes of all involved. If done correctly, having a successful meeting outside of the U.S. can create real rewards for your association and attendees. AC&F