International meetings are increasingly important as global companies are on the rise, whether that’s U.S. corporations with outposts and employees in multiple countries or those with clients across the globe. And as the ante is continually upped for incentive programs, planners frequently turn to foreign destinations to delivery extraordinary experiences.
Whatever the goal, when planning meetings beyond U.S. borders, it’s best to get advice from tourism offices, convention bureaus and DMCs in order to ensure meeting success. Here’s what some of the top international experts have to say.
Caroline Pidroni, director of sales and marketing for the Switzerland Convention & Incentive Bureau, calls her country “Europe in a nutshell.” Despite its small size, it offers meeting planners “many options, including the opportunity to experience the language, traditions and gastronomy of four distinct cultures in one place.”
Pidroni wants planners to know that Switzerland is a year-round destination with four distinct seasons and something for everyone, and that it’s not as expensive as many think.
“Backed by a rock-solid economy and the Swiss franc (CHF) instead of the euro, travel and entertainment is competitively priced,” she says. “For starters, breakfast nationwide and public transportation in select cities are included in the room rate. Hard to beat, too, is the VAT, or Value Added Tax. At just 3.8 percent on accommodation and breakfast, 8 percent for most goods and services and 2.5 percent on sports and cultural events, Swiss VAT rates are the lowest in Europe. Plus, qualifying foreign companies are eligible for VAT refunds.”
Pidroni adds, “Planners are often unaware that published rates in Switzerland include all service charges, taxes, tips and gratuities, and Swiss hotels don’t charge resort fees. Thus, when they’re comparing Switzerland to other countries, they’re not really comparing ‘apples with apples.’ ”
The Switzerland Convention & Incentive Bureau, says Pidroni, is a one-stop shop for planners. “We assist with RFPs, including researching destinations and venues, arranging site inspections and helping with presentations. Educating prospective clients on all available MICE options is another major focus. From connecting planners with local CVBs, DMCs, hotels, transportation companies and other suppliers to providing maps, brochures, giveaway ideas and access to our photo and video gallery, we’re here to make your life easier — all free of charge.”
Switzerland’s reputation and national pride also make it a stellar meetings destination. “ ’Reliability’ is a byword for neutral, stable Switzerland, where adherence to order and efficiency is as accurate as the country’s legendary timepieces,” Pidroni says. “Swiss workers pride themselves on striving for perfection. The result for visiting groups is a meetings experience that’s worry-free.”
Switzerland, Pidroni adds, “may be small, but mixing precise predictability with delightful surprises, this ancient land in the heart of Europe offers a powerful package for groups.”
Current exchange rates favor U.S. companies meeting in Scotland. Richard Knight, director of marketing, the Americas for VisitScotland Business Events, says, “The North American market is currently enjoying a very attractive exchange rate, which can be combined with the possibility of VAT reclaim.”
In addition, Knight says, “Scotland offers meeting planners a backdrop of beauty and history that will inspire delegates, as well as deep-seated history in many of the world’s biggest industries such as pharmaceuticals, finance and life sciences.” Add ease of moving around the country, friendly, hospitable service and English as the first language, and “Scotland is an ideal meeting place.”
Knight also emphasizes accessibility. “Direct flights from New York and Toronto are available at only six hours and 45 minutes, and other direct flights operate regularly from Chicago, Philadelphia and Montreal.” Knight also points out that traveling to Scotland is very convenient as there are “seven direct flights daily from the U.S. servicing Edinburgh and Glasgow.”
Another bonus: There are no visa requirements for U.S. citizens.
And contracts should be easy. “The United States accounts for the largest international market for Scotland,” Knight says. “Contracts and engagement with facilities, venues, hotels and service providers throughout Scotland are easy, with many of the larger organizations even accepting payment and contracting in U.S. dollars. Any issues or challenges that arise are easily alleviated with the assistance of the Business Events team.”
The biggest challenge for U.S. planners is choosing among the many options. The most effective way to overcome this, Knight says, is to work with the VisitScotland Business Events team, which has personnel based all over Scotland, in Toronto and in London, servicing North and South American markets. “This free, impartial service is available to all planners and makes delivering programs and proposing ideas to clients easy.”
As for incentives, Knight says, “Scotland punches way above its weight in this arena due to its status as the ‘Home of Golf’ with more than 600 golf courses, more than 125 whisky distilleries, 800-plus castles and the many unique and historic venues located across the country that are perfect for any event.”
And because of Scotland’s compact size, time isn’t wasted traveling between events and destinations.
Scotland delivers in terms of meeting facilities, too. “Scotland offers state-of-the-art conference centres, including the EICC, SECC and Hydro Arena, as well as facilities in Aberdeen, which are at this very moment being expanded and redeveloped with a brand new conferencing and hotel complex. There are also numerous unique venues and world-class hotels capable of hosting both large and small meetings. The world-famous Gleneagles Hotel, for instance, has a 2,000-capacity conference centre.”
Whether the meeting is big or small, whether the questions relate to security and safety or whisky and golf, Knight says the VisitScotland Business Events team can help.
Our neighbor to the south offers much for groups, including multiple flights and relatively short flight times. Amanda Nemeth, president of Meeting Incentive Experts (MIE), a destination management company, works closely with the Mexico Tourism Board and points out that, “Mexico is easily accessible, offers a large variety of hotels and excursions for every budget, and has the warmth and hospitality-driven attitude of the Mexican people.”
Mexico Tourism, MIE and other organizations provide extensive help for planners. “We educate planners about the benefits selecting Mexico can bring to their companies and how to increase their ROI,” Nemeth says. “With an expert DMC, they have a valued partner that unites international and regional resources to help them accomplish their meeting goals. Our local Mexican knowledge and preferred partnerships provide for innovative experiences that are custom-made while utilizing economics that make sense.”
For example, Nemeth says, “There is normally no fee for meeting space contracted on-property, and there is a tax exemption for meetings equal to 16 percent.” Additionally, pricing is typically based on the U.S. dollar so there’s no currency confusion.
Planners should understand how the 16 percent meetings exemption has to be quantified, how attendees have to be registered and documented, what kind of payment method is allowed and how the meeting must be set up (almost everything must be done through the meeting hotel).
Beyond economics, Nemeth points to Mexico’s rich, diverse cultural experiences as a draw for attendees. She notes that one misconception about Mexico is that it’s not upscale enough. While there are hotels for every budget, among them are upscale properties from well-known luxury brands.
As planners consider Mexico, Nemeth offers the following: “Clarify fact from fiction; use resources such as the local destination CVBs and the Mexico Tourism Board. Consider the value of all-inclusive properties compared to EP (European Plan) properties. And remember that some U.S. laws and regulations don’t apply in Mexico.”
Overall, Nemeth says, there are many reasons to bring a meeting to Mexico, including “the 0 percent VAT tax exemption, accessibility, destination variety and unsurpassed hospitality.”
Singapore is now even easier to reach. Singapore Airlines has expanded its U.S. operations, and in June United Airlines launched direct flights between San Francisco and Singapore.
But planners will find that it’s their time after arrival in the city that makes the real difference.
Singapore Exhibition & Convention Bureau (SECB) wants planners to know that it’s a one-stop resource. “Our key value to meeting planners is our ability to connect them to local stakeholders most relevant to them, their groups and their businesses, including government agencies, private-sector stakeholders and key contacts in their respective industries, allowing them to develop and grow their business interests in Singapore with ease. We are able to support meeting planners through financial and non-financial means. Our ‘whole of government’ approach allows the SECB to work closely with our fellow government agencies, making Singapore compact not just in size but also in how we seamlessly function as a transparent, well-oiled organization to support meetings and businesses.“
To that end, SECB can open doors and connect planners with like-minded communities, partners and sources of support; help planners understand and navigate Singapore’s business landscape; and help facilitate behind-the-scenes tours in various industries and sectors that are not typically accessible to the public.
Moreover, SECB notes, “Doing business in Singapore is completely transparent; processes and regulations are transparent, there are no hidden costs.”
Singapore also continually improves its infrastructure to support meetings and business, including providing enhanced connectivity, an extensive array of convention and exhibition facilities and diverse accommodations, notes SEBC, adding, “Singapore values efficiency, convenience and cleanliness” — positive elements for any meeting.
As for facilities, “Suntec Singapore Convention & Exhibition Centre, Marina Bay Sands Expo & Convention Centre and the Singapore Expo with its MAX Atria wing are all suitable for large-scale international exhibitions and conferences,” according to SEBC. “Together with Raffles City Convention Centre and Resorts World Sentosa among others, these venues offer world-class conference and meeting facilities, as well as nearby accommodations and dining.”
New Zealand is safe, politically stable, and English is the primary language. No visa is required, and, no, it doesn’t take two days to get there. The Business Events arm of Tourism New Zealand notes that from the U.S. West Coast, New Zealand is a 12-hour, nonstop flight.
Once a group arrives, it’s easy to get around New Zealand. For those who want to experience both the North and South islands, it’s a quick 11/2-hour flight between the two.
New Zealand is a premier incentive destination, and Tourism New Zealand offers solid assistance to incentive planners, including customized presentations and DVDs so planners can sell their vision of the trip, and itinerary suggestions tailored to groups of all sizes and tastes. “Our work to promote New Zealand as an incentive destination is delivering results, accounting for more than $94 million (NZD) in estimated converted value last year,” says Bjoern Spreitzer, Tourism New Zealand general manager Americas and Europe.
One of the country’s greatest assets and biggest enticement for incentive groups is the stunning scenery (think “Lord of the Rings” films) and the array of adventures the country offers. From globally celebrated treks to plunging off the top of Auckland’s Sky Tower to kayaking pristine waters and tasting acclaimed wine, there’s no end of possibilities.
New Zealand offers a Conference Assistance Programme to help planners in every way. “The programme can evaluate the financial feasibility of your conference and assist with customized bid documents and strategic marketing support to enhance your bid’s chances,” Tourism New Zealand says.
Also available to planners is Tourism New Zealand’s comprehensive image library, booklets and fact sheets, recommendations for local DMCs and tailored pre- and post-conference suggestions.
New Zealand currently offers excellent events infrastructure, but when the New Zealand International Convention Centre opens in 2019 in Auckland, it will up the ante, accommodating up to 4,000 for events and up to 3,150 for conferences.
For planners considering New Zealand, the tourism bureau recommends sourcing well in advance of program dates to ensure availability and working with a local DMC — in part to offset problems created by the time difference. “Working with a New Zealand-based DMC means your program is being worked on while you sleep, in addition to the benefit of tapping into the creativity of local providers.”
It’s no secret that Australia offers remarkable landscapes and marine environments, multicultural experiences, stellar teambuilding opportunities and sophisticated, engaging cities.
It’s also a dream business destination for North American groups, thanks in part to Business Events Australia. Penny Lion, executive general manager events, Tourism Australia, notes that Business Events Australia has a dedicated team in North America — Paul Griffin based in Boston and Chris Ingram in Los Angeles — that can provide planners with a wealth of information and support as well as expert guidance. “In addition to this,” she says, “we have a range of tools available, including images, videos and inspirational fact sheets with sample programs that really help bring the destination to life when pitching to clients. We also host qualified buyers on educational trips to Australia, so that North American planners can truly experience our incredible product for themselves.”
Planners will find that organizing a conference in Australia is not markedly different than in the United States, even negotiating contracts. “Our business events industry, including hotels, will often take a tailored approach, recognizing that there’s no such thing as one-size-fits-all,” Lion says. “They will discuss your requirements with you to ensure your needs are met.” It’s also worth noting, she adds, “We don’t charge or expect gratuity, and the price you’re provided includes all costs, so no ‘plus-plus.’ ”
Anyone who has been to Australia is keenly aware of the country’s powerful effect on visitors, just one asset that makes it so compelling. But for those who have not visited, Lion says there are a couple of challenges. “Our friendly people, spectacular landscapes and fresh, innovative food and wine combine to provide a truly inspirational and unique experience, and that’s often a challenge to get across if people have never been to Australia. To help planners, we’ve created a series of short films that show Australia’s effect on actual planners and their thoughts on our experiences.” Planners can visit the video gallery on www.australia.com/businessevents to access all the films, which also can be provided as download links for presentations.
Australia may seem far away, but in fact, Lion points out, the approximate 15-hour flight from Los Angeles is shorter than flights to many other popular meeting destinations in the Middle East and Asia. “It’s simply a meal, two movies and a sleep away,” she says.
It’s not an overstatement to say that Australia has it all, whether for business conferences or incentive awards. “While we are fun-loving by nature, we take business seriously, and the aim is always to help convert business to the satisfaction of both parties,” Lion says. “Our business-events industry is very easy to work with, efficient, and we have a wealth of experience in hosting events of every size and scale. Add to this Australia’s world-class food and wine offering and pristine environments, and you have a winning combination for a business event.”
Dubai’s Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing (Dubai Tourism) has a lofty goal: to make Dubai the leading destination for global travel, business and events by 2020. Issam Kazim, CEO of Dubai Corporation for Tourism and Commerce Marketing, which is part of Dubai Tourism, makes clear why that goal is within range. “Global connectivity, great hospitality, state-of-the-art facilities and world-class infrastructure are historically the reasons behind the city’s robust business events offering. Today, Dubai is adding to these traditional values by focusing on establishing Dubai as a knowledge hub, which will be another key driver to attract more business events.”
Part of United Arab Emirates (UAE), Dubai faces some challenges in marketing to U.S. planners related to cost, safety and gender equality. Easily answered is the luxury label. High-end experiences are available here, Kazim says, however, the city’s offerings also include “a substantial variety of value-for-money alternatives. Everything from transport options and a growing mid-market hotel sector, to restaurants and meeting venues offer pricing that’s competitive with other global hubs in Europe, Asia and North America.”
As for safety, Kazim says, “The UAE is one of the safest places in the world, ranked in the top three for safety and security according to the World Economic Forum Travel and Tourism Competitive Report 2015, with a stable government and a department of Dubai Police dedicated solely to visitors. As one of the most cosmopolitan and multicultural cities in the world, Dubai is an advocate for peace and stability, and proud to be a connecting hub between East and West.”
U.S. planners may not know how much work UAE has done related to gender equality. “The constitution of the UAE stipulates that all people are equal before the law, and the government enacts both federal and local laws to preserve and maintain the dignity of every individual,” Kazim says. He notes that Dubai’s ruler, His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, “has been at the forefront of encouraging women’s empowerment in the UAE. Last year, during the Government Summit in Dubai, he announced the formation of the Emirates Council for Gender Balance, conceived to boost the UAE’s efforts in helping bolster women’s roles as the nation continues to evolve.”
Kazim says there are no marked differences in planning a meeting in Dubai versus other destinations. He recommends connecting with the Dubai Business Events team, which has staff in the United States and which attends many industry events, including IMEX America, where planners can make contact.
Few countries match Dubai for incentive enticements. “Visitors can discover the essence of the region through desert safaris, falconry and camel riding,” Kazim says, “while adrenaline junkies can choose from options that include sky-diving over Palm Jumeirah, diving with sharks at Dubai Aquarium and skiing at one of the world’s largest indoor snow parks.”
The attractions keep coming. In August, the city launched IMG Worlds of Adventure, the world’s largest indoor themed destination, and Dubai Opera opened its doors. “Later this year,” Kazim adds, “Dubai Parks & Resorts, built by dXb Entertainments, will open its three linked theme parks — Motiongate Dubai, bringing to life the biggest characters in Hollywood; Bollywood Parks Dubai; and Legoland Dubai, which also includes a Lego-themed waterpark.”
Luxury, value, adventure, fantasy, a strategic location between Asia and Africa — Dubai delivers what planners need. “Dubai,” Kazim says, “is a unique and dynamic business-event destination that prides itself on legacy creation and its inherent spirit of possibility.” C&IT