Terri Woodin, CMP is Senior Director of Global Meeting Services at Meeting Sites Resource (MSR) in Irvine, California. She has been with MSR since 2012 and is responsible for strategically partnering with MSR customers on all facets of global site research, custom hotel contract negotiations, meeting support services and Strategic Meetings Management (SMM) solutions. Terri is an industry veteran with 35 years in the hospitality industry with extensive experience in hotel operations, hotel sales and as a meeting planner. She currently serves as Secretary on the Rocky Mountain PCMA Board, on The Meeting Professional Advisory Board for MPI, on the APEX Standards Committee and on The School of Hospitality Business at Michigan State University Board of Directors.
Planning and delivering successful international meetings presents a variety of challenges and variables that corporate and association meeting planners do not encounter on the domestic front. Planner surveys reveal that international meetings don’t just take more time to plan and execute, but require more follow-up after the hotel contract is signed, cost more than what was budgeted and require more onsite and destination support services. All that said, the demand for international meetings is on the rise, but clearly, planners are seeking new solutions to assure successful meetings, enhancing the attendee experience and value-based outcomes.
Before getting into the details of specific international destinations, hotel RFP distribution and budgeting, it is important to carefully evaluate the global landscape and potential yellow or red flags. This process can start with the PEST test (political, economic, social and technology). Of course, we just need to read the newspaper or watch the evening news to be reminded of the political unrest that negatively impacts many countries and high appeal destinations, or the global fallout from China’s recent economic decline, or social conflicts and union labor disputes, which impacts services, logistics and costs.
“It is important to carefully evaluate the global landscape. …Start with the PEST test (political, economic, social and technology).”
There are many factors that come into play when evaluating and selecting destinations for consideration. In addition to understanding the past and current political, economic and related issues, it is important to evaluate the current airlift, access and preliminary costs from attendee departure cities, travel and visa requirements, and destination support services (custom brokers, transportation, translation services, technology, etc.). Other important factors include if your organization has offices or personnel in the area, MPI or other industry affiliation chapters in the region, local tourism bureau support options, and season and weather patterns over your preferred meeting dates.
When planning international meetings, there are a multitude of important details that must be incorporated into your strategy and action plan. In addition to understanding the many cultural, language and protocol considerations, hoteliers and suppliers often have different terminology for meeting and event support services, and each country will have policies around travel, visa and immunization requirements. Evaluating currency fluctuations and stability and tax implications in each country (and United States) is another part of the equation.
Starting with the RFP process, in addition to your day-by-day agenda, meeting and event space, group food and beverage, and audio-visual and production support, it is important to assess hotel and municipal taxes, VAT tax and refund policy, hotel fees and surcharges, and what services are delivered by the hotel, or require outside suppliers. International hoteliers generally do charge meeting space rental, but offer meeting packages that include continental breakfast, breaks, lunch and basic AV. Add custom questions to your RFP that allow you to identify all line-item costs and create a preliminary budget by hotel and forecast variable costs.
Whether hotel chains or independents, international hotel contracts often have unrealistic performance obligations for the meeting organization. For domestic meetings, I prepare a custom hotel contract, ready for hotel signature, but for international meetings, I create a modified contract that addresses all performance clauses, mandatory taxes, hotel fees and surcharges (eliminate or reduce), force majeure, hotel support services and liability language. As in the U.S., this is a give-and-take process, with the ultimate goal of achieving measurable savings, mutual performance obligations and assuring contract risk reduction and cost containment measures.
There is an umbrella of high-impact benefits to organizations, stakeholders and attendees when global meetings are well planned and executed, but success today requires a strategic plan. Post meeting, collaborate with key stakeholders and suppliers to evaluate results and outcomes, and use this valuable feedback to apply to future meetings. Yes, meetings are big investments, and when it comes to international meeting management, clearly the bar (and expectations) has been raised!
For a complimentary copy of Terri’s SMM Action Plan for Success, contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org. C&IT