Successful Global MeetingsMarch 1, 2014

9 Critical Planning Tips When Hosting International Attendees By
March 1, 2014

Successful Global Meetings

9 Critical Planning Tips When Hosting International Attendees

CIT-2014-03Mar-Column-860x418Mary MacGregorMary MacGregor joined BI WORLDWIDE (BIW) in January of 2013 as corporate vice president – event solutions. She comes to BIW after serving as the leader of business development, events and marketing for other major third-party organizations. In her current role she is responsible for all operating areas of the BIW Event Solutions Group including purchasing, design, delivery, group air, individual incentive travel, onsite operations, technology, communications and merchandise. She leads a team of more than 175 industry professionals who deliver memorable experiences and measurable results for their customers. In 2011, Mary served as global president of Site (Society of Incentive & Travel Professionals). For more information, visit or email

Hosting meetings and events with international participants has become the norm for many organizations. Making sure global meetings with multicultural participants is successful requires careful forethought, extensive planning and immense flexibility.

Due to the tremendous complexity of internationally attended events, always consider hiring an experienced global event planning agency to help you. Their firsthand knowledge and extensive network of government, transportation, hotel, facility and destination partners will be invaluable.

Whether you decide to plan your own event or work with an agency, here are nine critical factors to keep in mind to make your event successful.

1. Analyze Your Potential Attendees’ Country of Passport Origin.

It’s important to know what passports your participants hold — not necessarily where they are currently living. This will determine what destinations can be considered and how long ahead you’ll need to plan for visas. You don’t want to select a destination that won’t allow citizens of certain countries to enter.

2. Plan Global Meetings Farther Ahead Than You Normally Would for a Domestic Event.

Providing letters of invitation and then obtaining passports, visas and other entry requirements can take months. With today’s volatile political situations, governmental agencies often can be extremely slow and methodical in processing paperwork. Attendees should be working on gaining necessary documentation at least six to eight months before your event takes place.

3. Consider Your Event Site Carefully.

While smaller countries, cities and out-of-the way resorts certainly can be appealing in terms of experience and cost, they may not be able to provide the support services you will need to serve your international guests. Make sure your destination can easily provide:

  • Convenient airline connections. For events taking place over seven or fewer days, travelers will want to have as few connections as possible and reasonable layovers in connecting cities; should a flight be cancelled, you don’t want your guests stranded for several days waiting for the next inbound or outbound flight.
  • Translation services. You may need translators as airport greeters, at the hospitality desk, at the check-in desk, to accompany tours and offsite events, and to attend dinners and meetings. Larger cities will have more resources to draw upon.
  • Culturally appropriate menus and nearby restaurants. For example, the Indian diet is very specific so you many need to hire an Indian chef if you have a large Indian guest list; South Americans prefer to dine later, so nearby restaurants that are open late will be desirable. Venues should have the expertise and flexibility to provide basic food needs for the variety of diets your guests may have.
  • Embassy or consulate support. Should a guest run into any difficulties, illnesses or crisis back home, help from their country’s embassy or consulate can be invaluable.
  • Acceptance of diversity. Small out-of-the-way places can be very insular in any country, so be sure the location is generally welcoming to international guests with very different customs.
  • Smoking availability. Most U.S. hotels restrict smoking or are smoke-free. Yet, because many international travelers smoke, you’ll need to work with your venue to accommodate smokers in the U.S. as well as accommodate U.S. non-smokers when in other countries.
  • Access to services for foreign travelers. This can include multilingual hotel staff, currency exchange availability onsite or nearby, international power and phone jacks in rooms, and foreign television stations and newspapers.

4. Study Calendars Before Picking the Event Dates.

Bank holidays, national holidays and religious holidays can impact whether guests choose to attend and what services will be available. For example, Muslim guests will not travel over Ramadan, and U.S. guests will want to be home over the Thanksgiving holiday. Most travelers like to do some shopping and touring so it’s important that stores are open and local attractions aren’t extremely busy with local tourists.

5. Set Expectations With Pre-Trip Communications.

Develop webinars, videos, interactive Web platforms and print communications that carefully explain to the international travelers what the customs are of the event destination. Encourage travelers to immerse themselves in this new cultural experience. Guests may choose not to change their own habits to adapt to different customs, but they must at least be aware of them.

For example:

  • Time expectations. In some cultures, a time is merely a suggestion not a mandate. If you will stick to a specific schedule, make that clear. If dinner is scheduled at 7:00 p.m., make sure guests know that the food will be served at that time. Or if a tour leaves at 8:00 a.m., the bus will not wait for late-comers. Likewise if the cultural norms are that an 8:00 p.m. dinner means you can show up as late at 9:00 p.m., make that clear too. Also describe if the country uses 12-hour or 24-hour time notations.
  • Food expectations. Describe what foods are normally served at that destination for breakfast, lunch, dinner and receptions. Provide lists of foods and how they are customarily prepared and eaten. If you will provide alternative menus, let the travelers know.
  • Clothing and dress expectations. In addition to weather, guests must know what clothing is considered appropriate in hotel lobbies, at meetings, on tours, for parties, when entering religious or government sites, etc. Strolling in the hotel lobby in swimwear is fine in the Caribbean, but not acceptable in many other locales.
  • Gender mixing. If attendees have gender restrictions at public events such as dinners or on buses, guests need to be aware if your event will offer separate accommodations or if they will need to accept a mixed group. They should also be aware if your staff is mixed gender.
  • Behavior expectations. Educate attendees about how to properly greet others (formally or by first name), how to approach a handshake, how to distribute a business card, the significance of a head nod or a specific hand gesture, the appropriateness of maintaining eye contact, and other local customs that can create very uncomfortable or insulting situations if participants are unaware.
  • Safety expectations. Make sure attendees are well-versed in local scams that take advantage of tourists and what areas to avoid.

6. Be Aware of the Complexities of Global Shipping.

Shipping items for global events can be extremely tedious. Duties, customs issues and a plethora of paperwork add complexity and time. While it may be fun to give every attendee a tote bag and T-shirt, getting those things into some countries can take months and be very expensive. They also can become easily “lost” and never arrive at all.

Even if you purchase participant gifts locally, make sure the items can be exported and then imported legally at the participant’s home destination. Make technology your partner when providing conference print materials: Whenever possible, give travelers the ability to download materials onto their laptops or tablets, or access the material digitally when they return home.

7. Staff Up.

You will need more staff for an event that has international participants. Everything will take longer, and you will need to access services and make arrangements that attendees at a domestic event wouldn’t need or would handle themselves. Pre-event communications with participants will take longer as you work through time-zone issues. You may have to hire translators or interpreters for phone conversations to gather important information or help handle travel arrangements.

Transportation to and from the airport will be more complex, especially if travelers have done their own ticketing or haven’t informed you about their arrival and departure plans. Hotel check-in may take longer if you need to help with translations.

8. Prepare All Travel Communications in English, the Destination Local Language and the Traveler’s Native Language.

With English being widely spoken as an international business language, most travelers will speak some English or can hand their documents to someone who can interpret for them. If the travel materials are also in the destination local language, the travelers can ask a local for help, too.

9. Accept That Global Meetings Won’t Always Go Perfectly.

Here’s where your sense of humor kicks in. You won’t be able to please all the people all the time, but you can still host a wonderful event. If you are gracious and welcoming, most people in most cultures will respond in kind.

The opportunity to bring together international travelers can be exhilarating, educational and enriching. Being well-prepared and having the ability to adapt will serve you well. Doing it yourself is possible, but working with an experienced global agency will likely save you time, stress and expense in the long run. C&IT

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