Meeting in Milan. Strategizing in Spain. Incentivizing in Ireland. Over the past several years, changes in the meetings and events industry have created more choices than ever for meetings and incentive programs to be held internationally.
According to Melissa Park, owner of Melissa Park Events, there are many factors to consider when planning international events, but her top five would be: cultural differences, language barriers, regional laws, the event budget and ensuring local promotional messaging.
“What works in one [destination], doesn’t necessarily work in another,” Park says. “If you’re producing a roadshow-style event, it’s imperative that you lean on your local team to review your entire program and make any necessary adjustments to better fit your audience.”
Where you don’t have an existing team, Park stresses that venue suppliers can be a source of reliable information.
Several years ago, Park produced a conference in multiple destinations around the world. In addition to translation requirements, her local contacts recommended that she delay the start time in Japan to mid-morning and run through into the evening, rather than following the standard programming they had been delivering elsewhere.
“The program commenced with keynotes that shared key information and announcements we wanted everyone to hear, so had we not received this helpful tip, we would have been presenting our most important content to an empty room,” Park says.
Another challenge is ensuring your messaging translates in tone and language. In certain destinations, such as New York and Paris, being direct is appreciated; however, this can be interpreted as rude and abrupt in other locations.
“The attendee-experience should be a focal point when planning,” Park says. “Creating Instagrammable moments to encourage attendees to capture a certain element of the event and share it on social media has become as standard as a coffee break. However, did you know that taking selfies and the use of selfie sticks is illegal in many countries around the world? A fact you’d likely never look up before investing in a cool photo opportunity, but could also get you in big trouble without knowing it.”
By taking the time to talk through event plans with key individuals who understand the culture of a particular locale, meeting planners will be able to ask the key question: Is there anything programmed that should be modified or removed altogether?
“Doing so will allow you to quickly learn if any element of your event is not a fit,” Park says.
And when it comes to budgeting for international events, planners should make every dollar work for them. At the same time, it’s imperative that planners communicate to their client that if there’s an economic crisis, they will need backup funds.
“Something like this is completely out of a host’s hands, but unfortunately it’s a real factor that needs to be considered,” Park says.
Thomas Samuels, president of Cardinal Expo, a full-service meetings, trade show and exhibit services company, says when planning international events, a big consideration is accounting for the travel-time and shipping-needs of speakers, exhibitors and attendees.
“People who come to your event from abroad will likely need a little extra time to get over their jet lag before they’re ready to participate in the event,” he says. “If you’re offering a discounted block of hotel rooms associated with your event, make sure that the date range for the deal accounts for this extra time. …If you’re putting up any international speakers or presenters, fly them over at least one full day before your event starts so they can get acclimated. You may also want to send them information in advance about what kind of weather to expect so they pack accordingly.”
If your event includes an expo, Samuels recommends planners make sure that exhibitors from abroad have the time they need to ship internationally their booths and materials. These exhibitors might not be able to get their shipments timed precisely enough to ship directly to the event site, so try to make sure there is a generous window for them to ship to a warehouse in advance. “When your exhibitors are less stressed and have everything they need, the event performs better and benefits exhibitors and attendees alike,” Samuels says.
Meeting planners also need to consider access, says Sue Gill, founder and meeting planner at YES (Your Event Solutions).
“With the reduction of services into regions, it is key to be knowledgeable on the capabilities of access to prevent a chore in the travel aspect and risks for it delaying their conference or event,” Gill says. “They also should take into account not just the facilities of the venue they are booking, but why someone would want to visit that destination, what it has it to offer, what makes it special or unique and more. Make the experiential moments part of the big event.”
Gill and her team at YES have planned many international events in the last three years. Currently, they have a group in Chamonix-Mont-Blanc, where they have invited their top 50 customers from the U.K. to enjoy the Alps complete with exclusive ski guides.
“We also offer great lunch and dinner venues, husky sledding and walking the Aiguille du Midi, along with personalized notes and gifting for all winners,” Gill says.
If you’re hosting an event with speakers, exhibitors and attendees from around the world, you should be prepared for the possibility of language barriers and cultural differences. Samuels says one of the great appeals of conferences and other meetings is being able to learn and network, both of which require the ability to communicate.
“Staff your event with translators and interpreters to make sure that all [attendees] are comfortable and can experience the event,” he says. “When planning your event, you might also engage the services of a cultural consultant. This can help you to make sure that your event’s activities do not accidentally offend or clash with someone from another culture, as well as identify opportunities to be more inclusive and welcoming.”
Alyssa Miller Kolat, CMP, director of meetings and logistics at The T!LT Group, says that even when using international chains, contracting terms can differ greatly outside of the U.S. Foremost, there is typically a full-deposit schedule prior to arriving onsite.
“Making those payments and arranging wire transfers with a favorable exchange rate is a gamble,” Kolat says. “Cancellation clauses can favor the hotel, not the client. I have seen clauses that require full payment prior to arrival, including no-show fees for the full booking, in which case, the property double dips the full fee of the stay and is able to resell the room.”
She advises talking through terms and conditions along the site-selection journey.
“You cannot assume that a handshake agreement in the early stages of contracting will be honored,” Kolat says. “Rarely have I seen the ability to negotiate early check-ins, no-show waivers or date changes.”
If you are planning an international event, you’ll have more hoops to jump through. Samuels recommends taking a trip before the event or hiring staff in the country to help you. “You’ll also need to familiarize yourself with any laws or regulations that might affect your event, including permits, safety regulations and insurance requirements,” Samuels says.
Kolat stresses that site inspections do not mirror the onsite experience. If you do not have an opportunity to travel to the location and establish relationships with your suppliers, you are at a disadvantage, she says.
“Properties and DMCs will show you their best on a site inspection, and rightly so, but the on-the-ground experience may lack the customer care that you received while on the site visit,” Kolat says. “Include all the amenities offered during the site visit, and although tedious, take copious notes and photos. Use your time wisely, if you encounter a property and/ or venue opportunity that you find is not a fit, take your onsite champion aside and move on. Travel time and expense are precious. Make the most of it.”
Gill points out another basic challenge involves enticing the potential attendees to travel, after participating virtually for the last few years.
“The availability is tight at many of the locations unless booked far out,” she says. “Leisure travel is booming and the MICE venues are not now reliant on corporate business. Also, rates are higher than pre-COVID, which is a sell job to the end client having to explain cost-of-living increases.”
“Consider a super guest speaker,” Gill suggest. “At the moment, international rugby legend Scott Gibbs is hosting trips and offering incredible personal experiences for the C-suite and coaching. In a nutshell: stand out. Look for ways to do something different when planning international events.”
While many meeting planners set their sights on international favorites such as London, Paris or Tokyo, there are many other gems.
With its endless green expanses, spectacular coastlines and welcoming atmosphere, Ireland has become a favorite choice for international meetings and incentive programs. Larger cities, such as Dublin, Killarney and Galway, certainly boast a wealth of venues and accommodations. Ireland also has many smaller gems dotting the Emerald Isle that can host events. Renovated castles, historic hotels and large convention centers offer cultural experiences throughout the country.
According to Meet in Ireland, the official business events brand, the country features two convention centers (Dublin and Killarney), 60,000 hotel rooms and more than 230 venues and hotel-event spaces. It’s home to 1,200 multinational companies.
Known for its international business community, where English is the first language of business, Hong Kong has emerged as a favorite gathering spot for events in Asia. The region offers easy international travel accommodations and also boasts no VAT-hotel tax, customs tariffs or sales tax, making it a cost-effective option.
The AsiaWorld-Expo in Hong Kong offers a wealth of different spaces for events, including an indoor arena that provides seating for 14,000. Nearby, the Kowloonbay International Trade and Exhibition Center also offers an expansive number of flexible event spaces, including a massive convention center space.
While some meeting planners may consider that hosting an event in the Arabian Peninsula is complicated, think again. Dubai has quickly become a beacon for meetings and events in part to its luxurious venues, state-of-the-art technology and rich history.
Recently, Expo City Dubai has emerged as the ideal space for educational, retail, cultural and entertainment experiences. There’s also the Dubai Exhibition Centre, which boasts 468,000 sf of exhibition space. In addition, the Dubai International Convention and Exhibition Centre offers more than 1.3 million sf of event space and is located in the heart of Dubai.
According to Dubai Business Events, the city’s official convention bureau, Dubai provides, “a dynamic business event offering made up of global connectivity, state-of-the-art hotels and venues, first-class infrastructure and great hospitality — in addition to the city’s diverse knowledge base across all industry verticals, including healthcare, education, technology, transport, clean energy, water and space.”
Italy is teeming with historic gems, but the country also offers some amazing meeting and event options in places like Rome, Florence, Milan, Venice and the Amalfi coast.
As one of Europe’s most visited destinations, Rome is easily accessible from all over the world and offers an extensive railway. One favorite Roman venue for meetings, events and conventions is the Palazzo dei Congressi, which features vast meeting halls and an auditorium. Various Roman hotels also are favorite venues for international meetings and events, offering multi-functional rooms for sessions.
Gatherings in Florence are ideal for groups looking to venture into the Tuscan countryside. Meetings in southern Italy, along the Amalfi Coast, can be lush with breathtaking vistas, cultural experiences and seaside delights.
Singapore was recently ranked the Top Asia-Pacific Meeting City by the International Congress and Convention Association, according to the Singapore Tourism Board. Rightfully so. With ease of accessibility, streamlined venue options, excellent connectivity and cultural experiences aplenty, Singapore offers innovative meeting and event travel options. The city’s tourism offerings bode well for attendees who are eager to work some and play some.
The Changi Exhibition Centre, Art Science Museum, Gardens by the Bay and National Gallery Singapore are a few favorite venues among meeting planners.
Considered to be a top convention destination, Korea celebrates a unique pairing of its cultural traditions and state-of-the-art technology. Accessible from most major international cities, Korea offers a wide range of venue options, vibrant entertainment and enhanced public safety. The country’s wealth of world heritage sites, unique cultural experiences, and beautiful sights and sounds of Korean culture will leave an imprint on attendees. C&IT