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Meetings Abroad: Are you Prepared?

Tips from global meetings expert Carol Krugman.

Budgeting.
Many meeting planners who have never worked abroad are unaware that the tax structures in other countries are very different. A flat tax on goods and services, known as the VAT in Europe and Asia and IVA in Latin America, can add anywhere from 15 to 28 per cent to the meeting budget, depending on the country. Some countries refund part or all of this tax to foreigners, however not all countries do this and the process is often long and complicated. The important point here is that the additional tax costs must be included in the meeting budget from the outset, so as to avoid a very unpleasant shortfall at the end.

Know the Norms.
The key point about different cultures is, precisely, that they are different. Not better, not worse than your home culture, just different. If a meeting planner is not able and willing to understand, accept and respect the culture of the country in which the meeting is taking place, he/she should consider staying home. If the attendees want everything in the foreign country to be just the way it is at home, then they should stay behind as well. A trusted local partner, such as a Destination Management Company (DMC) or Professional Conference Organizer (PCO) is an excellent resource to help event planners navigate the cultural minefield of different social customs and business practices, not to mention potential threats to safety and security.

Dollars + Sense.
Currency: We are meeting planners, not international currency traders. Don’t try to outguess the financial markets–even the experts can’t do that anymore. But you can and should get expert advice and assistance from people who deal with foreign currency transactions every day. Work in local currency whenever you can. If you are planning a large meeting with a large budget over a long period of time, consider a “forward contract,” which is a way to buy local currency in advance, to protect against negative dollar fluctuations.

Travel Documents: If your group is going overseas, corporate travel management should communicate the most current visa information to attendees for the countries they will be visiting. When going to countries requiring visas, do not underestimate the amount of time it will take to obtain them. It is often worth the fee charged by visa services to enlist their help, especially when dealing with developing areas of the world. These services can obtain visas in a matter of days, rather than weeks or months.

Time changes: Remember that the rest of the world does not work, sleep and eat in your time zone at home. Notwithstanding the 24/7 nature of online communication, you need to adjust your deadlines and work schedules to accommodate anywhere from three to 15 hours difference in time zones.

Lights, Action.
As with currency, visas, shipping and other specialty components of organizing an international meeting, audiovisual and IT requirements are best left to the experts. Experienced corporate event planners know what we don’t know well enough to identify and supervise those who do. Everything from the electrical current to DVD standards to computer keyboards can be different overseas. If you are a Mac versus a PC user, you may have difficulty finding backup equipment or peripherals in some areas of the world. The list of potential pitfalls is long. To avoid frustration, increased costs and sleepless nights onsite, get a local partner, review all your tech needs and follow instructions!

Wow Factor.
For many delegates, just being in the foreign country is the ultimate “wow”! But beyond that, to enrich the experience, this is where DMC’s shine. A private cocktail party on the top of Sugar Loaf overlooking Rio de Janeiro at sunset. A sit-down lunch on a glacier in Switzerland. Working with a local community to paint a schoolhouse outside Bangkok. Attending a sari-wrapping workshop in Hyderabad. A good DMC can propose a variety of memorable activities and experiences that align with both your meeting’s objectives, the profile of the attendees and your budget.

A Friend indeed.
Your best friends: Start with the country’s NTO (National Tourist Organization) and the local DMO (Destination Marketing Organization), each of which can provide a lot of very useful information and assistance at no charge. As noted above, and most valuable, is a local DMC to help you plan realistically and manage efficiently onsite. Also helpful are the networks within the major professional associations such as MPI and PCMA—nothing beats the experience, connections and advice of a fellow meeting planner who has “been there and done that.”

Global meetings expert Carol Krugman, MEd, CMP, CMM, is the author of Global Meetings and Exhibitions, and Director of Meeting & Business Event Management at Metropolitan State College of Denver. Her book is available at wiley.com.

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