Whether it's a global convention or a corporate meeting or incentive, when planning an international program, every detail must be finessed with prowess to achieve success. Visas, language, time zones, and value-added tax (VAT) issues are just a few of the things that must be kept in mind when planning international meetings.
"Don't make assumptions that the U.S. way is the same as the international way, especially with regards to business culture, legal matters, and mealtimes," says Martin Sirk, chief executive officer of the International Congress and Convention Association (ICCA).
No audience can be generalized or stereotyped. "To ensure meeting professionals customize each event based on their client's specific objectives and audience, it's important that they develop a relationship with the host and ask the right questions in the planning stage," says Andrew Flack, vice president of marketing and e-commerce, Americas for Hilton. "While meeting professionals should always come prepared with base knowledge of typical business customs, they should feel empowered to begin the dialogue with their hosts."
Most importantly, don't expect the pieces to just fall together when planning an international meeting.Use Planner Networks
"In terms of the advice to U.S. planners going offshore, it is pretty much unchanged: Get great advice before you leap," advises Sirk. Use your planner networks to speak with others who've run meetings in those countries recently.
ICCA's global network of suppliers in 95 countries, especially convention bureaus, are great sources of free, impartial advice, he adds.
"Ask if a U.S.-based destination management company you may have used has global partners," offers Karen Shackman, president of New York City--based Shackman Associates, a DMC. "This will prevent you from flying blind and these kinds of relationships will help a DMC partner outside of the U.S. better understand your group, especially if there are language considerations. We have these kinds of relationships in Europe, Australia, and South America."Do Your Homework
Research is critical, says Marla Harr, a meeting planner for 25 years who is now a Phoenix, AZ--based professional development consultant and a professional speaker. "Not every country does business like we do in the United States," she says. "When you have decided where you are having your meeting, demonstrate a knowledge of the country as this is showing respect for their culture, which is critical."
Two websites Harr frequently refers to are travel.state.gov, where the U.S. government provides valuable official information on visas, passports, and safety; and the Office of the Chief of Protocol at state.gov/s/cpr.
Her go-to books for questions of cultural norms are Kiss, Bow or Shake Hands by Terri Morrison and Wayne Conaway, and the Do's and Taboos series by Roger E. Axtell.