Watching the Northern Lights frolic in the sky while soaking in Iceland's Blue Lagoon. Joining a Ryukyuan dance troupe in Okinawa. Spending an afternoon immersed in the Maori culture of New Zealand. Unique experiences like these, while unforgettable for attendees, are not enough by themselves to justify holding an event outside of the United States. A decision like that has to take a diverse array of variables into account.
Here are some handy guidelines for identifying when it is prudent to select a long-haul destination as a meeting site, along with some best practices for getting the most out it.
Is This Trip Really Necessary?
Information and content distributed at a meeting held in a remote location can just as easily be disseminated in a venue around the corner from a company's corporate headquarters. But there are several reasons that can help make the case to upper management for moving a meeting halfway around the world.
Dubai offers adventures on water
It creates a global context. It's easy to say an organization is global, but demonstrating that means getting beyond your own borders and interacting with the rest of the world on its own terms. "International meetings connect people, communities, and ideas, and the opportunity to gather together is a memorable experience that stays with the attendee long after the conference has ended," says Michelle Ocampo, CMP, conference planner for IEEE Computer Society, a membership organization dedicated to computer science and technology. "Meetings in international destinations offer the opportunity to connect communities from all over the world."
The cross-cultural exchange is one of the most important aspects of international meetings. "It's about the destination, the venue, the food, the atmosphere, as well as the fellow attendees," says Eli Gorin, CMP, CMM, chief operating officer at FHTDirect -- International Group Housing. "International destinations always offer a fantastic learning opportunity."
It takes advantage of local expertise. Speaking about a recent conference that IEEE held in Reutlingen, Germany, Ocampo says that, "Within that region, there is a growing community of researchers, and the conference experienced record-breaking numbers, attracting talent from industrial and academic communities worldwide."
As part of the conference program, attendees were shuttled to research facilities in the area for institute visits. That's what attracts many groups to international destinations: unique areas of expertise that can be tapped into, be they in the fields of medicine and bio sciences, automotive and logistics, energy and environment, or others. Global brainpower adds to the success of a conference.
Evi Harmon, events and conferences manager for the RESULTS Educational Fund, a nonprofit organization aimed at ending poverty based in Washington, D.C., agrees. This year's RESULTS gathering was held in Tokyo, with a group of about 50 people based at The New Otani Hotel.
"Our international meetings always seem to have an added flair," says Harmon. "In many cases, heads of state and other political entities will visit our group during meal functions, or we will bring other local aspects into the program."
The ancient Italian city of Canalicchio
is the sort of unique destination
a planner can't find close to home
Another IEEE conference that Ocampo helped plan was held at a university in Torino, Italy, in the center of the city. "The university enriched the attendee experience, fostering the exchange of ideas, and it was also in a lovely walkable part of the city that was easily accessible to all the delegates," says Ocampo.
It's more fair to international attendees. In a global economy, not all meeting attendees are going to be located in the United States. It's possible they will be spread among two or more continents. This is especially true for annual association conventions or trade shows. In those situations, it's only fair to rotate a meeting's location so that no one ends up always having the long flight. Where the majority of attendees are based should be taken into consideration, as well as the location of offices and the customer base. Of course, when it comes to incentive programs, the more exotic, the better.
"Either way, the destination will always be key in the experience the attendees have, whether or not it was one of the deciding factors," says Gorin.
With that in mind, incorporating a sense of place leads to success.
It engenders goodwill among attendees. While goodwill is not a goal that can by itself support the weight of a decision to choose a long-haul destination, it can provide significant value to both attendees and the host organization. Faraway locales offer out-of-the-ordinary group experiences that help attendees develop camaraderie and create memories that are priceless. Which, in turn, results in attendees looking upon the company they work for favorably, likely inspiring increased productivity.