Viewpoint: Going Abroad to Cut Meeting Costs

Here's a wild concept: Save your company money by holding meetings in international destinations.

Believe it or not, there is a tremendous amount of value in taking your meetings abroad. I'm a big proponent of international meetings for the cultural and educational value they offer to participants, but let's focus on the monetary value that they can provide businesses looking to curb their meeting costs.

There has always been this perceived thought that holding a meeting internationally meant an automatic increase in the budget. You are sure to hear cries of, "How could you possibly even think of traveling internationally during these hard economic times?" If you do your research and realize that the value is there, you may be able to change that misperception and show your company's stakeholders the reality of working in a global meetings industry.

In years past, there was always a strong push for international tourists and companies, particularly in regions where the U.S. dollar is weaker, to come to the United States and spend their money because of the value. There was an interesting advertisement in a British newspaper a few years back that said it would be cheaper for one to do their holiday shopping by hopping on a plane to New York, spending a night, buying what they need, then returning home, rather than doing the actual shopping in London. The tides are now turning and it's becoming cheaper for U.S. companies to go abroad and do their meetings than to stay inside the United States.

While I am not discounting the great values there are for U.S. domestic meetings, I do believe there are values in other parts of the world where it would be more cost-effective for a company to hold their meetings. The international economy is being hit hard, but the U.S. dollar still is strong in many parts. In the past year, the Latin American region has seen the dollar strengthen an average of 14 percent. Argentina and Mexico alone have seen the dollar increase in value by 25 percent in the past year.

That's 25 percent more bang for your buck.

Now, just because the dollar has gotten stronger, one might argue that rates increase in order to cover those costs. This assumption isn't necessarily true.

I was invited to take part in a series of receptions hosted by the Colombia Government Trade Bureau promoting the value of meetings there. I have done a few meetings in Colombia myself, but what I found in my own research even left me surprised. I did a comparison of two hotels, similar in size, meeting space and amenities. One hotel based in Medellin and the other in Miami, both of which could be considered four-star luxury hotels based on U.S. standards. The comparison looked at the difference in hotel room rates, food and beverage costs and audiovisual costs. Overall, the Colombian hotel's prices were 50 percent, 71.5 percent and 80 percent lower, respectively. Some would argue that the price difference would come in the airfare, but airlines are slashing prices and willing to negotiate great rates.

Does my theory of going abroad to save money hold up everywhere? Obviously not. Countries like Australia, Canada and Singapore have gained strength against the dollar, and the euro and pound still are higher, but look at it from the flipside.

There is an opportunity, much like the British advertisement, to show the value of bringing international meetings business to the United States. We have to remember, this is a global meetings industry. Our markets are not, and should not, be restricted to what is within our borders. The economic crisis is one that is felt around the world and not just at home.

There is an opportunity out there to expand your attendees' cultural horizons, while at the same time giving your company the financial edge, whether you are a company coming into the United States, or a U.S. company looking to other parts of the world.

Originally published July 27, 2009