Planning a flawless meeting in the United
States is tough enough. But when the event is overseas, the
potential for making a serious gaffe can multiply, given a litany
of factors including different cultures, currencies, business mores
How to avoid falling victim to missteps abroad? M&C asked
some experienced pros for their best advice, and the result is the
following roster of commandments for avoiding the mistakes planners
are most likely to make on foreign soil.
1. Heed arrival times
This might seem like a no-brainer, but according to Marta
Pons Bonet, market research analyst at the Hotel Barcelona Arts in
Spain, planners often don’t consider the arrival times of their
attendees when booking rooms. For example, flights to Europe from
the United States typically arrive in the morning. And hotel
check-in times typically are in the afternoon.
To be sure attendees have a place to rest their weary heads,
request that the hotel provide early check-in for all who might
need it. If the property cannot guarantee rooms will be available,
and if the budget will allow it, Pons Bonet suggests booking the
rooms for the night before arrivals, thereby ensuring that
delegates won’t have to sit in the lobby for hours on end.
2. Claim your VAT
Planners often miss the opportunity to recoup big bucks by
forgetting about or failing to file the proper paperwork for
value-added tax reclamation. “Once, I almost fell out with a client
because I kept pestering them about applying for a refund after an
event,” says Flemming Madsen, director of sales and operations,
First United A/S, Copenhagen, Denmark. “They were completely
stunned when I called them and told them it had gone through and
they had $120,000 coming their way from Danish customs.”
Approximately 120 countries offer VAT refunds. Check with the
country’s national tourist office and local supplier partners to
find out what the VAT is, what forms need to be filled out and
filing deadlines. For further assistance, a number of companies,
such as the Burlington, Canada-based International Sales Tax Refund
Corp., will handle all the paperwork for you.
3. Use a PCO
Professional congress organizers were a hot topic at the
International Ideas Exchange seminar held during the annual meeting
of the Professional Convention Management Association in January.
According to moderator Leigh Wintz, CAE, executive director of
Soroptimist International of the Americas in Philadelphia,
association executives and planners are hesitant to hire a
professional congress organizer for their international meetings
because they think the PCO runs the entire program, and the expense
“They can work on a piecemeal basis,” notes Wintz. PCOs can
handle elements such as site inspections that would be costly and
time-consuming for U.S.-based staff. She recommends obtaining PCO
recommendations from a national tourist office or convention
bureau; another resource is the London-based International
Association of Professional Congress Organizers (www.iapco.org).
4. Delegate tasks
When associations meet outside the United States, they often work
closely with the chapter based in the meeting destination. Problems
can occur, however, when the host’s role is not clearly delineated,
leading to squabbles over which office U.S. headquarters or the
host city’s office is responsible for key elements of the event.
Companies also might encounter this problem if they are meeting in
a country that has a local office or branch.
The solution is simple: Be sure to spell out what is expected
of the host chapter at the outset, so there is no confusion at the
later stages, recommends Leigh Wintz.
5. Respect local customs
Paying attention to local manners and mores is of particular
importance when the meeting has multinational and/or local
attendees. For example, dinners and evening events often start too
early. “Nobody in Europe begins dinner at 6 p.m., and meetings
seldom start before 9 a.m.,” says Reiner Burkle, regional vice
president, Marriott Berlin and Ritz-Carlton Berlin. He adds that
Europeans don’t like rushed dinners, so meals often last several
hours. And Asians, he says, generally will not stay out past 10
p.m., even if the meal isn’t finished.
Ask local contacts about typical meal times and etiquette to
prevent timing faux pas.