by Lisa A. Grimaldi | November 01, 2015

Meeting outside the United States presents a world of unique challenges for planners. Setting a smooth course often involves a lot of trial and error, as seasoned planners can testify. We asked international planning pros to share their hard-won advice with M&C readers.

1. Define meeting-space needs. Making sure that meeting space at hotels in international destinations is available for the entire time required (including set-up time, overnight holds and break-down) is a hot button for John Huffman, vice president, sales and marketing, for Robbinsville, N.J.-based Meeting Alliance.

John Huffman, vice president,
sales and marketing, Meeting Alliance

 "There have been many times when I've asked a hotel's sales manager to send me a proposal based on the required meeting space being held on a 24-hour/overnight-hold basis during a meeting," Huffman says, "and I've received a proposal back that lists the daily meeting times running until 5 p.m. and the corresponding meeting-room rental fees. When I see this information in the proposal, I then contact the sales manager to confirm if the space will truly be available on a 24-hour/overnight hold, and whether the daily meeting-room rental fees listed in the proposal reflect that requirement."

To avoid such exchanges in the future, Huffman now asks the hotel's sales manager at the outset to include a sentence in the proposal that clearly states meeting-space hours and daily fees, and highlights any additional fees that might be charged.

2. Hire local A/V. Rather than traveling with an A/V team and equipment, Leslie Zeck, CMP, CMM, director of meetings for the Alexandria, Va.-based International & American Association for Dental Research, uses local A/V services.

"Most overseas hotels are equipped with or have access to the latest technology. Don't spend unnecessary dollars or take risks in shipping expensive equipment that you can easily rent," Zeck says. Another plus: A/V equipment is usually priced significantly lower outside of the States, whether you use the venue's in-house suppliers or hire a local vendor.

When contracting for A/V services, Zeck recommends including photographs and descriptions of the specific equipment required, so nothing is left to chance.

3. Avoid shipping. Shipping materials to international meetings is among the biggest headaches for Agnes Canonica, general manager, the Americas, for global planning firm MD Events. "It gets very expensive," she says, "and at times, depending on the country, it is unreliable."  

Canonica recommends working with a local destination management company to get printed materials, collaterals and signage made locally. She also prefers to source gifts and giveaways locally to avoid shipping costs, custom broker fees, additional import taxes and the risk of the items not clearing customs.

"This is why site inspections are extremely important, including meeting with your entire supplier network and vetting who will work on your program," says Canonica.

If the program is last-minute and small enough, packing materials in your checked luggage is an option, Canonica notes. However, she warns, be sure you have all of your meeting documentation -- attendee list, hotel contract, etc. -- to show customs to verify the business purpose of carrying such cargo.