International event planning can be a
satisfying and enriching experience. Although the task might seem
daunting, a planner can successfully execute that first overseas
event with a little extra time, a little extra help and a
commitment to mastering the following basic guidelines.
1. HIRE A PCO - Consider hiring a professional
congress organizer for a first-time international event. PCOs
generally are extremely well-trained, multilingual professionals
who act as ambassadors, destination management experts and cultural
advisers. A good PCO will have encyclopedic knowledge of the
destination and local regulations, stay up-to-date on changes and
keep the planner informed on the pulse of the nation where the
event will be held. PCOs typically are paid a flat fee, although in
some cases they get their fees from hotel commissions.A good source
for finding a PCO is the London-based International Association of
Professional Congress Organisers; visit www.iapco.org.
2. ASSESS THE RISKS - Liabilities grow
exponentially when a meeting or event is held outside the United
States. Make a list of potential risks, and prepare to involve your
legal team or hire an attorney experienced in international
business to review contracts and offer advice on risk management.
One way to mitigate liability is by working with a venue owned or
managed by a U.S.-based firm, since contracts with those companies
can be upheld by U.S. courts. When contracting with a foreign-owned
property or supplier, be sure to stipulate which party’s laws and
court system will be applied if contractual disputes arise.
3. PROJECT FINANCES - Expect to pay
higher-than-normal deposits to international vendors. Most foreign
vendors will expect an 80 to 90 percent deposit up front, from one
to three months prior to the event. Don’t take chances with highly
fluctuating foreign currencies. Agree on an exchange rate in
advance and put it in your contract. If the event is more than a
year out, some vendors might insist on small percentage increments.
If the deposits exceed $20,000, consider setting up an escrow
account at your company’s bank. When projecting per diem expenses
for sponsored delegates (speakers, board members, etc.), use the
worst-case scenario for exchange rates so the budget does not fall
4. SHIP WITH CAUTION - Factor in delays and
postage expenses. If you are marketing to attendees outside your
country, consider printing and mailing from the country of origin.
PCOs can recommend printing and shipping services and steer
planners away from customs or postal pitfalls. Incorrectly
completed documentation can spell disaster if key equipment or
supplies are held up at customs.
5. GET CULTURED - Event planners can be the
worst offenders of the "ugly American" syndrome. Do not let it be
you. Be respectful and culturally sensitive when dealing with
vendors and foreign contacts. Be aware that starting a program too
early in the morning or scheduling sessions that are too long or
too short could convey disrespect in certain countries. Generally,
the agenda and menu should reflect the mores of the host
6. RETHINK A/V - A/V equipment and electrical
currency needs differ from country to country, as do the services
provided by local technicians and venues. Consider whether it is
more economical and prudent to rent equipment on site.
Louise M. Felsher, CMP, CMM, is director of CME
admin-istration for the department of medicine at the University of
California, San Francisco.