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by Louise M. Felsher, CMP, CMM | November 01, 2003

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 short.

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 culture.

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.