Is an International Site Right for Your Event?

When considering a meeting, there are many factors to analyze. Choosing where to hold it is one of the most important. If you select the same site for your meeting each year, it becomes predictable and attendees may begin to drop off. Meeting planners are focusing on international settings as a way to break out of that predictability.

Open for business. Many countries around the globe are open for business, so to speak, and are actively seeking meeting business to improve their own economies. Emerging markets like Brazil or China are seeing growth, especially in the association market. These countries also are investing in infrastructure, including hotels and convention centers, which is attracting business and leading to a positive impact on the relevance of association business. Political alliances also are being formed, which creates the need for events and meetings like global summits, discussion forums and exhibitions.

Growth opportunities. How to take advantage of these growth opportunities? It really depends on the association's desire to go global and if international growth is a priority. The meeting should be consistent with the economic trends of a particular sector, like government, automotive or pharmaceutical. In regions like Latin America, there is a demand for events related to the global communications market, as the region is allocating funds and resources to improve the transcontinental communications infrastructure.

Avoiding potential roadblocks. Planners should never assume that international business is done in the same manner as "back home," because this is rarely the case. Cultural differences impact business ideologies, business language and (local) business practices. Even dealing with a familiar hotel chain may be different than you might expect or have experienced.

Working with customs also is something to be aware of in the region in which the organizers are choosing, regardless of the country of operation. It is always wise to involve a local or international customs broker or freight forwarder who knows what they are doing. The risk of going it alone is just too high. In some cases, the local national tourism organization or destination marketing organization can offer assistance.

Bilingual meeting planners. English has become the "lingua franca" or spoken business language in many countries and territories around the globe. However, in Latin America, Spanish and Portuguese (as spoken in Brazil) are the first and preferred languages. Once again, it is important to never assume that the other partner will fully understand, even though English might be spoken. Simple measures such as confirmations in writing always make good business sense.

Proper currency. There are some countries where the American dollar is the chosen local currency (e.g., Panama and Ecuador in Central America), while in most countries it is not. It is important for a planner to be completely aware of the currency of a country and to put a solid currency strategy in place. It is sometimes possible to negotiate fixed U.S. rates for meeting services payments, but this will always involve financial strategies such as hedging, a risk-management strategy used in limiting or offsetting probability of loss from fluctuations in the prices of currencies, by the service provider or the association itself.

Lastly, if you are considering going international with your meeting, make sure the strategy is aligned with your association's strategy in terms of members within the region, how the association might be run, and impact on the structure of the association and its other meetings.

Ping He is global general manager, Asia Pacific, at Experient (