Avoiding an ‘International Incident’: Expert Tips for Planning Meetings and Events Abroad

April 15, 2019

Planning and executing an event outside of the U.S. can bring a whole new meaning to the term “international incident” for U.S.-based planners of meetings, conventions and events.

The globalization of business and associations, however, is pushing meeting and event planners out of their domestic comfort zone. Fortunately, the meetings and events industry is flush with veteran planners who have been there and done that on an international stage.

Meetings Today checked in with several expert international meeting and event planners to get their golden tips for planning and executing successful meetings abroad.

Meetings Industry Experts Share International Events Advice

Gareth Heyman, Wizard of
All Things, MorEvents

Gareth Heyman, Wizard of All Things, MorEvents

Tip 1: Effective Communication Is the Highest Priority.

MorEvents’ Gareth Heyman said ensuring effective communication is perhaps the highest priority, as it impacts everything else and has the potential to torpedo a meeting at any time, from beginning to end.

“When you have conversations with them, they may not understand what you’re talking about at all,” Heyman said about communicating with foreign technology vendors in particular. “I will travel with my vendors to the country. Having your trusted vendors come along with you may cost more money, but it shouldn’t be out of the question to do.

“Maybe [the vendor is] not shipping his equipment, but he will be able to speak the same ‘IT language’ to make sure the expectations are set for our audiovisual and entertainment needs,” he added.

Tip 2: Have a Person on the Ground.

Having a local person on the ground to communicate and manage production schedules is also key, said Heyman, who added that planners should most definitely consider using a customs broker to make sure all of their materials arrive on time—or arrive at all!

“Customs is a huge issue,” Heyman said. “Are you shipping gifts in? Are you shipping materials in? Using a customs broker is something I recommend.

"Not getting something through customs in time can be devastating," he added. "I’ve gone to many, many tradeshows where there are tons of booths with no one in them because their materials are sitting on a dock somewhere or it was prohibitive to pay.

“I have brokers in Miami that know the challenges of each Latin American country I go to, the timelines and even how to wrap things and the carriers to use,” he continued.

“And on the other side, you could, instead of shipping things in, find a vendor that is local to produce some of your giveaways, signage, welcome kits, etc.,” Heyman said.

Tip 3: Transportation Is Key.

An absolutely critical tip is to make sure your transportation services are shored up.

“The thing that is for me the most challenging, worldwide, is transportation,” Heyman said.

“Make sure you’re with the right vendor and their equipment is up to your standards, and that the drivers are speaking your language, or you have a bus host that can translate for you so you’re not getting lost,” he added. “That single-handedly can destroy an event in a second—getting lost, not picking you up on time or not picking up a VIP.”

Andrea Michaels, President,
Extraordinary Events

Andrea Michaels, President, Extraordinary Events

Tip 4: Hire Local and Act Like a Local.

A 40-year special events veteran who has staged all manner of splashy productions all over the world, Extraordinary Events’ Andrea Michaels believes in the value of acting, and hiring, local.

“When you work with local people, they know the ins and outs of the destination, so when you need to get something done, you get it done,” she said. “And if you don’t know anyone, you can’t do anything.

“My golden tip is do not expect to go somewhere and work the same way you’re used to working in your own backyard,” Michaels added. “You will get nowhere.

“You need to adapt to the customs of the place you’re working in and respect them,” she said.

Europe, which offers an infrastructure and business environment that is in many ways similar to the U.S., features a wealth of cultures, all in relatively close proximity.

All of these cultures have their own unique way of doing things.

“For instance, in Spain lunchtime is sacred,” Michaels said.

“It didn’t matter that I was used to working through lunch—everyone went home for lunch,” she added. “It’s not up to me to value how other people should work.

“We also have a no-alcohol policy, but many people in Europe like a glass of wine or a bottle of wine with dinner, and may think of you as the enemy if you don’t,” Michaels said.

Charles Chan Massey, Founder & CEO,
SYNAXIS Meetings & Events

Charles Chan Massey, Founder and CEO, SYNAXIS Meetings & Events

Tip 5: Make Sure Your Attendees Have Their Paperwork in Order.

For SYNAXIS Meetings & Events’ Charles Chan Massey, who regularly plans meetings in Canada and in Europe and Asia, making sure those traveling to the event have successfully navigated the pre-travel government bureaucracy is of utmost importance.

After all, if you don’t have attendees, you don’t have a meeting, right?

“One very important tip is to make sure that your attendees are aware of any potential visa requirements that may not always be clear to them,” Chan Massey said.

“For example, Canada currently requires that each arriving passenger has a valid eTA [Electronic Travel Authorization] for nationals of certain countries,” he added.

[Related Content: 5 Things to Know About the New EU Travel Requirements]

“More importantly, the upcoming ETIAS [European Travel Information and Authorization System] for the Schengen Area of Europe will require U.S. and Canadian citizens as well as citizens of several dozen other countries who can travel visa-free to the Schengen Area to have a valid ETIAS,” Chan Massey said.

He said both programs are similar in nature to the ESTA, which the U.S. requires for citizens from Visa Waiver countries.

“It’s important for us to let our attendees know that they should have all their proverbial ducks in a row before they arrive at the airport,” he said. “Travel is stressful enough, right?”

David Kliman, Owner,
The Kliman Group

David Kliman, Owner, The Kliman Group

Tip 6: Leverage Your International Industry Contacts.

Top meetings industry consultant David Kliman, who provides strategic planning services and facilitates customer advisory boards for hospitality clients based throughout the world, stresses the need to leverage relationships with colleagues who are based in or work outside of the U.S.

“Identify and develop a professional relationship with a trusted colleague in your international meeting location,” Kliman said.

“This person could be a fellow meeting planner or supplier, such as a DMC, PCO, hotelier, etc.," he added. "Share your meeting’s objectives and goals and ask for their opinions and direction regarding key issues such as safety, security, risk management, transportation, venues, supplier partners, etc. Their local knowledge and wisdom will be invaluable.

“And always offer to return the favor for them in your home city or country!” Kliman said.

Eric Rozenberg, Entrepreneur, Speaker, Author
Event Business Formula

Eric Rozenberg, Entrepreneur, Speaker, Author, Event Business Formula

5 Bonus International Meetings Quick Tips

Meetings industry veteran Eric Rozenberg has worked on the international stage throughout his career and was even the chair of MPI’s International Board of Directors. Here are some quick top-of-mind tips from him about planning meetings abroad.

  1. Never assume it’s obvious until you’ve double-checked.
  2. Research and work with reliable partners.
  3. The U.S. and Britain are two countries separated by the same language. Work with an English-speaking partner who knows the local language.
  4. Time has a different meaning in different places.
  5. Legal and contracts are approached differently from one country to the other.

Know Before You Go: International
Meetings and Security Tips

Presented by Eric Rozenberg
Wednesday, May 29, 2019,
1:00 p.m. Eastern Time

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About the author
Tyler Davidson | Editor, Vice President & Chief Content Director

Tyler Davidson has covered the travel trade for nearly 30 years. In his current role with Meetings Today, Tyler leads the editorial team on its mission to provide the best meetings content in the industry.