International event planning outside your home country is highly likely to take you outside of your comfort zone. Especially when it’s your first time. While the challenge can be exciting it can also be daunting if not downright scary. Let’s face it, even the most accomplished and experienced planner can find it difficult to deal with the social, cultural and legal barriers that would simply not occur at home.
So, let’s say you are tasked with planning a small conference in a foreign country perhaps on another continent. Where do you start? Here are a few tips that you might find useful.
1. Research the Culture
If the destination is already chosen, then a good place to start might in the library or online with some cultural research. One of my favorite resource is Kiss, Bow, and Shake Hands, the book and online resource by Terri Morrison on how to do business around the world. This renown publication details cultural etiquette and business practices from all the major business destinations and includes tips on how to win people over.
I also recommend the cross-cultural research of Richard D. Lewis, my favorite are his national communication pattern diagrams which can be found on 23 fascinating diagrams reveal how to negotiate with people around the world.
2. Collect References Overseas
While gaining an understanding of a foreign culture can be fascinating and very useful for negotiations, it may not be enough when it comes to more technical aspects of event planning. When it comes to industry terms the Convention Industry Council’s APEX Industry glossary is worth referring to. This resource is currently focused on the north American industry but it is undergoing a full review and will include notes on global usage of the terms included.
Disclaimer: the author is Chair Elect of the APEX Standards Committee, the body that oversees the development of maintenance of APEX.
APEX may also be a good reference point when it comes to contracts, however, the quality and availability of equivalent resources for other regions is inconsistent. Most regions have associations and professional bodies dedicated to planning it is always worth contacting these bodies to get recommendations on regional best practice and potential partners.
3. Find a Professional Local Partner
This leads me nicely to what is possibly the most important recommendation, finding a professional local partner. This may be the most crucial step of all.
Local knowledge from a professional organization will easily make or break an event. The best place to start is the destination’s Convention Visitor Bureau (CVB) or Destination Marketing Organization (DMO). As non-profit organization, CVBs are normally able to offer a range of complimentary services for planners and showcase a good range of local properties and service providers. They will also be able to aid in the selection of a local Destination Management Company (DMC). A DMC is likely to offer support beyond what is customary for national events. This may also increase the costs, however, the importance of their local expertise, service level, and resourcefulness should not be underestimated.
A different way to find a professional DMC is to search on the Association of Destination Management Executives International (ADMEI) website. If you not 100% clear on what these different organizations to, then I strongly suggest you read this excellent blog post on the topic: CVB, DMO, DMC: What’s the Difference?
4. Meet Face to Face
With many CVBs offering familiarization trips (Fam trips), these can be the ideal opportunity for planners to experience a destination for themselves, visit a selection of venues and meet potential local partners. Please note that funding and budgeting for such trips can differ in different parts of the world, so make sure this is clear before accepting.
Industry trade shows such as IMEX or IMEX America are a great opportunity to explore what destinations have to offer or even to explore destination options when not already determined. A wide range of CVBs, DMOs and DMCs from around the globe exhibit giving attendees the opportunity to meet face to face and make important business decisions. A simple search for DMCs in the exhibitor listing of the recent IMEX America 2016 returns 732 results from all over the world.
5. Ask for Help
A last word of advice. Ask for help, even if you don’t think you need it. Planners are almost always happy to share their experience and make recommendations in destinations they are familiar with. I would strongly advise all planners to use their professional network to get advice. This can be via email or even better using forums and social media to tap into the wisdom of many with one post. Most industry associations have their own custom forums where members can openly ask question and request recommendations. As an MPI member I welcome the daily update from the (members only) MyMPI forum and always do my best to contribute.
Additionally, there are groups across social media that can be used in the same way. Some of my favorites are Event Planning & Event Management – the 1st Group for Event Professionals on LinkedIn and Industry Friends and Connect Meeting Professionals both on Facebook. Do keep in mind that each group has rules which you should take time to read before posting.
And there it is, my simple suggestions and some resources to help you ace your international business events.