Prepare Yourself 1.Perhaps the very best place to start your familiarization with a country that you are considering as a meeting or incentive site is the Department of Commerce in Washington, D.C. Contact the DOC, Desk Officer, [Specific Country], 14th and Constitution Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20230; (202) 377-2000. DOC officials may be slow to respond but are worth the wait; they can provide comprehensive information about a country (current economic situation, political, and social information). They are invaluable in providing assistance if you are planning to exhibit at a trade show.

2.A travel agent can provide information about travel patterns, current trends, videos, and destinations.

3.A destination management company can provide local transportation, tours, events, introductions to local hotels, and other services. In Asia, for example, DMCs can often get a better hotel rate for your group than you could by negotiating directly. A professional congress organizer (PCO), often used for larger meetings and conventions, can be hired if you need a meeting planner in that destination.

4.The National Tourist Organization or convention bureau will provide contacts, introductions, and comprehensive destination information, and set up site visits. It will not negotiate for you, and cannot always make recommendations, but it can lead you in the right direction. NTOs can also provide marketing and advertising support, open government and tourism industry doors, and assist in finding local speakers and resources.

5.An airline can provide travel pattern and shipping information. Government bilateral agreements between the U.S. and other countries prevent airlines from discounting airfares, but there are other services they may provide, including promotional materials, special booking services, freight services, and services at the airport. An airline can also give you key information about access problems during certain times of the year, so consulting with an airline early--at least a year out--is essential.

6.Plan a site visit. Check out the hotel and all your meeting or event venues, test the tours, and make sure tours you arrange for your group are priced competitively. A common complaint from attendees is that "there is never enough time at the tour site to shop, eat, explore."

7.Secure a disaster plan. Obtain guidance and prepare to adhere to corporate/association policies. You must know how to proceed in the event of an accident or incident. Who in the U.S. should be notified in case of emergency? How should the press be handled? Does the company's or association's insurance cover events held outside of the U.S.?

8.Currency preparation. Clearly state in all literature that costs/prices may be adjusted due to currency fluctuations, especially for "ticket" programs (those programs that have a registration fee for courses or special event/tour fees). For more details, see articles on currency (page 26) and VAT (page 29).

9.When you need literature translated, use local professional advertising agencies, especially if the material is technical. The same goes for hiring interpreters. If your presentations will be medical or technical in nature, be sure to give the interpreter a list of terminology beforehand. Hire local tour guides who speak English well to interpret for you with the "back-of-the-house" personnel.

10.Insist that each participant, whether speaker or attendee, provide you with a photocopy of his or her passport before departure. Attendees should keep a copy of their passport in a different piece of luggage from where they keep their passport.

11.Advise the U.S. Embassy of your meeting or conference two weeks before your arrival.

Prepare Your Attendees 12.Newsletters or news briefs are a great way to communicate regularly with participants, and to pass along cultural tidbits. As the momentum builds, you can share information and the excitement with them.

13.Tell participants what to expect: business, leisure, or a combination of both. Give instructions for proper attire for all functions.

14.Know your attendees. Do they have any disabilities or special dietary needs? Be sure there is accessible public transportation. Book hotels with access in all areas, or don't use inaccessible areas for general events.

15.Advise attendees about vaccinations and other health care precautions.

16.Provide information about baggage weight limitations, luggage tags (organizers should provide them and keep extras on hand), and how to pack a carry-on bag so that attendees can manage for a day or two should their luggage be lost. Medications and toiletries should be in a carry-on and should never be left unattended. Passport, air tickets, and traveler's checks should be in a separate bag. Devise a plan for dealing with lost luggage with your travel agent, airline, ground handler, or DMC.

17.Entry requirements: Are passports and visas needed? Check with appropriate embassies or department of state four to six months out.

The Location/On-Site 18.Prepare attendees for the destination. Let them know the electrical voltage used and what kind of converters are needed for U.S. electrical equipment.

19.Have extra staff in the airport as attendees arrive and depart. Taking care of the attendees at all points, meeting them, helping with delayed luggage problems, and offering to solve some of their problems soothes ruffled and tired travelers.

20.Provide literature and maps, and, ideally, an orientation tour. Besides destination information that attendees receive prior to departure, distribute additional information during the flight, such as local street maps, shopping coupons, and information about museums and street markets.

21.Provide lists of common phrases in the language of the host country. Little dictionaries are a great gift idea.

22.Anticipate and advise about unusual costs, such as for hotel telephone use. Try to negotiate with the hotel the elimination of hotel operator charges. Determine the cost of calls or faxes in the business center, and copy machine usage and fees.

23.Provide information about local public transportation times and schedules, and taxi rates.

24.Get the lowdown on driving regulations and local law enforcement. Check with AAA and advise accordingly. Check out costs of car rentals before leaving the U.S.; cars rented in the U.S. for use in another country are much less expensive than those rented on site. Advise as to what insurance is needed for car rental.

25.Provide local information on banking hours and the use of ATMs; holidays; museums and other points of interest; shopping hours and recommendations, including which credit cards are accepted; and literature on VAT refunds and departure taxes, and customs regulations.