The rules of negotiating depend on the cultural orientation of the person you are working with — so take off your American hat and put on a different one. Similarly, don't expect facilities overseas to be duplications of their America counterparts. The term conference center in Europe, for example, most often means a purpose-built facility for meetings only, with no hotel accommodations and no trade show space to speak of. To help you out when working internationally, here are some basic things to be aware of regarding negotiations, facilities, and contracts for events held outside the U.S.

Budgeting Tips

  • Some veteran planners estimate that an offshore program will cost $1,000 to $1,500 more per person than a domestic one, and some advise doubling the operating budget. Others say that with careful planning, an offshore program does not have to cost much more than one held in the U.S.
  • One thing everyone agrees on: Build in a generous slush fund — as much as 25 percent greater than your domestic meeting's contingency fund.
  • Put together a detailed budget worksheet that covers every imaginable expense, including air, hotel, meeting rooms, AV, food and beverage, shipping, speaker support, translation, spouse programs, staff costs, printing and copying, local transportation, and telephone and fax costs.
  • Don't expect deeply discounted hotel room rates or free meeting room space. Meeting space is at a premium in many foreign countries. However, in some countries, particularly in Asia, hotels frequently offer a meeting package that includes a room for the general session, basic audiovisual equipment, lunch, and two breaks. So you may actually end up paying less than in the U.S.
  • Hotels in general are smaller, so if you need more than 50 rooms, you may have to use more than one property, and that can drive up your shuttle costs.
  • When getting pricing information, always ask what's included. For example, congress center rental may include phone lines.
  • Budgeting and site selection go hand in hand. Ask about costs as part of your request-for-proposal process.
  • Contact destination management companies and tourist boards early on. They can help with cost information, and help you save money.
  • If you're planning an incentive, expect the medical insurance that you take out for your group to be extremely expensive. Other costs that might be higher are telephone charges and airport transfers.
  • In many places labor costs can be less expensive than in the U.S. Food and beverage costs might also be lower, and you might get a lot more service with F&B as well.

Negotiating Styles

  • There are few countries where it is proper to expect to be quickly on a first name basis with your negotiating partner.
  • Always insist on dealing with the top person in charge. In many countries, only this top person — a general manager, managing director, or international sales director, for instance — is empowered to make decisions.
  • When not meeting face to face, conduct your negotiations by fax or e-mail instead of phone; it's quick and it helps alleviate language problems, and you have a written record of transactions.
  • Don't leave the negotiating table without exploring the following legal questions: What will be the official language for purposes of interpreting the contract? What currency will be used for payment and when is payment expected? Will disputes be settled by international arbitration? Who has the authority to make changes in the contract?
  • Be aware of the phrase “subject to standard terms and conditions.” You need to get a copy of the document that details what those standard terms and conditions are. And that document may be the size of an encyclopedia. Another term to look out for: “incorporated by reference.” Don't accept that phrase until you see what it means.
  • Unless you negotiate an attrition clause in the contract, you will be expected to pay for all of the meals and rooms that you book, even if your attendance is less than you anticipated.
  • Make sure your organization's insurance policy is enforceable in the host country. It's a good idea to have your policy reviewed by a competent broker to make sure it covers your international event.


  • Convention centers in Europe are used primarily for meetings, and may be the U.S. equivalent of conference centers. Trade fair facilities are exhibit facilities with little or no meeting space.
  • In the U.S., convention bureaus often sell and sometimes control bookings for convention centers. Overseas centers typically can be booked directly, although bureaus will often have an important role in coordination.
  • Food and beverage within Asian and European facilities is usually more like restaurant quality. And if labor unions are in place, they act more like staff, without the complex labor jurisdictions of any U.S. facilities. In addition, technology in most major centers around the world is truly state of the art.
  • Convention centers outside the U.S. are often not subsidized by governments, so expect to pay more for their rental and services. Some planners advise budgeting $500 to $1,000 more per delegate than you would in the States, and creating a contingency fund that is 15 to 20 percent of your budget.
  • Pricing structures at international convention centers differ significantly than in U.S. facilities. Some charges that you might expect to be bundled into the basic rental charge, such as staffing fees for personnel who handle registration or coat check, could show up as line item charges. Every facility is different, so be sure to ask detailed questions about what is included in the basic rental fee.
  • There is often no convention services department in overseas hotels, and in such cases, it is the food and beverage manager who coordinates the details with the meeting organizer.
  • Mega downtown hotels and resorts are not common in Europe and many parts of Asia. So a group of 300 people often has to be split up among three hotels. For incentive groups, it may be difficult to get rooms all of equal quality level, particularly if you are booking venues like castles or estate homes.
  • Given the high demand and relatively limited amount of food and beverage space in hotels overseas, be prepared for your function space to be reset in the evening and then reset for your event in the morning.

Preparing International Promotional Material

Here are a baker's dozen tips on terminology and style changes you should be aware of when preparing any kind of written material for international audiences, especially promotional material.

  1. All time references should be in international (or military) time.
  2. If dollars are referred to, indicate the type of dollars, e.g. US$1,000 or HK$1,000.
  3. Calendar dates: 3/7/2000 means July 3, not March 7 to most internationals. Avoid confusion by using 7 March 2000.
  4. Give a toll number alternative to any 800 numbers since these are for domestic use only.
  5. Check any fax-on-demand system to make sure is set up to include incoming faxes from overseas.
  6. Ensure that response forms include extra room for names, and an extra address line, including blanks for province and country if appropriate.
  7. Instead of first name/last name, use only one line tagged as “name” on response forms. If you need two completion areas, use “given name/family” name to tag the areas.
  8. Ensure that response forms include labeled blanks for a three-digit country code and a three-digit city code for telephone and fax numbers. Example: 000 (country code) 000 (city code) 0000000 (phone number).
  9. Include square meters as well as square footage for exhibit space information.
  10. Avoid using the American term show. Use trade fair, exhibition, or event.
  11. Use the term visitors in the sense of delegates but not exhibitors; attendance if the sense includes exhibitors.
  12. Boilerplate descriptions of the sponsoring association that mention membership, may need clarification as to where the members are based, e.g. U.S., Canadian, worldwide.
  13. Copy that includes trade statistics may need clarification as to the origin of the trade, since a U.S. export is a foreign import and vice versa.
  14. Distinction to watch: Interpreters convert languages orally, as in a speech given on site. Translators work on written materials.
    From William J. Kircher & Associates, Washington, D.C.