Several years ago I was helping a client to place a small overseas program for 16 people. Thewas signed, and all was moving forward. Two months before the program was to take place, the meeting planner was working on the menus with the hotel. She wanted to plan the first night as a formal standing dinner reception with cocktail rounds and no chairs. She explained to me that the main goal of this reception was to start the group off having to mingle and network in a comfortable business environment.
I got an extremely panicked phone call from the organizer one day saying the hotel was not working with her. I immediately called the meetings and events (conference services) contact, who said she understood the client's request and it would be taken care of.
Three days later the client called back and said she was frustrated because the hotel was being “very difficult.” I called the meeting department again and the coordinator said they understood what the client was looking for but that it was “impossible.” Working on the client's behalf, I asked for the director of sales and received the same response, that it was “impossible.”
Feeling frustrated, I called the general manager and again received the same response: “That's impossible.” At this point, I was ready to fly over to the hotel and jump up and down. But instead I called him back and asked him to tell me why this was “impossible.”
He explained that the hotel had a Michelin star-rated chef who insisted that food — hors d'oeuvres or otherwise — is an experience and not meant to be eaten standing in formal attire. After an hour of discussion, the GM asked why 16 people would wear tuxedos and ball gowns to stand and mingle? We both had a great laugh once we realized that what the U.S. planner meant as “formal” in this case did not mean a black-tie affair, but an elegant setting.
My client's event went off without a hitch. The planner raved about the food, and the group was able to achieve the goal of networking even though they were not wearing tuxedos and ball gowns! The moral of the story is: When in doubt, ask why.
We sometimes forget that when planning international meetings, the person on the other end of the e-mail or phone speaks English as a second or third language. Most people in Europe have been schooled in textbook English, which tends to be a more formal and unfamiliar language (at least to Americans), which sometimes gets lost in translation.
What's in a Word
Normally your first introduction to an international hotel or hotel company is the sales manager/MICE, or director of sales/MICE. Don't worry: We're not talking about vermin! MICE is an acronym for meetings, incentives, congresses, and events and is used pretty much everywhere except in the United States. When examining what the acronym stands for, it seems to translate to our American terminology. But in Europe a congress is a “meeting” focused on one subject and can range from 10 to thousands of people. In North America, a congress is frequently referred to as a citywide or a convention. It even gets a little more confusing in Europe, because a congress, convention, or citywide is often referred to as a fair.
MICE suppliers in Europe work for two different types of clients: a PCO, or professional congress organizer, which can be any third party such as an agency, independent planner, or mom-and-pop shop; or a “direct” client, an employee of a corporation, organization, or association. Meetings in Europe tend to start with the entire group in one room, most popularly know as a general session. That's not that different from here in the United States. But in most European countries, the main meeting room is referred to as a plenary room. From setups to, many English words have different meanings. Listed below is a quick reference guide of often-used meeting terms.
|North American Term||International Term|
|Conference style||Boardroom style|
|Breakout rooms||Syndicate rooms|
When blocking space for meals, you must be clear whether your group needs a private room versus a separate room. The latter could be translated as a standing buffet outside the general session/plenary room. European groups generally do not have private rooms for breakfast, and sandwich lunches are usually standing.
Know what they mean
It's important to remember that terminology can vary not only by country, but also by hotel and hotel company. When in doubt, ask. Here's a list of common American terms that may be understood or referred to differently abroad:
Act of God:is the international term.
: Needs to be explained as room block reduction or food and beverage reduction; may be referred to under the cancellation clause
Put a hold on space: This often means you are requesting a contract. You may need to explain that by asking to “hold” the space, you are seriously considering booking meeting space at the hotel.
Resort fees: Does not apply in most of Europe
American With Disabilities Act (ADA): Does not apply in Europe
Electricity: Power fees
Daily Meeting Package: Daily delegate rate
Note pads: Referred to as block notes
Room rental: Room hire
Cutoff date: Release date
Double room single usage: One guest in a room that can sleep two people
Twin room: Always ask if this a room with one twin bed or two.
Double room: Always ask if this means a room with two twin beds, a queen bed, or a king.
AM/PM breaks: Make sure that soft drinks are included, and determine if this is provided continuously or if there is a limit on the number of beverages.
LCD projector: pointer, beamer
Whiteboard: referred to as a flip chart in some countries because they don't have “white” boards
Pitchers of water: Europeans always serve bottled water
Bottled water: Usually refers to both sparkling (or with gas) and distilled (or flat), so you must specify
Wine package: Wine service and bottled water
First option: Tentative hold on your group
Second option: Wait-listed
Deposits: Normally international hotels require full payment before a meeting or function. Direct billing is not a common practice.
Counts, guarantees: Normally due to international hotels weeks prior to arrival versus 72 business hours prior in the United States
Guaranteed reservations: International reservations are almost always prepaid, so already guaranteed.
Relocation clause: As with a guaranteed reservation, international hotels sometimes find this clause amusing and ask, “The client paid for the rooms, why would we send them somewhere else?”
Confidentiality clause: During addendum, you may need to explain this refers only to meeting space and not to individual guests.
Comp policy: This expression is not used in most of Europe. At the proposal stage you may need to explain your complimentary room policy, such as one complimentary room per 25 booked and used, etc.
Rebook clause: This needs to be spelled out. For example, if the group cancels, a certain percentage of the deposit revenue would go toward a future group booked within 12 months.
Conference services, catering, or banquet department: Meetings and events (or M&E) department
Site inspection: Often called a show-around
Certified proof: U.S. companies often ask hotels to release their financial occupancy report for the group room nights. In Germany and Belgium, releasing this information is against the law. Hotels in the United Kingdom may release this information.
Carolyn Zusi, director of sales, meetings and incentives, Rezidor SAS Hospitality, Chatham, N.J., represents five hotel brands: Radisson SAS, Regent, Missoni, Park Inn, and Country Inn. Rezidor SAS is the largest four-star deluxe hotel company in Scandinavia and the second-largest four-star deluxe hotel company in Europe.