In the current economy, with tight budgets, and company regulations, international meetings might seem like a very difficult and expensive task. But it doesn't have to be that way. Here are some tips to planning overseas meetings that will exceed attendees' expectations, follow your company guidelines, and even have budget left over.
- Use global/ international sales offices (GSO/ ISO).
Most GSOs receive specials or promotional offers from their hotels on a weekly or monthly basis. If you are flexible with the destination, ask, “What promotions are some of your hotels running?”
Your GSO is a wealth of knowledge because they have an overview and know where value will be found. For example: You need a city that has direct flights from the United States and offers a four-star hotel at the budgeted room rate of $175. Seems impossible? There are endless destinations that would work. Budapest, Copenhagen, Dublin, Düsseldorf, Frankfurt, Munich, Oslo, Reykjavik, Warsaw, and many more. Sometimes choosing a less glamourous destination could save you money.
Most European hotel chains have GSOs in the United States. By using these offices you can save yourself and your team time when it comes toand addendum negotiations. Time is money!
- Be clear about what you need.
When sourcing programs make certain you share your budget and guidelines. This will save you time and help screen out the properties that are not a match. If the properties know your budget from the beginning, it will save time in the negotiating process.
- Be flexible.
If you have the luxury of having flexible dates, ask for pricing on each set of dates. The property may have a soft period and you will see price discounts accordingly. Just like domestic hotels, pricing internationally is seasonal.
- Avoid 24-hour hold.
One question you should always ask yourself is whether you really need 24-hour hold. In most destinations, there is an additional fee applied for 24-hour meeting room rental. There's is a 50/50 chance you will get it anyway, without the expense.
- Ask for the Daily Delegate Package.
In Europe, Daily Delegate Packages (day meeting packages) is the way to go. Not only are they easier to book than individual meal functions and meeting space, there are definite cost savings when priced out. Keep in mind that 90 percent of the time a full breakfast is included with the room rate. Also, make certain you look at the delegate package in detail to see what is included. (Check to see if lunch is in a private room, because it varies by country.) Also, be aware that most countries do not include unlimited beverages and that you most likely won't find Coke or Diet Coke at a morning break.
- Negotiate the deposit schedule.
Because there is no way to know what the U.S. dollar exchange rate will do from day to day or month to month, you can always try to negotiate a payment schedule in hopes that the exchange rate will improve.
And here's another option: If your company has an office in the country where you're planning a meeting, use that office for deposits or to establish billing privileges.
- Be upfront about commissions.
Most international hotels do not honor parity in paying commissions. When reviewing proposals, be certain to note that rates are, by your request, either commissionable or noncommissionable. International commission rates vary from brand to brand. Some hotels offer 7 percent, some 10 percent. It's very important to ask about commissions on food and beverage and on meeting room rental.
- Ask about the comp policy.
Just as in the United States, most international hotels have a comp policy, so make sure that you ask about it when requesting a bid. Also, some international hotels offer a site inspection room. If you don't use the site inspection room, ask if it can be credited to the master bill. Every little bit of savings helps.
- Understand the VAT.
Ask for VAT (value-added tax) to be included in pricing when asking for quotes. Most hotels will provide you with a breakdown. There are several companies that, for a fee, will help get part of the VAT back once your program has commenced. If you are planning a large program, you may want to look into this before the start of your program.
Carolyn Zusi, director of sales meetings and incentives, Rezidor SAS Hospitality, Chatham, N.J., represents five hotel brands: Radisson SAS, Regent, Cerruti, Park Inn, and Country Inn. Rezidor SAS is the largest hotel company in Scandinavia and the second-largest hotel company in Europe. Zusi opened the first office for meetings and incentives in the United States for Rezidor SAS in April 2004 and specializes in international meetings.