1. Be aware of local customs and norms. In many European cities, 8 a.m. educational sessions don’t fly because people are used to starting later. Also, in some European cities, people eat dinner much later, perhaps 10 p.m., and lunches are generally long and leisurely, often including cocktails or wine. In some Asian countries, it’s customary to exchange gifts with local officials. Check with local vendors or members for details on the destination.
2. Read the fine print. Hotel and vendorcan be quite different in Europe and Asia. Meeting space is rarely free or discounted, and often, meeting space rental is charged on a daily, not weekly, basis. There may also be separate charges for chairs and tables at some venues. And, don’t ask for concessions in RFPs (free room nights, discounts, etc.). There’s not much room for negotiating, particularly in Europe.
3. Use local pros. Using local organizations, such as destination management companies or professional conference organizers , can help you get the lay of the land. They are great resources for planners looking for local information about the city, its people, and its culture and customs. Also, use local speakers, particularly in Europe.
4. Don’t get lost in translation (or interpretation). While holding sessions in English is proper at most international conferences because it is the language of business, it may be appropriate to offer interpretations breakouts in the host countries’ language for keynotes and some breakouts. Also, make sure you have someone who can communicate with local workers and vendors on site, who may not speak English. Also, in marketing materials, try to use U.K. English, not American English.
5. Be prepared for different venues. Don’t expect meetings to be self-contained under one roof. The mega, 1,000-plus-room hotels are uncommon in Europe. And many of the convention centers, particularly in Asia, are privately owned, not publicly financed loss leaders, so don’t expect deals on convention space.
6. Give plenty of lead time. Provide marketing and registration materials well in advance. In many international locales, people require more time, at least 6 to 12 months, to decide whether to attend a meeting.
7. Be aware of holidays and seasons. Know the local holidays in a destination before scheduling a meeting. Also, remember that in the Southern hemisphere, the seasons are flipped, so summer in New York is winter in South Africa.
8. Celebrate the destination. Don’t take people to China and do a Mardi Gras theme. Let them experience the culture and cuisine and celebrate where you are.
9. Plan for time zone differences. Europe is about six hours ahead of the Eastern U.S. time zone and the Pacific Rim is about 12 hours ahead, so plan your conference calls with suppliers and partners accordingly.
10. Spoon feed information to your participants. Give attendees as much info about the destination and culture as possible, whether it’s about local activities and landmarks, currency, cellphone usage (it may be limited), or even the different types of electrical sockets they may come across overseas.