When it comes to meetings with multinational attendees — whether held in the U.S. or elsewhere — logistics are everything. Foreign currencies, visas,clauses: There's a lot of ground to cover.
For meetings held in the U.S., planners can specify registration fees in U.S. dollars, thereby transferring the risk of currency fluctuations to the foreign attendee. However, if registration fees are accepted through a credit card or an online system such as PayPal, the planner needs to be sure that the fee processor is able to convert payments received from foreign attendees into U.S. dollars.
For a meeting outside of the U.S., the planner must determine whether financial obligations to hotels and other suppliers are to be settled in U.S. dollars or the local currency. Consider the Euro, for example. Given the fact that its value against the U.S. dollar ranged from nearly $1.60 last July to $1.25 in mid-November, it's clear that the risk can be substantial. Such risk can be hedged by pre-paying some obligations at what is believed to be a favorable rate.
Depending on where the meeting is held, some attendees may have to obtain visas, a process that can take a considerable amount of time. Under the U.S. Visa Waiver Program, citizens of nearly three dozen countries may enter this country for temporary business without having to obtain a visa from the U.S. embassy in their home country. However, under a new policy, even citizens from these countries will have to pre-register online with the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency before they are allowed to enter this country. Information requested in the online registration form is similar to what was typically collected on paper I-94 forms distributed on every flight entering the U.S.
For attendees from countries where visas must be obtained, meeting managers may be able to smooth the process by providing attendees with a “letter of invitation,” which sets forth the nature of the meeting that the individual will be attending.
Planners should also be aware of Executive Order 13224. Issued in the wake of the 9-11 disaster, this Presidential directive prohibits any U.S. citizen or company from conducting business with an individual or organization on the U.S. government's so-called terrorist “watch list.” Because that list is quite extensive, compliance with the Executive Order is usually accomplished through contract language in which the hotel or foreign supplier certifies that it is not acting, directly or indirectly, for or on behalf of any individual or organization on the “watch list.”
Clauses to Consider
When holding a meeting outside of the U.S., planners should also understand that certain U.S. laws are not applicable. For example, foreign venues may not necessarily be obligated to provide the same level of disability accommodations as are common in this country as a result of the Americans with Disabilities Act. If that is a factor, protective language should be included in the contract with the hotel or other venue.
Also, with regard to, planners should understand that many foreign hotels, especially those that are not a part of U.S.-based chains, do not use contracts that are as detailed and comprehensive as documents typically seen here. Items such as and cancellation damages may simply be omitted, as well as such familiar clauses as termination and dispute resolution.
In the event that a planner has to cancel a meeting, the recourse for the foreign hotel may be litigation in this country, which is not practical. So in reality, liability may be minimized. As with all contracts, agreements with foreign hotels should be reviewed by knowledgeable individuals.
James M. Goldberg is a principal in the Washington, D.C., law firm of Goldberg & Associates PLLC. His practice focuses on representing associations, corporations, and independent meeting planners. He is the author of The Meeting Planner's Legal Handbook.