Beyond Borders: What are the major cultural differences between Europe and North America when it comes to doing business?
Miguel Neves: Europeans tend to be more formal in their communication styles; workplace hierarchies are more rigid; and the dress code is stricter. On the other hand, North Americans begin the business day earlier, work longer hours, have less time off, and are more willing to drastically relocate or become a ‘road warrior’ for professional reasons. Of course all of these observations are generalizations; nonetheless, they can be useful knowledge for the meeting planner, as cultural differences can have a profound impact on participant satisfaction and return on investment of a meeting.
BB: How does this translate to organizing meetings in Europe?
Neves: For a start, in Europe frugality is the norm, with comfort taking a secondary position. Air conditioning is not as prevalent in Europe as it is in North America, so you should double-check that your hotel rooms have air conditioning, regardless of the star rating. Hotel rooms and beds often are smaller than what North American travelers are used to, even in some of the major chain hotels. There are differences with meals as well. For example, alcohol is often served for lunch, even in quick working lunches. Ice is used sparingly, especially in Southern Europe, and bottled mineral water is the norm.
When it comes to financial considerations, the differences can be even more complex. Apart from the different currencies, payment procedures and options can be different in Europe. For example, payment by credit card may not be an option with many suppliers. However, pricing may provide some pleasant surprises, making European hotels and venues a greater value than they first appear. In most situations, local taxes, service charges, and mandatory gratuities are included in the quoted prices—with the sole exception of value-added tax (VAT). Voluntary gratuities are welcomed, but in general the expectations are lower than in the U.S. and Canada. Unfortunately this also means that extra attention is not always given to service levels, which in some situations fall below North American standards.
BB: What is most important to ensure the success of a meeting in Europe?
Neves: Much of it depends on managing participants’ expectations. Educate attendees as to what to expect. I believe that the simple act of experiencing a foreign culture is the best and most satisfying way of acquiring experience and knowledge. Each time I visit a new destination I feel more confident and genuinely wiser. I believe the majority of participants will enjoy and feel enriched by attending events abroad as well. From the planner’s perspective, the success of European meetings also requires hiring a qualified destination management company or meeting management company. Good communication between all parties and a clear understanding of participant expectations are the keys to getting the most from meetings in Europe.
Miguel Neves,, CDMP, heads the European headquarters of SYNAXIS Meetings & Events in London. He has earned the Certified Diversity Meeting Professional designation, administered by the International Association of Hispanic Meeting Professionals. The CDMP is similar to the CMP, with greater focus on diversity and sustainability issues. Reach Miguel at Miguel@synaxismeetings.com or follow him on Twitter at @miguelseven.