Several years ago, I accepted a familiarization trip invitation to visit Peru and Colombia. When I told friends and family where I was going, I could count on one of two reactions: “Awesome!” or “Why on earth would you want to go there?”
Tales of my travels have drawn the latter reaction on more than one occasion, especially since 9/11. I chalk it up to Americans' notorious xenophobia, an overdependence on sensational headlines for our information, and fear of the unknown. Years of wandering outside the United States have taught me that the proper attitude rests somewhere between the two extremes. Wanderlust is best tempered by a dose of reality.
Despite all the fears about travel fueled by terrorism, SARS, mad cow disease, and other challenges, Americans still view travel as a birthright. And as the world continues to grow smaller, international meetings are increasingly a fact of life.
U.S. planners said that 22 percent of all 2004 meetings would be international, according to the Future Watch survey, released in January by Meeting Professionals International. That's an 11 percent growth in international meetings in 2004, twice that of 2003.
As many of the articles in this issue of Beyond Borders stress, advance research and planning are crucial to a successful international journey or program. Like a good meeting planner, I bone up on a place before I get there so I know what to expect, how to act, how to pack, what dangers and delights might be in store. I also take everything I read with a grain of salt.
Case in point: Before I visited Peru and Colombia, I braced myself for malaria, tourist-directed crime, bad water, and altitude sickness. I was thrilled to be visiting Machu Picchu, but on paper it seemed as if I would need to run a gantlet to reach it. Turns out the only downside to the trip was the oppressive crowds at the ruins — something the guidebooks had failed to mention.
The advance work for an overseas meeting or incentive obviously entails much more than planning a vacation. An event planner must make a large number of people (and their families) feel safe and comfortable, in addition to protecting what can be a major financial commitment for the organization.
That homework will pay off in a smooth program, readiness for potential glitches, better productivity, and priceless memories for the participants. Use Beyond Borders as your guide.