Nowhere is a convention and visitors bureau's services more critical to corporate executives planning meetings than in the international arena. IACVB is learning this firsthand while planning its annual meeting, to be held July 17 to 22 in Hong Kong.

"All of a sudden I feel like a U.S. corporate meeting planner doing an overseas meeting," says Karen Schifelbein-Jordan, IACVB's CEO and president. "One of my biggest challenges is that I don't want this simply to be a U.S. meeting held in a non-U.S. destination; all that would mean is higher airfares for the American attendees. I want a truly global experience, so I started with the Hong Kong Convention and Incentive Travel Bureau and said 'I need help.'"

That help is coming in many forms. The bureau is helping find speakers for the IACVB program, as well as buyers for the trade show held in conjunction with the annual meeting. It is serving as the association's "eyes" in selecting venues for everything from the closing banquet to tours of the city, Jordan says.

An international CVB can help with questions about culture, protocol, and even translation services. For example, Jordan asks, "Do we need to be more formal in areas like presentations?" Another crucial area where there are differences between domestic and overseas meetings is with audiovisual and computer equipment. International CVBs can guide planners through this potential minefield by communicating between them and the meeting facility.

Jordan adds that communication in general should be intensified when a company plans a meeting outside the U.S. "Your attendees are going to an environment where they are probably not as comfortable as usual," she says. "What they expect and take for granted with a meeting in New York City won't be the same in Hong Kong. You need to communicate information you would not normally communicate: how to get to and from the airport, how to get through customs, how to tip." An international CVB can help with it all. "I can't even imagine booking a meeting outside the U.S. without their help," Jordan says.

IACVB, which now has 52 non-U.S. members (out of a total membership of about 420 bureau members), is starting to place greater emphasis on its international side. Its new strategic plan gives the association a more "global mindset," according to Jordan. "In today's environment, we are no longer restricted by borders. We have to discard the myopic perspective that says if we have a U.S. mindset, we're covered."

IACVB also is working with the Amsterdam-based International Congress and Convention Association (ICCA) to develop a database of all non-U.S. meetings coming to the U.S. and all U.S. meetings going to non-U.S. destinations. The new global network will be accessible to ICCA and IACVB members. Corporate meetings will be the first slated for the database, an indication, says Jordan, of both the growth in this market and its importance to all CVBs.