The key to a successful international program is establishing a close partnership with a ground operator/destination management company in your incentive destination. Some planners prefer to handle international incentive travel through a U.S.-based incentive house, but this "middleman" can add to your cost significantly and, more important, deprive you of the wonderful experience of creating the program. With faxes and e-mail, there are no barriers to working directly with overseas companies. And many have U.S. offices.

A good ground operator will assist you in every aspect of your program, from airport greeting to hotels. In the U.S., meeting planners usually deal directly with hotels on a net-rate basis, but in Europe, Africa, and Asia, I prefer to work through local ground operators. I believe I get better service and often a lower room rate by letting them handle the hotel even though they receive a commission. Since they work with the hotels frequently, ground operators usually have more negotiating clout than you do. And when they receive commissions from hotels, you are in a better position to negotiate lower fees on other services, such as ground transportation, tours, theme events, and the like. Finally, ground operators give you a better chance of getting the best rooms for your attendees. In Europe in particular, even in five-star hotels, guest rooms are anything but standard. Ground operators know where the best rooms are and will negotiate for them on your behalf.

We live in a high-tech world, but a successful travel program comes down to people working with people. It's worth interviewing several companies to find the right chemistry. Trust, integrity, and creativity are high on my list of requirements, and I have been very fortunate to establish partnerships with many excellent ground operators throughout Europe, Asia, Africa, and Australia. They are listed above.

Italy Mario Caltagirone Intercontinental Travel Co. Rome, Italy Phone: 39-06-303321 Fax: 39-06-30880557

Switzerland Rudy Alofs, Jacques Pappasian Conventus of Switzerland Lausanne, Switzerland Phone: 41-216-174371; Fax: 41-216-174380

French Riviera Lenny Ch Spangberg, Michael Freeland LSO Nice, France Phone: 33-493-188111; Fax: 33-493-188108

Paris Francois Gailliard LaFayette Travel Paris, France Phone: 33-148-740544; Fax: 33-142-821489

London Ted Wilkinson Wilkintours Ltd. Phone: 0181-844-4000 Fax: 0181-844-4009

East Africa Dennis Pinto Micato Safaris New York, New York Phone: 212-545-7111; Fax: 212-545-8297

South Africa Andrea N. Hugo Rennies Incentive &

Conference Management Norfolk, Va. Phone: 757-855-1572; 800-322-3867 Fax: 757-855-4260

Asia (specifically, Hong Kong, Bangkok, Bali, Singapore) Robert W. Guy Pacific World Singapore Phone: 65-290-1801; Fax: 65-291-1633

Australia Gillian Robb Australian Incentive Travel Co. pty. Ltd. Sydney, Australia Phone: 61-2-247-8355; Fax: 61-2-247-8473

Greece Byron D. Argiri Conceptours Athens, Greece Phone: 301-324-0191; Fax: 301-323-9515

Turkey Ceylan Pirinccioglu VIP Tourism Istanbul, Turkey Phone: 90-212-231-1564 Fax: 90-212-225-0644

Russia Marko Podkubovsek Networld, Inc. Livingston, N.J. Phone: 973-992-3411; Fax: 973-992-5028