Getting Started 1. Skip the phone tag and long-distance charges, and surf the Web. The major online service providers have travel forums with information about individual countries. Or, visit www.goeurope.com, a European travel Web site. You also can locate many European cities by typing in www.aip.com/[city you are looking for].
2. Nearly all European countries have tourist offices in New York. Make these your first point of contact: They're in (or closer to) your time zone, and they're staffed with English-speaking officials who are anxious to provide information and assistance.
3. See it for yourself first. If you've never traveled to a country you're considering for a meeting, ask for a site inspection. The U.S. (usually New York City-based) tourism office of the country you're considering will coordinate with the national airline to arrange your visit. Many countries will provide complimentary guest rooms and a guide to show you hotels and other areas of interest.
4. Do you have an attendee living in the proposed meeting area? Such a person could help with some of the legwork and provide inside information.
5. You and your staff will spend at least 25 percent more time planning a meeting in Europe than planning one in the United States or Canada. This might be the time to bring in some interns, outsource, or hire other lower-priced, part-time workers to help defray costs.
6. Is there a public relations agency that handles the account of the country where you're meeting? This firm will work for you--often at no charge--providing promotional materials, site inspections, complimentary receptions, and local office assistants.
7. Corporate and incentive groups often find it intriguing and instructional to see how their company or a similar business functions outside the U.S. Identify potential tours during your site inspection.
8. Hire a local destination management company () or, for larger conventions, a professional congress organizer (PCO). Their well-cultivated contacts and knowledge of the area will save you money and time. A DMC/PCO can assist with ground and air transportation, social functions, and spouse programs and also provide on-site assistants.
9. Will the proposed site help attendees make new and valuable contacts? Could it expose them to new ideas and advancements? Such business purposes are considered by the IRS when it determines "reasonable" expenses and the tax deductibility of meetings.
10. Once your site has been selected, order maps, guides, and general tourist information for attendees from your U.S. contacts. These are almost always provided and shipped to one location at no charge.
11. Before you consider cruising Europe, beware. A cruise meeting is only tax-deductible if the ship is U.S.-registered and all ports of call are in the U.S. or territories under U.S. occupation.
Hotel Negotiating 12. Beds or bodies? Look out when negotiating guest rooms. In North America, a "single" means one person occupying the room, regardless of the number of beds. In Europe, a "single" means there's one bed in the room--and you're typically paying per bed, regardless of how many people actually occupy the room.
13. Consider an all-inclusive resort. Some 90,000 delegates attended meetings at 120 Club Meds around the world in 1995, for example.
14. Try to negotiatein U.S. dollars. While generally accepted in Canada and Mexico, it is less common in Western Europe. This is a clause worth pushing for, as profits can alter drastically with currency fluctuations.
15. In your, be sure to specify which contract laws (local or U.S.) will be applicable.
16. Do not expect complimentary guest rooms or meeting space, as is the custom in North America. Budget accordingly.
17. To save on refreshment prices, ask for locally made items. Imported waters, sodas, and juices will be more expensive.
18. Make sure you have a full American breakfast included in your room rate. This has become de rigueur, but some hotels will try to get away with Danish and coffee rather than the full American: eggs, bacon, toast, cereal, juice, yogurt, pastries, ham, and cheeses.
Travel Arrangements 19. Most countries have an official airline. Work with the carrier's U.S. sales office to defray your overall meeting costs. Much will depend on the season and availability, but you can often negotiate site-inspection tickets, productivity tickets, VIP upgrades, contest prize tickets, pre-printed coupons, brochures, and material shipment discounts.
20. Typically, there has never been much room for negotiating international airfares. However, alliances between U.S. and European carriers may result in lower fares for meetings. Keep your eyes open.
21. Sidestep the big cities. Alternative airports can be more convenient and cheaper. So far, 12 airlines provide service to 15 European cities that include Cologne/Bonn, Dusseldorf, and Frankfurt, Germany; Eindhoven and Rotterdam, The Netherlands; and Geneva, Zurich, Bern, and Lugano, Switzerland, to name a few examples. Watch for more.
22. Richard Branson has launched Virgin European Airways Ltd. to force European airlines to bring down prices. Branson plans to take on the major European airlines--many state-owned--to cut regional airfares by 50 percent.
23. Take a train. Traveling close to the ground is often a more enjoyable and scenic--not to mention affordable--way to transport attendees from one destination to another within Europe. Many international companies offer a traditional, steam-powered train ride package. For on-line information, contact the CTU Railway Page, the Index of European Railway Resources at www.cvut.cz/home/ railway.com.
Before You Meet, Consider This: 24. If your top execs can't travel to the incentive program, is videoconference feasible? Capabilities and usage has exploded over the past few years. And, as with most technology, prices keep dropping.
25. Remember that in the Southern Hemisphere the seasons are reversed. Research average temperatures as well as average rainfall during your program dates. Even the most intrepid incentive group doesn't want to visit the South Pacific during the monsoon season.
Money Matters 26. The Value-Added Tax (VAT) is to be expected in most countries and varies from five percent to 35 percent. In many cases, the VAT can be reclaimed, but each country has different rules and regulations. Contact a company such as Meridien VAT, (800) 727-4828, which specializes in obtaining VAT refunds.
27. VAT refunds paid on car rental, entertainment, meals, conference fees, and the like often are not pursued by eligible companies because of the time and paperwork involved. A software program called Auto VAT creates instructions prior to a trip, detailing eligible expenses. Call Corporate VAT Management, (206) 292-0300.
28. It pays to use your credit card for purchases overseas: You get the best exchange rate. Remind attendees.
29. At least a year in advance, open a consignment bank account in the local currency. Then hedge against currency fluctuations by staggering your purchase of local currency over several months.
30. Buy a forward contract. That is, buy a certain amount of a foreign currency to be available at a specified time in the future on the current rate of exchange. Advantages: Currency fluctuations won't alter your budget and you don't have to have all the cash on hand in advance. The main disadvantage is that once the down payment is made, you are committed to paying the remainder, even if the meeting does not occur.
31. To prevent problems with foreign exchange, accept only U.S. registration (and other conference-related) funds on-site. If you subject yourself to currency fluctuations, profits will fluctuate dramatically and you will incur excess service charges.
32. Arrange to accept credit cards through U.S. banks as this will ensure both the attendee and organization receive the best exchange rate.
33. Unless it's an emergency, advise your delegates not to exchange money at the airport or hotel. Check streetside currency exchange offices and banks for the best rate.
Conference Materials 34. Hire a customs broker to help you ship conference materials from the U.S. Not only are they more familiar with rules and regulations but they can recommend necessary lead times. (The International Transport Association, 516/872-8482, has 60 freight forwarder/customs broker mem-bers in 50 countries.)
35. Try borrowing on-site office supplies (stapler, pens, paper clips) from your hosts or purchasing these items overseas. Often, by the time you have paid for shipping, cleared these boxes through customs, and transported them to the meeting site, it would have been less expensive to have bought them at the local stationery store.
36. After you have negotiated with your overseas on-site copy company, send over all conference materials ahead of time for reproduction. You will save a bundle on shipping, customs forms, and time expended finding boxes.
37. In your airline negotiations, ask for discounted rates on shipping when you name them the "official airline" for the group. Discounts range from regular express to freight rates or even free material shipment.
Also, Consider This: 38. To ease the cost of mailing to potential participants, set up a Web site to include all pertinent details: hotel reservation form, pre-registration form, maps, transportation details, agenda, and frequently asked questions. This will save your organization big bucks on phone tag, mailing costs, and fax costs .
39. Always ask if overseas contacts have an e-mail address. Not only will this lighten your phone bill, it neatly solves the time-zone challenge.
40. Don't ever make a direct-dial call from your hotel room unless it is an emergency. Rates vary--but they're always high.
41. Do you know the appropriate access codes that let you use your long-distance calling card overseas? AT&T and MCI can provide a list of countries and codes; Sprint calling cards, however, only work from the U.S. and Canada.
42. Don't be afraid to make last-minute arrangements from the air. GTE's Airfone inflight phone service has eliminated its per-minute phone charge and replaced it with a $15 flat fee (plus tax). This is quite a change from the "sky-high" rates of the past.
Doing Business In Europe? Consider the following: 43. For a better understanding of the country you're visiting (and of your hosts), do a little background research before you go. Two resources are "Foreign Country Background Notes," available from the U.S. Government Printing Office at (202) 783-3238, and "Culturegrams" from Kennedy Center Publications, Brigham Young University, (800) 528-6279.
44. Europeans tend to be less formal than North Americans in contractual terms. Tread cautiously. Some European suppliers, who are more accustomed to the "gentleman's agreement," might be insulted by what they perceive as a litigious climate.
45. Once both parties have come to agreeable terms, insist (politely and for "mutual clarity") on getting everything that has been agreed to in writing--in English.
46. The two-hour leisurely European lunch is sacrosanct. Dinner begins later in the evening (8 p.m. or later) and is long and leisurely. Expect a full dinner to consist of several courses and last late into the evening.
47. At both the negotiating table and the dinner table, speak clearly and look at the person you're speaking to. Remember that those for whom English is a second language will need time to translate your comments.
48. Most Europeans work 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Your crazed meeting schedule should not be imposed upon your hosts. Respect the way they do business.
49. Have respect for the fact that most Europeans don't follow our diet and exercise obsessions or share our radical stance against smoking. As a visitor, respect their rights to choose their own lifestyles.
50. Expect to receive gifts from your European contacts. This is common, so don't be embarrassed. Accept them graciously and be prepared to reciprocate. Bring gifts indigenous to your area to present to your hosts.