Rome, Paris, Rio! Ever think about going global and choosing an international destination for your meeting? Your first question should be: “Is an international destination best for my organization?”
If the answer is yes, here are my top tips for helping the process go smoothly for you, your company or association, and your attendees.
1. Give Yourself a Year
With international programs, you need to build in plenty of time to react to unforeseen circumstances and delays. Expect , negotiations, and travel planning to take longer when you’re booking an international destination. Don’t be afraid to get help from an experienced meeting planner or travel agent. The investment will be worthwhile based on the number of challenges that can arise when booking an international destination.
2. Start Early When Reaching Out to Attendees
Over the past 20 years, trips abroad have become commonplace. But did you know that only about 30 percent of Americans have a passport? Going global may take some extra planning and education.
First and foremost, let your attendees know as early as possible regarding the latest regulations of international travel. A real-life example of how this can go wrong was on a recent trip to South America. An attendee was turned away at the international terminal for having a slightly damaged passport. Needless to say, the trip was ruined before it started, and regardless of who was at fault, the blame always seems to fall on the planners. Another example: You might think that if your passport is valid for another five months, you’re fine. In fact, you could be denied entry to the many countries that require visitors to have at least six months remaining on their passports in order to be allowed in.
One of the most recent passport changes came with the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative, which requires U.S. citizens to have passports to enter Canada, the Caribbean, and Latin America.
Be aware that even if all of your attendees are traveling from the U.S., they may not all be U.S. citizens. They—and you—must know the requirements for entry to your meeting country that relate to travelers from their home countries. For example, visas may be required so you need to ensure that the affected attendees have the time and resources to get their visas prior to departure.
Use this helpful page at The U.S. Department of State Web site to learn the specifics about your meeting country.
3. Give Attendees a Way to Get Their Questions Answered
Create a section on your registration Web site that answers frequently asked questions regarding international travel. These could cover currency exchange, shipping and cargo restrictions, and personal security needs. Offer links to additional resources, especially for information that is subject to change.
4. Make an International Travel Checklist
Your attendees are busy businesspeople. Help them prepare for their trip with a checklist of easily overlooked items. Include what adapters they might need for electronics; remind them to check with their cellphone carriers about international calling plans and how expensive they are; give them options for renting a cellphone in your destination country, if available; offer a list of useful travel apps; share the biggest cultural differences they should know before traveling to your meeting country. (Did you know, for example, that it is considered rude to not accept food from a Japanese host? Or that if a German asks you to go out for a business dinner, he or she may not offer to pay?)
5. Hire an Interpreter
Work with your venue or a private firm to hire an interpreter who can be available for any sticky situations. While most modern countries are English friendly, you will soon learn that having an interpreter with a large group is a huge benefit. From assisting with prescription requests to finding a nice dinner location, being able to communicate in the language of the country will make your experience much easier. It’s also helpful to give common phrases to your attendees for quick reference—you could even offer a translation book as an amenity for their trip.
In addition to a translation book, to ease the culture shock for your attendees provide a guide with a quick-reference currency converter, a brief description on how to make a call to and from the country to which you are traveling, and the location and contact information of the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate.
6. Use a Local Destination Management Company
While your attendees may be going on this trip for business, they are going to want to stay for fun! It is important to plan time for sightseeing, excursions, and activities. Nothing is worse than attending a business meeting abroad and only seeing the inside of the hotel ballroom.
Using a localto manage on-site ground transportation and tours will make your job much easier. Local companies have local contacts, and often can provide unique experiences. At the very least, they will have advice on entertainment, dining, and activities.
7. Require Backup
Request photocopies of your attendees’ passports, important medical information, and emergency phone numbers, so that even if luggage is lost, important information is available.
To recap: Plan ahead, educate attendees, and stay apprised of travel restrictions.
Andy McNeill is president and CEO of American Meetings Inc., a global and meeting management company based in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Andy and his team have worked with firms, associations and Fortune 500 companies worldwide and developed programs, conferences, and symposia for more than three million attendees around the world. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org