How good are you at selecting sites an ocean away?

Choosing the right venue for your global meeting or event can boost attendance and heighten the participant experience. Getting the process right from thousands of miles away presents some unique challenges. Having organized more than 600 international programs in 30 countries, I’d like to offer a few tips I’ve learned along the way.

1. Scout destinations creatively. No law mandates meeting in huge buildings in capital cities! There are benefits to gathering off the beaten path. Choices abound far from major international airports, in facilities accessible by road, train, and ferry. Consider the compelling options in up-and-coming (or merely overlooked) destinations such as Valencia, Spain; Istanbul, Turkey; and Berlin, Germany. I’ve held successful programs in a castle in Ireland, a pasha’s palace in Turkey, and an opera hall in Spain.

Table set for dinner at Castillo de Santa Florentina,
a private castle in Barcelona

2. No booking without looking! Inspect every facility you are considering. I routinely visit business-caliber hotels and otherfacilities when on the road and photograph key rooms, spaces, and faces for my files. Know your attendee base, and look into the things that they specifically care about, whether that is service, food, opening hours for retail or other outlets, room amentities, and more. The strengths of a potential meeting site—and the city/region itself—should match your attendees’ preferences. Seeing and experiencing the site puts you in a better negotiating position, too.

3. Negotiate persistently, but pleasantly. Rates are indeed flexible. Discounts are available when you visit the site and take the right approach. Be persistent and pleasant, never demean a facility nor demand special accommodations. Rather, explain your budget restrictions and describe the arrangements or the price point you seek. Plan to meet the sales manager several times during your negotiation. Consider Skype rather than repeat visits to keep costs down. And please, don’t base your decision on whether the property offers complimentary rooms or discounted services to decision-makers: So-called professional courtesy should never sway your opinion.

4. Be aware of privacy laws.Privacy laws tend to be more extensive outside the U.S., resulting in different information-gathering and data-retention practices and policies. European vendors, for example, may be legally restricted from processing information—birthdates, identification numbers—that are routinely gathered and reused in the U.S. Note: An event planner bringing credit-card data back to the U.S. after an event in Europe could be cited for being in violation of privacy laws. The U.S. government prosecutes a rising number of cases alleging violation of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which governs fees paid by U.S. nationals to overseas suppliers. Know the relevant laws. If your company or association retains an attorney, ask for guidance. You can find information about what may constitute bribery and corruption on the Web sites maintained by the Association for Corporate Counseland the Department of Justice. Major business law firms periodically offer workshops open to non-clients; look online for upcoming programs in your area.

5. Break out in style. Make the most of your destination by planning off-site programs spotlighting what’s exciting, lively, and unique to the region. Tap the arts, explore local history, and savor regional cuisine. Find ways to introduce local business leaders and successful professionals into your program. I regularly find creative and entrepreneurial talent who work or live near where we are meeting; I’ve hired regional chefs, dancers, poets, musicians, architects, and artists who have added immeasurably to the caliber of our programs. Their participation opens up the “real-life” world going on where we’ve gathered, and provides authentic cultural experiences.

Walter Stuggeris co-founder and managing director of inspiria global event services, helping companies and organizations meet successfully in Europe and beyond. Reach himat