Let’s start with a simple premise: No matter how expert you may be, no matter how many years you have been managing meetings, you should not attempt to plan and execute a meeting overseas without help from local supplier partners. If you think that you can do everything alone, as you may be doing here at home, then stay home. Get local support lined up and you will save time, money, and, quite possibly, your job.
Here are my top 10 questions to ask before you select a supplier, be it a destination management company, professional congress organizer, tour company, transportation company, or any other vendor you are considering:
1. How long has your company been in business?
Three years is usually enough time for a business to achieve some internal stability and a presence in the community. I would never risk a meeting on a startup unless I knew the owner personally and had successfully worked with him/her previously.
2. Can you provide names and contact information for three previous clients whose groups or meetings were similar to mine?
Once you get this information, follow up with an e-mail and a phone call. You want to know if this supplier will really understand the details and nuances of your particular group of attendees and if you can rely on the operations team to carry out the promises made by the sales person.
3. Can you provide references from your bank and creditors?
Verify financial references. This is not difficult for a public company. For a privately held enterprise about which you know nothing, at the very least ask for a letter from the company’s bank. A statement from a reputable bank confirming that the company has a currently active business account is not a guarantee of future solvency. However, a good relationship with a commercial bank and an active account is one indicator that a business is functional. You could also ask for references from three creditors, to see whether the company’s accounts are up-to-date and if it pays its bills on time. Again, this doesn’t guarantee against bankruptcy in the future, but at least gives snapshot of the current financial health of the company and the responsibility of its management.
4. Is your company and/or its staff active in at least one recognized regional professional association and, preferably, an international professional association?
Membership is not a guarantee of competency or performance, but it does indicate that the management subscribes to an internationally recognized level of professionalism and code of practice. It also indicates a willingness to be accountable to colleagues in the industry and to invest time and money in continuing professional education and training. These are all good signs.
5. Are all necessary licenses current?
Business license requirements, if any, vary from country to country, but if they are required, your local partner should have them up-to-date and available.
6. Is any required insurance current?
Like business licenses, insurance requirements vary. Most developed countries require some kind of business insurance. Even in countries where requirements may be less stringent, most reputable suppliers who work with American clients will carry insurance, since this is such a major concern in the U.S.
7. May I visit your office and meet your staff?
If the answer to this question is not an immediate “yes,” this may be an indication that the supplier may not have the physical and/or human resources required to support your meeting. If there is an office, visit it. In what part of town is it located? What kind of IT and communications equipment are in use? Is the staff busy? Are they pleasant? What overall impression of the company do you get from watching the staff in action?
8. Is the English proficiency of your operations staff as good as that of the sales staff?
Insist on talking with members of the operations staff. If their English is not as proficient as that of the salesperson who so eloquently pitched the business to you, how will you and your staff communicate with them on site, especially in an emergency?
9. Can you work with within my budget?
I always make the meeting and budget parameters clear from the outset. This does not mean that you cannot and should not negotiate with suppliers overseas. It simply provides a foundation for a more efficient and successful . Accurate and realistic information with which a supplier can prepare a proposal is the first step toward developing a long-term relationship of trust and respect. In many areas of the world, the relationships you do or do not establish may determine the success or failure of your meeting. I have always been straightforward with my suppliers about what I can and cannot spend, and, as a result, I have often gotten more value for my budget. They appreciated an honest, professional dialogue that did not waste their time and more often than not found creative ways to add extra value to their proposals.
10. What is my gut telling me?
Trust your instincts. Chemistry, comfort, and trust are crucial. As with all relationships, those we establish with support partners abroad will often depend on intangibles that cannot be measured, researched on the Internet, or provided by references. We like to work with people we like. Sometimes we “click” and develop long and fruitful relationships, sometimes we do not. I have been fortunate to meet and work with extraordinary people all over the world who remain valued colleagues and friends after decades of collaboration. Through them I have met other members of my global resource network and we continue to share assistance and advice as needed.
Carol Krugman, MEd, CMP, CMM, has managed programs in Latin America, Europe, Asia, Australia, and the Middle East, as well as in the United States and Canada over the past 30 years. As Director of Meeting and Business Event Management for the Department of Hospitality, Tourism and Events Management at Metropolitan State College of Denver, Carol is currently teaching undergraduate courses in meeting and event planning full time.