Beyond Borders: You suggest that meeting planners set up a “resource network” when venturing outside the United States. How should they begin?
Carol Krugman: Start nearby. Family and friends who have traveled or even lived in the country where you will be working can provide a wealth of useful tips. Before my first assignment in Seoul, I got a complete briefing on Korean food, social etiquette, and basic business practices from the Korean couple who owned the neighborhood fruit-and-vegetable stand where I routinely shopped.

Next, if you work in a company, ask colleagues for advice, especially those in overseas offices. If you’re an independent planner, professional association contacts can help. Meeting Professionals International has been an extended professional family and virtual workplace for me for over 15 years, and it continues to provide valuable contacts all over the world, ranging from planners to suppliers to academics. Other international professional organizations, such as the International Congress and Convention Association and SITE, are excellent resources. Many members of the Professional Convention Management Association also are involved with meetings overseas.

BB: Let’s say I’ve exhausted the advice of people I know and I still need more information. What next?
Krugman: National tourist organizations and convention and visitors bureaus are perhaps the least understood, least appreciated, and most underutilized sources of information and support for planners who have no prior experience in a destination. They provide a wealth of information and collateral materials. They also assist with organizing site visits, identifying local suppliers, and even helping to gain access to venues controlled by local governments for that special off-site event.

NTOs and CVBs welcome group inquiries of any size and are happy to assist corporate and association meetings alike. Best of all, their services are free to planners, as they are funded by their governments, member supplier companies, or both. And check out this online directory of NTOs.

If you work with any of the larger hotel chains or even the smaller consortia of independent hotels, your sales contacts will be delighted to either get you the information you need about potential properties overseas or put you in touch with someone who can. Airline contacts can get you information on flight availability, capacity, and schedules.

BB: What about using the Internet?
Krugman: The reality today is that we tend to go to the Internet first, foremost, and continuously throughout the information-gathering process. It is an outstanding research and screening tool that is especially useful for finding and sifting through large amounts of information that were previously difficult or time- consuming to obtain. For example, I always check out the Web sites of embassies, consulates, and the U.S. Departments of State and Commerce, to get an overview of the political, economic, and security issues that may have an impact on my group. This is not necessarily information that would be provided by a national tourist office. These days, even when I am traveling internationally as a private citizen, I register my travel plans with the U.S. Consulate in any country I will be visiting, so as to get on its e-mail advisory/warning list.

As a vehicle for setting up a resource network, remember that the Internet is a useful tool, but it is no substitute for the advice you can get from a known and trusted human source.

BB: Who is on your list of essential support partners for international meetings?
Krugman: No matter how many years you have been planning meetings, you should not attempt to plan and execute a meeting overseas without help from local supplier partners, including:
1. A full-service destination management company. You’ll never have the day-to-day knowledge and long-term relationships that DMCs have in their communities. Association planners may choose instead to work with a professional congress (or conference) organizer, which provides many of the same services as a DMC along with additional meeting management services. These include assistance with registration, abstract management, and on-site management of multiple sessions, exhibits, and internal meetings during the larger meeting. PCOs often serve as the local organizing office for an association prior to, during, and even after a congress. Go to the International Association of Professional Congress Organizers for information on PCOs and where to find them.
2. A reliable shipping company, customs broker, and/or freight forwarder.
3. A specialist in reclaiming value-added tax, such as Clark Eide Inc. or Meridien Global Services. (More on VAT below.)

BB: You’ve stated that a team member fluent in the host-country language is a necessity, not a luxury.
Krugman: If you are not familiar with the local culture and you are unable to communicate in the local language, you must have someone with you to be your eyes, ears, and mouth on site. This person can be a co-worker or a colleague whom you can hire to assist with the planning and be on site. Or, you can ask your DMC to assign a staff person to you. Either way, it is important to have a dedicated assistant on site to ensure that your actions are appropriate and your decisions are communicated clearly to all.

A Value-Added Partner: Get to Know VAT, Then Get Help
At Wikipedia , you can find a comprehensive chart listing every country that has a VAT/IVA/GST. Check the percentage of tax and if it can be reclaimed. Then check again with the country’s national tourist office or your destination management company, since some countries, like Mexico and Chile, exempt meeting-related costs from their IVAs. In some European countries, you can reclaim some or all of the VAT paid on meeting-related goods and services, but you have to ask.

Note well: VAT reclaim is not automatic, not guaranteed, very complicated, and best left to specialists who will do the tracking, calculating, form filling, and filing for you. There are many such companies, but two that have worked with planners for years are Clark Eide Inc. and Meridien Global Services. (Links above.)

Carol Krugman, MEd, CMP, CMM, has managed programs in Latin America, Europe, Asia, Australia, and the Middle East, as well as in the U.S. and Canada, and now teaches full time as director of meeting and business event management for the Department of Hospitality, Tourism, and Events Management at Metropolitan State College of Denver.