Financial planners will tell you that trying to time the market to buy or sell stock is a recipe for failure: You need to follow a plan that takes into account your personal needs, coupled with long-term goals. Just as today's economic climate has created challenges in the stock market, it also has made developing and implementing international events around the world more challenging.

However, those who take into account their organization's needs and their long-term outlook find that international events are a viable way to expand their international footprint to benefit from the ever-growing global marketplace of products and services.

Growing Globally

Organizations looking to grow may find that their market is flat in the United States. However, there may be great opportunities in Central and Eastern Europe, the Middle East, Asia, or Latin America. For example:

  • The World Bank's 2008 “Doing Business Index” of leading indicators ranks Central and Eastern Europe as the best places for business growth-especially new business.

  • The World Economic Forum's 2008 “Global Competitiveness Index” provides high marks to several moderate Arab countries that represent excellent emerging-market private sectors, and free-market principles.

  • Sell Them What They Need

    The World Economic Forum's 2008 “Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Index” rates destinations like Hong Kong and Singapore higher than Holland, Belgium, China, or India.

Understand the Local Market

Organizations that want to increase their chances for success with international expansion do need to address local issues that can range from choosing the right local market and the right local service providers to knowing which obstacles can be avoided. International events can provide important returns, but they require more effort and flexibility than domestic meetings.

Following are some key guidelines for helping to conduct a successful international event in today's economy:

Whether your organization has a history of activity in a given region of the world or is looking for ways to enter a market, you need an event strategy based on serving local customer, partner, or member needs, expectations, and goals — and not just selling them what you have to sell. This may require adapting your content, promotions, and event schedules in ways that may be new to you. Include local stakeholders in the development of your event's strategy to help test market your design.

Mitigate Your Risk

Government policies that hinder the free flow of travel will create problems if you don't know how to work around them. Look for more open, accessible, and business-travel-supportive destinations. Also, make sure your destination decision is based less on glossy, alluring brochure photos and more on logistics considerations such as visa and import restrictions, the likely delays/costs on products arriving for trade shows and other events, customs controls, and waiting times at airports.

Excessive restrictions and controls create disincentives for travelers and discourage international participation at events. Of course, the irony is that these policies end up costing the same governmental entities substantial dollars in lost business opportunities and tax revenues.

Also, rely on appropriate and objective third-party sources to gauge a country's support of regulations and ethical and pro-business practices specific to your industry and to report on travel and business tourism in that location. These sources also can provide information on the prevalence of good infrastructure and on quality local service providers. We recommend using the World Bank, World Economic Forum, and Transparency International.

There are many risks involved in planning international events. Following are some common expense areas in which you can spread your costs by mitigating your risk:

Currency fluctuations — Meeting revenues should be collected in the currency of the event country since you will pay expenses in the same currency. If you have offices in that region, you should use profits to support local efforts. Otherwise, keep proceeds in a foreign bank account to help with future events. If you want to repatriate the funds, it is a good idea to buy a currency hedge to lower your exposure.

Travel costs — Airline capacity reductions and rising ticket costs are continuing to affect the industry worldwide. Ensure that a location has the necessary air travel infrastructure and a reasonable schedule and pricing.

Registration offerings — The depressed economic climate will likely require even more proactive programs and incentives in order to encourage registration and attendance. Attendees, exhibitors, and/or sponsors must anticipate a return on their investments of time and money to commit to an international experience — even more than with a domestic event. The tighter the economy, the more questions they will ask: Should I attend? Can I afford to exhibit? Can I send fewer people from my company? Should I stay as long? Organizers have to be able to address those concerns in a proactive and measurable fashion to ensure participation.

Cultural differences — Develop a plan based on expected audience delegation size and needs and have interpreters and/or select translations of content available. Get advice from volunteer leaders or local partners.

Hire Local Experts

Contract negotiations — Secure good local partners who know the market and, as volume purchasers in the area, may have the influence to help you before, during, and after contract negotiations.

Consider co-locating or partnering — Share costs to help lower risk.

Take advantage of resell opportunities — Repackage the most popular content from an event as a residual sales product available via the Internet to generate more revenue for little extra cost.

Finding the right local talent with expertise and experience in key value-added areas can mean the difference between profit and loss while also reducing your time spent managing challenges that you may not anticipate on your own.

Areas in which partners with good local knowledge can have a major positive impact include market research, sponsorship development, destination management, housing, currency risk, registration, and meeting logistics.

Involving a partner with experience marketing to a certain region is particularly important since ineffective marketing and promotion is often the greatest barrier to achieving event goals.

Be present in the region every day — Would you want to buy a membership from a foreign association that did not have a presence in your region? What if that association tried to conduct business in a currency other than your own? How would you feel if that association never tried to work with you locally to adapt products or services to your needs, or bombarded you with promotions that didn't accommodate cultural differences? You would be less likely to buy their products or services or join their association.

If you are serious about growing globally, you need to have a solid understanding of the region you are targeting. You need local experts with the right functional expertise, whether that involves adapting strategy for membership and products to the region, creating locally relevant products or membership benefits, or managing revenues and expenses in local currency. In short, it is all about building relationships. You cannot do that by just holding meetings in the region periodically to placate the locals.

As you consider the opportunities your organization may have around the world, make sure you are not making decisions on impulse but rather based on sound management practices that reduce your risks while increasing the likelihood for a successful meeting. Ask yourself what business goals you want this meeting to achieve for the region after the event concludes. Have a plan. Focus on the long term. And remember, position your organization for the opportunities that are available so you will be the first to benefit when the regional market rebounds.

Michael Payne is executive vice president with SmithBucklin, a leading association management company headquartered in Chicago; and Peter Turner is MCI Group's business development director.

SmithBucklin and MCI Global have partnered to allow SmithBucklin client organizations to work with MCI's 31 offices in 20 countries around the world, including access to locally relevant marketing and promotion, event planning, professional congress organizers, and destination management company services.



Source: International Congress and Convention Association 10/08 member survey

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Beyond Borders 2008
10 Things Planners Should Know About International Meetings