The rules of negotiating depend on the cultural orientation of the person with whom you are working, so take off your American hat and put on a different one. And don't expect facilities overseas to be duplications of their American counterparts. The term conference center in Europe, for example, most often means a purpose-built facility for meetings only, with no hotel accommodations and no trade show space to speak of. To help you out when working internationally, here are some basic things to be aware of regarding negotiations, facilities, and contracts for events held outside the United States.

Budgeting Tips

  • Some veteran planners estimate that an offshore program will cost $1,000 to $1,500 more per person than a domestic one, and some advise doubling the operating budget. Others say that with careful planning, an offshore program does not have to cost much more than one held in the United States.

  • One thing everyone agrees on: Build in a generous slush fund — as much as 25 percent greater than your domestic meeting's contingency fund.

  • Put together a detailed budget worksheet that covers every imaginable expense, including air, hotel, meeting rooms, AV, food and beverage, shipping, speaker support, translation, spouse programs, staff costs, printing and copying, local transportation, and telephone and fax costs.

  • Don't expect deeply discounted hotel room rates or free meeting room space. Meeting space is at a premium in many foreign countries. However, in some countries, particularly in Asia, hotels frequently offer a meeting package that includes a room for the general session, basic AV equipment, lunch, and two breaks. So you may actually end up paying less than in the United States.

  • Hotels in general are smaller, so if you need more than 50 rooms, you may have to use more than one property, which can drive up your shuttle costs.

  • When getting price info, always ask what is included. For example, the congress center rental fee may include phone lines.

  • Budgeting and site selection go hand in hand. Ask about costs as part of your RFP process.

  • Contact destination management companies and tourist boards early on. They can help with cost information and help you save money.

  • In many places, labor can be less expensive than in the United States. F&B costs also might be lower, and you might get a lot more service with F&B.

Negotiating Styles

  • There are few countries in which it is proper to expect to be quickly on a first-name basis with your negotiating counterpart.

  • Always insist on dealing with the top person in charge. In many countries, only this top person — a general manager, managing director, or international sales director, for instance — is empowered to make decisions.

  • When not meeting face to face, conduct your negotiations by fax or e-mail instead of phone: It's quick, it helps to alleviate language problems, and it provides a written record of transactions.

  • Don't leave the negotiating table without exploring the following legal questions and getting answers: What will be the official language for purposes of interpreting the contract? What currency will be used for payment, and when is payment expected? Will disputes be settled by international arbitration? Who has the authority to make changes in the contract?

  • Be aware of and cautious about the phrase “subject to standard terms and conditions.” You need to get a copy of the document that details what those standard terms and conditions are. And that document may be the size of an encyclopedia. Another term to look out for is “incorporated by reference.” Don't accept that phrase until you see what it means.

  • Unless you negotiate an attrition clause in the contract, you will be expected to pay for all of the meals and rooms that you book, even if your attendance turns out to be less than you had anticipated.

  • Be certain that your organization's insurance policy is enforceable in the host country. It's a good idea to have your policy reviewed by a competent broker to make sure that it covers your international event.


  • Convention centers in Europe are used primarily for meetings, and may be the U.S. equivalent of conference centers. Trade fair facilities are exhibit facilities that have little or no meeting space.

  • In the United States, convention bureaus often sell and sometimes control bookings for convention centers. Overseas centers typically can be booked directly, although bureaus often have an important role in coordination.

  • Food and beverage within Asian and European facilities is usually more like restaurant quality. And if labor unions are in place, they act more like staff, without the complex labor jurisdictions of many U.S. facilities. In addition, the technology capabilities in most major centers around the world are truly state-of-the-art.

  • Convention centers outside the United States often are not subsidized by governments, so expect to pay more for their rental and services.

  • Pricing structures at international convention centers differ significantly from those in U.S. facilities. Some charges that you might expect to be bundled into the basic rental charge, such as staffing fees for personnel who handle registration or coat check, could show up as line-item charges. Every facility is different, so be sure to ask detailed questions about what is included in the basic rental fee.

  • There is often no convention services department in overseas hotels; in such cases, the F&B manager coordinates the details with the meeting organizer.

  • Mega downtown hotels and resorts are not common in Europe and many parts of Asia. So a group of 300 people often has to be split among three hotels. It may be difficult to get rooms all of equal quality level.

  • Given the high demand and relatively limited amount of F&B space in hotels overseas, be prepared for your function space to be reset in the evening and then reset for your event the next morning.

Preparing International Promotional Materials

Here are 14 practical suggestions on terminology and style changes you should be aware of when preparing written materials for international audiences, especially promotional material.

  1. All time references should be in international (or military) time.

  2. If dollars are referred to, indicate the type of dollars, e.g. US$1,000 or HK$1,000.

  3. Calendar dates: 3/7/2004 means July 3, not March 7, to most internationals. Avoid confusion by using 7 March 2004.

  4. Give a toll-number alternative for any 800 numbers, since these are for domestic use only.

  5. Check any fax-on-demand system to make sure that it's set up to include incoming faxes from overseas.

  6. Ensure that the response forms for the event include extra room for names, and an extra address line, including blanks for province and country if appropriate.

  7. Instead of first name/last name, use only one line tagged as “name” on response forms. If you need two completion areas, use “given name/family” name to tag the areas.

  8. Have your response forms include labeled blanks for a three-digit country code and a three-digit city code for telephone and fax numbers. For example: 000 (country code) 000 (city code) 0000000 (phone number).

  9. Include square meters as well as square footage for exhibit space information.

  10. Avoid using the American term “show.” Use “trade fair,” “exhibition,” or “event.”

  11. Use the term “visitors” in the sense of delegates but not exhibitors; “attendance” if the sense includes exhibitors.

  12. Boilerplate descriptions of the sponsoring association that mention membership may need clarification as to where the members are based, e.g. U.S., Canada, worldwide.

  13. Copy that includes trade statistics may need clarification as to the origin of the trade, since a U.S. export is a foreign import and vice versa.

  14. Distinction to watch: Interpreters convert languages orally, as in a speech given on-site. Translators work on written materials.

From William J. Kircher & Associates, Washington, D.C.