“If I knew then what I know now.” How many times have we heard that expression?
I planned my first international event many years ago in London. It was a one-day meeting held in a conference center for a U.S.-based client and its U.K.-based partner company, had no hotel room block, for about 200 people. Sounds pretty simple, right?
The venue contract was literally one page—basically stating how many people would be attending the meeting, what time the lunch and breaks would be, and how much we would pay. There was no mention of attrition or slippage, which I soon learned meant that there was no attrition allowance. The contract as it was written was very simple: Here’s what you’re bringing us, this is how much you’ll pay and this is what we’ll be providing for your meeting.
As I am based in California, managing a one-day meeting in London equated to a four-day trip at the minimum for me; one day to travel, one day for “recovery” and set-up, one day for the meeting itself, and one day to recover from the meeting and wrap things up before flying home. This, in addition to adjusting my work schedule to accommodate the pre-meeting work—based on the time difference in order to communicate with the venue in “real-time”—was a real eye-opener for me.
Fast forward 15 years later. I was presented with the challenging task of booking a hotel, meeting space, VIP transfers and off-site venues for a small meeting—by the way, I’ve since learned that there’s really no such thing as a “small meeting”—with high-level international attendees in a major European business city, right in the midst of a major international convention—with 60 days lead time.
Sure, at first I tried to do it myself—all the “A-list” hotels and venues had been booked out at least 12 months prior—but I soon realized that in order to get it done right I would need a partner on the ground to help me out. That was when I turned to my network of resources built from years of involvement in MPI, Site and attendance at European industry conferences such as MPI’s European Meetings & Events Conference and IMEX in Frankfurt. A couple of e-mails to my European friends and I had secured a destination partner and was well on the road to a successful event.
I’m very grateful for the relationships I’ve built with national tourist
offices (NTOs), international destination management companies (DMCs), global sales offices (GSOs) for hotels, and various international service providers. I literally couldn’t do my job without them.
When I’m presented with a project in a destination that I’m unfamiliar with my first contact is generally the North American-based NTO representative for that specific country. If I don’t know anyone in a particular country I’ll often inquire with someone I do know who represents a country in the region and they will often be able to refer me to the proper organization.
From there, my next contact is generally with a DMC. Again, many international DMCs have North American representation. If you think your budget won’t allow for the hiring of a DMC, I say you can’t afford not to have one, especially when planning a program with high-level attendees with high expectations in a country you’re not familiar with. Who else but a local knows exactly who to call to help replace a lost passport, correct an error on a custom linen order discovered the night before a 7 a.m. start time, or help bail an attendee out of the local jail? (Yes, my DMC partners have helped me with all of these issues over the years.)
Likewise, my network of meeting service providers has also proven invaluable to me over the years. Who would have thought that it would be more cost-effective to utilize my preferred event technology provider based in one European country for a meeting in another country on the opposite side of Europe? I would have never found out had I not had the relationship with this particular vendor, and I wouldn’t have had the relationship to begin with had I not gotten to know them from my industry involvement.
I’ll be exploring these and other topics in more detail in future issues, and welcome your questions and comments. I can be reached directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In the meantime, travel safe and travel often.
Charles Massey is founder and CEO of SYNAXIS Meetings & Events. A member of MPI, Site and GMIC, he serves on the board of Site SoCal as well as on the Meetings Focus Content Advisory Board and the APEX Standards Review Council. While technically maintaining a residence in Los Angeles, you’ll usually find Charles on the road, where he stays connected with friends, clients and family via Facebook.