By Issa Jouaneh, Vice President and General Manager, American Express Meetings & Events
We have seen significant growth in the meetings and events business in emerging countries this year. As organizations continue to expand globally, and standardize the meetings policy and overall governance globally, meeting planning in emerging countries will take on a higher level of importance and relevance. The four largest emerging and developing economies are the BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India and China), with Mexico, Indonesia, South Africa, South Korea and Turkey also beginning to grow rapidly. While the geographic footprint of corporations may vary, the overall trend for more international meetings and global expansion has elevated the need for a more managed approach to meetings in emerging countries.
Holding successful meetings in emerging countries can be a very rewarding experience for attendees and planners. There is a much greater desire to meet in these countries than ever before, which brings to light a different set of challenges and experiences, as well as a greater need of duty of care for planners. Given the dynamic nature of the world we live in, it is important that meeting professionals take a very thoughtful, purposeful and planned approach. Below are five areas meeting planners should consider carefully to ensure meetings run as smoothly as possible and are rewarding and enjoyable for attendees and organizers alike.
Planners need to remain informed about security updates in emerging countries. The U.S. Department of State and the UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office are great resources for checking the safety advice of your event location. In countries where unrest or other political issues may be a factor, ensure there is a strong ‘force majeure’ clause in your contract so you can cancel the meeting without penalty, should a security issue arise. Items for the clause should include ‘consideration of curtailment of transportation due to strikes or unrest’, as well as ‘consideration for attrition’ if attendees cannot arrive on time due to these issues.
Ask the venue about their policies and procedures for medical situations, and ideally meet with hotel security during a site inspection prior to the event. If that isn’t possible, talk to hotel security to ask about contingency plans for situations such as natural disasters, medical issues, political unrest and strikes.
Technology in emerging countries can be surprisingly similar to developed countries, but it’s a good idea to ensure devices are compatible and adapters needed for printers or laptops are readily available. Ideally, put your technology specialist in contact with one in the host country. Make your onsite technology requests early on, so the venue can meet the needs of your program.
Many companies err on the side of caution when it comes to IT security. For example, this year a company strongly advised against attendees bringing their usual work laptops to a meeting in China and recommended they bring clean ones without proprietary information instead.
Transportation can be challenging in emerging countries, and varies from one country to another. For example, in China, planners should ensure attendees are booked with changeable airline tickets as schedules can frequently shift. Discuss all booking options and preferences with your client, in addition to educating them on what the specific country is able to offer in terms of transportation. A local Destination Management Company (DMC) or your hotel contact should be helpful resources.
Duty of care is also an important item for companies to consider. If attendees book their own transportation (in parts of Asia and Europe, train tickets must be purchased by the traveller), they should be required to inform organizers of their travel plans when registering, so they can be contacted throughout their journey.
Many countries require a visa for entry. Discourage attendees from entering these countries as a tourist if they are truly there for a work-related event, because if the true purpose for being in the country is not cited, they risk being banned and turned away upon arrival. Partner with a known and reputable company that specializes in visa applications as these service providers can help ensure the most current requirements are met. Visa applications can be lengthy, normally require that a passport is sent away for verification and occasionally require applying in person, so planning ahead is a smart course of action.
4) Food and drinks
Take into account the food and drink customs in each country and work with the venue chef to ensure all food needs are met. Incorporating local food, wines and beers will give your attendees a chance to experience dishes and drinks that may rarely be available to them, as well as reduce costs. In some countries, alcohol can be very expensive due to taxes and distribution costs. And in some areas of the world (for example, parts of India) alcohol is prohibited. This may be a challenge for some clients and knowing this before you start to source your location can eliminate unnecessary challenges in the planning process. Make sure your attendees understand the culture of dining in the country they are visiting. Be sure to highlight the timing of the meals so attendees are prepared to eat at the appropriate time.
Billing and payments can be a very complex process in emerging countries. In some countries, the entire bill needs to be paid up front before arrival. Be prepared for this to be normal practice; a partial payment or the waiving of a deposit may not be acceptable. Globally, the US dollar (USD) is more widely accepted than some other forms of payment as there are fewer restrictions on sending USD to many countries. Alternatively, in countries such as China, local payment or cash may be more easily accepted. Also keep in mind that international corporate card or meeting card acceptance may be limited. Establishing clarity around payment expectations with vendors, understanding your company regulations, as well as the financial nuances of the host country, will ensure a simpler payment process.
Make a plan for success
In general, whenever planning in a foreign country, one must be aware of cultural norms and language barriers. Additionally, it is imperative to start your planning early to ensure you have enough time to account for differences in time zones, currencies, country specific holidays and work/life philosophy.
Holding meetings in emerging countries can be a very rewarding experience for attendees and planners alike and can bring a new dimension to your event. Keeping technology, security, transportation, food and beverage and payments front of mind can make planning meetings smooth, rewarding and enjoyable for everyone.
About the author
Issa Jouaneh is Vice President and General Manager, American Express Meetings & Events. American Express Meetings & Events” is a service provided by American Express Global Business Travel (“GBT”). GBT is a joint venture that is not wholly-owned by American Express Company or any of its subsidiaries (“American Express”). “American Express Global Business Travel”, “American Express” and the American Express logo are trademarks of American Express, and are used under limited license.