International events: what your delegates want you to know

Pulling off an exceptional event is par for the course for many experienced EAs – but throw in an international destination and it could send you outside of your comfort zone. Cora Lydon explores how to execute an event when you’re not on your home turf.

At first the prospect of an international destination can be exciting – but panic may set in when you realise you’ll be the one responsible for the planning of every little detail for your delegates. Not to mention the pressure of dealing with the social, legal and cultural barriers that exist when you organise an overseas event. But relax and allow Chief of Staff to reveal what your delegates want you to know…

They want information. And lots of it.
Do you know what hand gesture you should never use in Saudi Arabia? Or why you should avoid public transport in Nigeria? For the former it’s because the thumbs up is seen as highly offensive, while for the latter, official advice is that public transport’s not a safe option.
But, if you didn’t know this, you can’t expect your delegates to know either. So, make your international business event run smoothly by providing as much information to your delegates as possible. As well as providing everyone with an up-to-date itinerary, travel details and contact numbers, also consider putting together a document on the area you’ll be visiting.
As well as key geographical information, you could also share details on the climate so that delegates can pack appropriately; any visitor information relating to the culture of the country that could become crucial (such as that seemingly innocent thumbs up) and even what type of plug sockets to expect for charging those all-important mobile phones. Anything to make things quicker or simpler will be welcomed by your delegates.

They’re willing to put in the travel time
When it comes to international events it seems delegates are willing to put in the time doing the travelling, when compared to domestic events. A poll from a top London venue revealed that 58 per cent of domestic attendees want their journey to an event to be less than an hour. But, for events with an international destination, 32 per cent were willing to travel 10 hours, and 52 per cent were happy to be travelling for six hours.
Regardless, as the organiser, do try to make the travelling experience as comfortable as possible – consider VIP lounge passes, chauffeured transfers and little travel kits with those extras that make a difference. And think little tubes of moisturiser, a hand sanitiser, some fresh socks, mints, a newspaper and a local phrasebook – anything that can make the travel part easier.

They want the opportunity to explore
If it’s bums on seats that you want, you need to entice your delegates to take time out of the office – and the chance to explore a new location will often do the trick. So, don’t be tempted to pack your schedule so tight that delegates are likely to feign sickness before escaping to the local market for a wander. You want to keep people focused but allow them time to relax – both through organised events and spare time, which they can choose how they spend.
After welcome drinks or breakfast, depending on time, give your guests a few hours to unpack, explore and perhaps rest, before reconvening to set the tone for the whole event. And think about planning in one full day activity that makes the most of your location – either exploring the region or experiencing the culture first hand.

They need their data protected
From 25th May 2018 the new EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) will be directly applicable – and it’s not just about whether you’re based in an EU country or not. Any business that collects and processes data on delegates coming from an EU country will be bound by the new regulations. So, even if you’re based in Australia and your event is in America, if you have any delegate hailing from an EU country then you need to be mindful of the changes.
They focus on the rights of individuals over companies and encompass many areas including access, the right to be forgotten, consent and data portability amongst other things. It’s the biggest shake-up to European data privacy laws in two decades and failing to take them into account can mean serious penalties for the organisation you work for, so make sure it’s a crucial part of your event planning.
And, even if these specific regulations don’t apply to you or your delegates, check what other laws apply, and see this as a reminder that it’s good practice to keep delegates informed of what happens to their data and to ensure it’s always kept safe.

Get the basics right

    The number one thing you can do to make your plans run smoothly is to find a partner based in the country you’re holding the event. Not only will it give you a local contact, but also someone who has local knowledge and experience. Start by contacting the local convention visitor bureau to see what support they can offer. They should be able to advise on suitable venues and suppliers, as well as organising travel details, visas, famil trips and more.
    The idea of a trip away sounds great – but there’s more to a familiarisation trip than a holiday. It will give you the chance to explore the destination through the eyes of your delegates. Expect to be busy – you should try and visit the venue, meet with key suppliers and team up with local partners. There’s nothing like seeing the place with your own eyes to realise any potential pitfalls – will a particular room set up restrict the view for some? Is there adequate space to check everyone in? Depending on the type of event you may also want to check room sizes and where power sources are located.
    The logistics of organising from abroad can stretch your skills – but there’s nothing worse than landing in a foreign country and realising you’ve left your delegate check-in list back home. Keep a list of everything that needs to be taken away for the event and make sure all documents are not only printed off, but also accessible from anywhere via Cloud storage. Don’t forget the small things either – do you know where to go in Athens to buy 100 black ballpoint pens or where to find staples when you land in Hawaii? No Then make sure you pack them or have them in place ready for your arrival.
    You may have a mix of delegates from the local area and those who are further afield, and this’ll impact on your budget. According to The Value of Business Events to Australia report, in 2013-2014 international delegates attending events in Australia spent an average of $440 per day, compared to $586 for interstate delegates. So, when hosting international and interstate delegates you can expect to spend a large proportion of the budget on accommodation, followed by domestic air travel, whilst for locals your biggest cost will be ground transport.