Going international: The essential events guide for associations

How do you organise an international event? What are the crucial differences between hosting in your home country and overseas?

C&IT, in partnership with Tourism Toronto, hosted a breakfast for association event planners to discuss the key distinctions.

C&IT’s State of the Industry Association report asked association event professionals what they believe are the biggest challenges when organising a large-scale event. The top answer, given by two-thirds of respondents, was ‘cost management’, second was ‘audience engagement’ (39%) and third was ‘venue choice’ (36%). So, did our event attendees agree with the report findings?

Yes is the short answer. The difference in taxes across the globe was a key discussion point. Judy Lane from the International Bar Association discussed taxation in the US: "There are stricter rules, you can end up paying over 20% on top of the original cost due to hidden charges – most notably service charges".

Bindi Houghton from the Global Association for Creative Advertising and Design Awards, agreed with the concen, saying that the exchange rate makes things more challenging especially with the recent Brexit uncertainty and fluctuation in the pound.

Ian Houghton from MADFest is looking to run his event in New York and asked the other planners whether they thought it was important to work with hotels when taking an event overseas. Chloe Sanham from the CFA Institute said it depended on the delegates: "When we run conferences for delegates we have room blocks and we point them in the direction of these hotels. But when we run conferences for volunteers we book everything for them."

Shaba Haque from World Obesity Federation suggested a ‘wildcard’ venue, saying that she had held conferences in universities: "Universities offer accomodation with student halls so the delegates can stay on site, they also have great tried-and-tested facilities and technology."

And should you use tourism boards or Professional Conference Organisers? Elizabeth Thomas from the International Corporate Governance Network discussed her experiences working with tourist boards: "I work with tourism boards when I’m unfamiliar with location. I did this in Tokyo, for example. We work with convention bureaus to sanity check and run things past."

Deborah Piovesan from United Network of International Corporate Events Organisers said that she "works a lot with convention bureaus, they are your voice inside their country. They often give us good ideas about speakers and activities".

What’s more important? Do it well or do it right?

After breakfast with views over Trafalgar Square thanks to the Canadian High Commission in London, C&IT hosted a panel discussion featuring Elizabeth Thomas (International Corporate Governance Network), Mathias Posch (International Association of Professional Conference Organisers) Loren Christie (Tourism Toronto) and Emma Cashmore (Business Events Canada) sharing their tips and tricks.

C&IT editor Calum DI Lieto asked the panel what makes a global conference different to a national one.

Posch urged people to embrace international events, he told people to "choose the right partners and to use people on the ground". As well as PCO and tourist boards he said that "some countries don’t have particularly developed conference industries so we work with other types of partners in those locations such as UNICEF and various NGOS that will help".

Did the panel think it made destinations more attractive if they were green and sustainable? Is that a significant consideration? Thomas explained that they "had recently started looking at going carbon neutral for all events as it’s an area that’s growing in importance".

Cashmore added that "Canada is one of the most sustainable countries in the world, it led initiatives way before the UK." She said that good environmental and CSR practises do help but "as a complement rather than the main feature".

Posch used Japan as an example, saying that "Japan only serve food when needed rather than leaving plates out, this cuts down considerably on waste in comparison with places like the US. Delegates question everything waste related. If you don’t showcase green practices then you fall down in people’s minds."

Christie asked whether people thought it was important to leave something behind in a city after the conference – how important is legacy? Piovesan said that "our members are ambassadors in the MICE sector so it’s important for us that we work with the right cities and venues to help them after the event. Our events are experiences and partnerships and if we make the decision to go there then there will be many reasons to have a continuing legacy".

Posch said: "You need to make an impact – education is important but it can’t be your USP anymore." Loren Christie agreed saying that these days organisers need to keep legacy going "beyond the conference".

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