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 International Meetings and Conferences Can be Challenging for Meeting
Planners; International Protocol, Currency and Financial Transactions,
Freight Forwarding and VAT Reimbursement

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MCLEAN, VA (Aug. 8, 2005) – International meetings and conferences are among the fastest growing segments in the industry, but they can be challenging to meeting planners and require a new set of management tools to prepare planners for success.  This was among the key messages provided to more than 230 meeting planners attending one of the three recent World Quest conferences produced by the Hospitality Sales & Marketing Association International (HSMAI) in partnership with the Association Management Group.  
 
HSMAI took World Quest on a three-city tour July 22-29, 2005 in Washington, DC, New York and Chicago where meeting planners were provided insight into topics from proper protocol and worldwide shipping to financial matters and industry trends in the international meeting segment.
 
“We are once again very pleased at both the turnout and the professionalism displayed by participants that gathered in each of the three cities in this second-annual World Quest event,” said Fran Brasseux, executive vice president of HSMAI, who moderated all three events.
 
“In general, we are seeing an increase in the number of overall meetings held in 2005,” said Betsy Bair, Editorial Director, The Meetings Group, Primedia Business & Media, in her New York conference presentation.  “MPI’s Future Watch 2005 points to a second year of sustained growth of international meetings with U.S. planners taking 23% of all ‘05 meetings outside the U.S., up one percent from 2004,” she added.
 
“According to Conferon’s survey of U.S. meeting planners, 90% of respondents said their meetings would grow in number or stay the same and 91% of Insurance Conference Planner survey respondents will hold the same or more incentives in ’05,” Bair said.
 
Survey respondents for Insurance Conference Planner indicated that 53% have taken an incentive outside the U.S. and plan to go international in the next 12 months, while a Medical Meetings magazine survey showed 51% would attend a CME event outside the U.S., according to Bair.
 
Bair also reported that “corporate planners indicated their average budgets increased to $7.1 million from $5.3 million a year ago.”
 
Besides the very optimistic outlook, meeting planners were treated to in-depth insights into the international world of foreign exchange, protocol and shipping.
 
Freight Forwarding and VAT Reimbursement
 
As time goes by, shipping becomes a more complex process.  In this seminar, forwarders and customs brokers provided assistance and extensive knowledge regarding the subject of worldwide shipping and transit.  Information on choosing a professional service and receiving value-added tax reimbursement was also presented.
 
Paul Griggs, owner of Events on the Move, an international customs broker and international freight forwarding company, said: “Experienced meeting planners recognize that shipping for international meetings and conventions is different from regular domestic shipping. Simple paperwork errors can cost your organization time and money.  If you are planning a meeting in another country, or hosting an international meeting in the U.S., there are ways to ensure that your shipments move through customs easily and without unnecessary duties and taxes.”
 
He also gave tips such as make sure you have copies of all shipping invoices, keep a detailed description of each box or crate and their contents, and utilize local vendors, where possible, in the destination because they will know how to move things out of customs quickly and efficiently.
 
“A customs broker can complete the process and necessary paperwork to move packages along,” Griggs said.  “Customs is no place for your packages to get stuck when paperwork is not completed properly,” he added.  It can be a meeting planners’ nightmare, and suddenly make shipping a very exciting and unnecessary part of a meeting planner’s on-site job.
 
Currency and Financial Transactions
 
Meeting planners often face challenges when using foreign currency where poor decisions can offset profits, squeeze budgets and lower earnings.  Experts from Ruesch International, a financial company, provided insight into protection and risk management strategies for planning international events with foreign currency.
 
Ruesch International experts discussed the movement of foreign exchange and how meeting planners can take advantage of what the financial world knows to benefit the bottom line of any major international conference.  They explained that the U.S. dollar has lost over 20% of its value against most of the world’s major currencies in the past three years, and planning wisely can often make or break a meeting budget.  
 
Because it is impossible to predict, Ruesch suggests “you can minimize your potential risks and maximize your potential opportunities by effectively timing your payments.”  The company explains that you need to understand historic currency trends, monitor market movements and determine your “opportunity box.”
 
It takes pertinent information, which your foreign exchange provider should have and can tailor to your business needs, to save money that could otherwise be lost when making payments at a time when it is not opportune.  It also takes time which most meeting planners do not have, but foreign exchange providers do, along with the understanding of the market to maximize your payments, Ruesch experts explained.
 
International Protocol
 
The highest rated topic of the inaugural World Quest focused on international protocol including: international meetings, appropriate protocol and expectations of a different culture; good resources for protocol in specific countries; and the essentials of providing proper protocol.
 
Cynthia Lett, Executive Director of the International Society of Protocol and Etiquette Professionals, and the presenter in Washington, DC and New York, said that meeting planners must become protocol officers when organizing international meetings.  “Meeting planners are responsible for having cultural information to share with staff and participants,” Lett said.  She provided insights and tips as well as a detailed paper on various protocols for a number of foreign countries, especially those in Asia where the culture is so different from the U.S.
 
She suggested always checking for cultural differences, especially in greeting people.  For example, the Chinese use their family names first on business cards and prefer that they be addressed as Mr. or Ms.  People in the U.S. would normally use the second name on the card in conjunction with Mr. and be wrong.
 
Gift bearing, entering a room, and how to answer a toast or salutation are all things that can be very different in foreign countries and must be learned by meeting planners to properly prepare others in their conference.
 
Lett also noted that seating charts can be very important, and a Web site to help you do seating charts on line is at www.misterprotocol.com.
 
She also gave her top 10 strategies for getting any meeting off to a good start including:
  1. Stand up when you meet someone.
  2. Smile.
  3. Make eye contact.
  4. Introduce yourself immediately.
  5. Include a statement about who you are and why you are there at the event.
  6. Offer a firm handshake.
  7. Learn how to make smooth introductions.
  8. Know who the more important person is.
  9. Pay attention to names when you meet people.
  10. Use first names of people who you have just met only after they give you permission.
The protocol session in Chicago was given by Gloria Petersen, President of Global Protocol, Inc.  Petersen unraveled some misconceptions of the differences in working with relationship-focused cultures like Asia, the Middle East, Latin America and Italy, versus result-focused cultures like the U.S., Canada, Germany and Britain.  The characteristics of consensus building, multi-tasking and process building in the relationship-focused culture versus the individual, priority-driven culture of the results-focused countries needs to be considered to be successful in doing business with different countries, especially in the areas of negotiation and contracting.
 
As an added incentive for attending the conference, participants in World Quest earned points towards CMP certification or recertification.
 
Opening the door to education and networking, HSMAI World Quest, a partnership between HSMAI and Association Management Group and its division Meetings Management Group, brings qualified corporate, association and government international planners together with international hospitality industry business partners for a day of learning, roundtable discussions and networking.
 
Connecting meeting professionals to the international business partners with whom they conduct business, World Quest presents a unique format designed for intensive education and learning.  Attendees will find a wealth of information, including new business strategies, best practices and provocative presentations of hot topics important to the arena of international meetings, followed by interactive roundtable topic discussions with planners and international business partners.
 
HSMAI’s World Quest will be an annual event each summer in Washington, DC, Chicago and New York. Visit www.hsmaiworldquest.com for more information.
 
HSMAI is an organization of sales and marketing professionals representing all segments of the hospitality industry.  With a strong focus on education, HSMAI has become the industry champion in identifying and communicating trends in the hospitality industry, and bringing together customers and members at 15 annual events, including HSMAI’s Affordable Meetings, HSMAI’s Meeting Quest shows and the HSMAI World Quest events.  Founded in 1927, HSMAI is an individual membership organization comprising nearly 7,000 members worldwide, with 38 chapters in the Americas region.
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Contact:

Hospitality Sales & Marketing Association International
8201 Greensboro Drive, Suite 300
McLean, VA 22102
phone (703) 610-9024
www.hsmai.org

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Also See: Etiquette Tips for Biz Travelers to Asia / April 2003
Crash Course in Business Dinner Manners; Don't Reach for that Extra Roll / March 2003


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