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September 14, 2008

SOURCING ABROAD:Finding events suppliers overseas

Companies are increasingly looking to give their corporate events more impact, through the latest technology, striking venues and unusual locations. But all of this makes sourcing key suppliers abroad all the more challenging. Ian Whiteling looks at ways to ease the problem.

No matter how much time and effort you and your team have put into planning and organising a corporate meeting, conference or incentive activity, if your suppliers don’t hit the mark, neither will the event. That’s why finding the right partners, from catering through to staging and technology, is essential, while building up a relationship based on quality and trust can go a long way to taking the stress out of the event planning process.

But what happens when you decide to hold a meeting or conference overseas, or need to for strategic business reasons. You’ve got a raft of trusted suppliers you use regularly in your home country, but is it really feasible commercially, logistically and ethically to take them abroad with you? What’s more, will they perform as well in a foreign environment? In which case, should you think about using local suppliers?

This problem is becoming ever more acute as the sophistication of meetings and conferences grows with the expectations of delegates and the realisation of just how effective events can be if they are sufficiently engaging.

Balancing the equation

“It is the eternal triangle,” says Creative Labs’ Ian Denny, “considering time, budget and quality. Even the largest corporations are rethinking this equation by looking at where the budget lies. If it is in the country where the venue is then local prices would be considered and will usually be cheaper. This loses some corporate control, but can you really afford the additional travel and shipping costs involved? On the other hand is there a danger that your brand is compromised by a poor local delivery?”

Petra Johansson, chief executive of events solutions company Twisted Tree, reports that these days she certainly finds it easier to source suppliers from where the event is being held.

“The reason for this is mainly financial: it is normally more cost effective to use local suppliers,” she explains. “If you are bringing suppliers from your home country, you will normally need to cover additional expenses for the suppliers to bring equipment and staff to the country where you are holding your event.”

Practical reasons also underlie Johansson’s decision.

“I find using local suppliers easier, as they are normally familiar with the venue you are using, have the right equipment for the country and can easily adapt a foreign event organiser's requirements to the local circumstances and standards,” she says.

Then there are the cultural and ethical factors, too, especially relating to staffing and catering.

“There can be great differences in attitudes and habits between the country you are hosting the event in and your home nation,” Johansson explains. “If you are organising an event for a local and international audience in another country, you will need to consider cultural differences. It is also more environmentally friendly to use local suppliers and reduce the carbon footprint for transporting people and equipment.”

Mixing it up

The arguments Johansson makes for using overseas suppliers are certainly strong, but initially, until you’ve built up sufficient contacts and have gained confidence in your new partners, perhaps a mix from home and abroad is the answer. Certainly in can be wise to take a specialist in each area to supervise local suppliers and help them work towards the key objectives of the event. And on this subject, Duncan Beale, the managing director of events management company Line Up, offers advice on which areas to source or take with you.

“The content, design and software production for a conference is obviously done long before anyone goes on site, so it is best done by a client working in partnership with an agency with an intimate knowledge of the client's objectives and culture,” he says. “In organising any conferences overseas, we usually take our heads of department with us – lighting, sound, graphics and occasionally staging. These are the people who will actually run the show and understand how we work and our expectations of the crew.

“Equipment is becoming an increasingly a commoditised market. Assuming the country in which the conference is being held has a kit supplier of good reputation, then you should be able to hire the equipment locally and avoid costly transport and the associated environmental impact.”   

Highly recommended

Once you’ve decided which suppliers to source overseas, you then have to go about finding right ones, which can seem a daunting prospect. Of course, just like at home, recommendations are key, and Johansson suggests getting advice from venues you are considering.

“Find out which suppliers each venue would recommend for the services you require,” she says. “This means they are familiar with the space and the staff at the venue.”

By doing this with all the venues you are assessing, rather than just the one you’ve chosen, you can build up a bigger list of suppliers to consider for the event in hand or for future reference.

Another possible source of recommendations is the local convention bureau, or destination marketing company, while Justin Isles, account director at roadshow specialist Event Marketing Solutions, suggests contacting your home government for information.

“We have had to forge new links when visiting less established locations, such as Albania, Macedonia, Serbia and Bosnia,” he says. “In these instances, we will sometimes turn to UK Trade and Investment – a government body that supports UK businesses overseas – for advice and assistance.” Other countries are likely to offer similar help.

Furthermore, if you’re a member of an international association, they should be able to assist or point you in the direction of other relevant members with experience in this field.

Vital checks
But of course, recommendation isn’t everything and you should still check out each prospect thoroughly.

“It’s important to look at the level of service each supplier is providing, what is included in their proposal, that they understand your requirements completely, and ask for references if you are still unsure,” Johansson wisely suggests.

This is, of course, what you should be doing when dealing with new suppliers based in your home country, so don’t let the euphoria of actually finding recommended companies from overseas distract you from checking them out just as thoroughly. To make your event a success, you’ll need suppliers who can match your services requirements and clearly understand your objectives wherever they are based.

Next week, Ian Whiteling examines the best services to source locally and how to manage overseas suppliers.

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