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April 16, 2008

HOME OR AWAY: When you should look to take your meetings and events overseas

Taking your event overseas may in the first instance appear an excessive expense, but there are real benefits to getting your delegates out of their usual environment. If the budget permits and you want to make a big impression, an overseas event can certainly deliver.

However, there are certain guidelines as to what events are most suited to being held overseas. For example, if your event runs over several days it could be worthwhile holding it abroad, as the recreational opportunities and ‘change of scene’ will balance the intensive business content. Also, if you’re launching a product into a particular region, or if you want that product to have an international appeal, then an overseas location is a good bet. Alternatively, you might just want to make a point of getting people out of their comfort zone to signal the event's importance – it may even provide better social and networking opportunities by having delegates in one place overnight.

"On an overseas event you have more control over delegates as, typically, there will be a whole programme of business and social events built into the schedule. If this is somewhere your delegates haven’t been before, then they will probably be keen to participate in the group activities, which can aid relationship building and create a really valuable event,” says Carly Mitchell, sales and marketing director of event caterers Tapenade.

However, as Mitchell explains, it's about fitting in with the objectives of your event: "If your aim is to create an impact and make a dramatic, bold statement, then a far-flung venue can make sense. However, generally speaking there has got to be a real business reason for choosing a far-off location – such as tying in with an existing event."

The benefits outweigh the trials

Of course, far-flung events are not without their disadvantages. First there are the costs and, then there are the logistics involved in getting a group of people who may be travelling from various locations around the globe to one point at the same time. On top of this, delegates may lose more working days or personal time in travelling to and from the venue. Language and currency issues can also cause a problem, plus getting to the venue to do a site check becomes all the more difficult, but no less important.

But, equally, there are disadvantages to holding local events. You may not, for example, have a captive audience, as delegates may be tempted to slip away before the end or to have external meetings. Also, delegates may not feel the venue is appealing enough to entice them to attend.

Companies need to weigh up what is most import to them and their event.

However, Karen Cooper, of marketing agency The JJ Group, is upbeat about the challenges of arranging an overseas event. "A large proportion of the principles of event project management remain the same whether your destination is close to home or far away," she explains. "It is definitely a harder task, but not an insurmountable one, or one which should be avoided because of the added complications. I would say it is rare to find a situation where the logistical complications outweigh the benefits of holding an event far away.”

Staying green

But does holding your event overseas really fit in with the modern corporate social responsibility (CSR) ethic? Obviously, there is a dichotomy between the positive impact on a local economy through business tourism versus the negative impact on the environment of travelling to, and holding, the event. Both areas are hugely important within the CSR framework. Because of this there is no clear-cut ethical answer as to whether a far-flung venue goes against the CSR ethic enough to mean it should be stopped.

According to John Hackney, chief executive of Euro RSCG Skybridge, any impact can be balanced out. "It’s important that companies run innovative, inspiring conferences without compromising integral corporate values," he stresses. "Flying 200 of your top executives half way around the world can work against a CSR programme that incorporates a commitment to climate change and reducing carbon dioxide emissions. Euro RSCG Skybridge offers a programme that can calculate and then offset the carbon emissions from all aspects of an incentive travel or conference programme – flights, hotels, ground transportation, etc. That way the conference can proactively contribute to an overall CSR programme and allay any potential criticism.”

Cooper agrees, saying: "There is nothing preventing companies organising events making a proactive step towards considering greener options to support the environment. Many companies have an environmental policy which should extend to event activity whether it is internal or external.”

The future is in the hands of meeting planners and the companies they work for. If they demand a greener experience then the hotel and conferencing industry will have no option but to sit up and take notice. In developing nations it may be harder, but multinational hotels do have the means in these countries to make positive steps towards a greener environment.

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