From South America to the Caribbean, Africa to Asia, faith-based groups are choosing international destinations to meet the needs of their regional members. Many locations are selected to guarantee the greatest participation from their membership, while others are determined based on a need to expand their ministry to underdeveloped countries. Each group’s objectives might be different, but their planners share a common need to educate themselves and their attendees on international travel well in advance of the trip.
When considering hotel and meeting venues in international destinations, it is important to craft an RFP that includes as much attendee demographic and historical information as possible, even if the meeting was not held in that country previously. It is also important to provide an estimated per-person budget, keeping in mind that most international properties include breakfast with the room rate. Many countries also package the meeting requirements into a separate rate often referred to as the daily delegate rate (DDR). This rate includes the meeting space, coffee break, lunch in the restaurant, writing materials and basic audiovisual, such as a projector and screen. If you are looking for a private lunch not in the hotel restaurant, this could incur a surcharge on top of the DDR.
When outlining the main events of your program in the RFP, be careful not to use words easily understood by American suppliers that can be unclear to service providers abroad. For example, requesting a “light lunch” may have a different meaning in Latin America and even more so in Asia. It is better to provide the number of courses required and use basic descriptors such as a meat, poultry or fish entree, starch, vegetable and dessert.
Contract concessions typical in the United States, such as complimentary meeting space and a 24-hour hold on space, are not the norm and should not be assumed. The hotel will require international groups to prepay the cost of the meeting space in full. Transportation and tour companies also require 90 to 100 percent prepayment. Many international properties will charge a fee for payment by credit card. Inquire what the supplier’s policy is, and request that the fees be waived.
Be aware that hotel room rates, meals and services will include a value-added tax, or VAT, which could be as much as 15 to 20 percent. Because visitors or nonresidents of the country do not technically owe the tax, groups can request a refund to reclaim all or part of the charges. It is important to request the VAT amount be separated so you can keep track of the charges and file for a refund.
Other budget considerations are airport entry fees and visa requirements. Argentina, for example, charges a $140 entry fee, which is valid for up to 10 years and multiple visits. A passport is required to enter and leave most foreign countries; if your attendees include young adults, it is important to verify they have this essential travel document. The U.S. State Department strongly advises American citizens to register their travel abroad with the Department of State. Registration makes it possible to contact travelers in the event of a family emergency back in the U.S. or to alert them of a crisis in the visiting country. Note that U.S. medical insurance is generally not accepted outside the country, but short-term policies can be purchased for travel abroad.
When considering a hotel, venue or mode of transportation for your group, remember that the Americans with Disabilities Act is a U.S. requirement. Historic hotels, which are often smaller in European destinations, might not have elevators or be accessible to attendees with special needs.
International shipping requirements also vary from country to country. To avoid delay of your shipment in customs, it is best to use a broker based in that country who is familiar with the guidelines and has influence to move your materials if necessary.
You’ll need to do a lot more homework on specific destinations, but the above essentials should give you a good idea of the types of issues and questions you must consider. For more information, read “International Meetings: 12 things you’ve got to get right,” as well as the related articles below.
State Department’s Bureau of Consular Affairs: travel.state.gov
Find current travel warnings and alerts on this site, which also has information on passports.
Lonely Planet: lonelyplanet.com
Click on the world map for information on global destinations, including crime and practical concerns.
More articles about planning international meetings: