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Thinking Abroad? Think Ahead

By Stagedge Team | 4 min read
Thinking Abroad? Think Ahead

5 Best Practices for International Event Production

Business travel is back. Spending on travel and events has steadily risen since January 2021, with the number of travelers at airports in 2023 exceeding 2019 levels multiple times. After a travel dry spell, attendees are excited to escape their home offices and connect with others in a fun, exciting destination. And what’s more fun than going abroad?

Nearly one-third of all business meetings or events require attendees to travel internationally. Besides creating a strong sense of allure, international travel allows attendees to gain a new perspective on their work, industry, and colleagues. However, holding a conference abroad can feel daunting. Read on to learn some of the best practices you and your production team need to know when planning an international event.

1.) Extend Your Timeline

Planning for domestic events in the U.S. usually takes place within a 12-month timeframe. International events, however, need a longer timeline—ideally, 18-24 months. The reasons for a longer planning period are twofold:

  1. Event planners and the production team require additional time to research and apply for local permits (which often have long wait times). Additionally, accommodating different time zones across the globe slows down internal approval processes that could usually take place in a single day.
  2. International travel is also more complex for attendees. Planners should send the “save the date” at least six months before the event so attendees can cost-effectively book travel and apply for passports and visas if needed.

"Besides creating a strong sense of allure, international travel allows attendees to gain a new perspective on their work, industry, and colleagues."

2.) Make Your Location Work for Your Objectives—and Your Budget

When event planners evaluate locations for their overseas conferences, they should consider how to maximize their investment both in terms of spending and event objectives. 

A world-class destination doesn’t have to be a black mark on your budget. In fact, for companies with global offices, a non-American destination may be less expensive. For example, if you have large teams in both Europe and the U.S., Athens could be more affordable than New York or Los Angeles.

You can also boost your return on investment by matching your objectives to your event location. Rewarding your sales team for a big year? A tropical locale feels celebratory and exciting. Is sustainability a key priority? A deeply “green” city—like Copenhagen or Amsterdam—provides meaningful context.

"There are two things to consider when choosing an event location: your budget and your objectives. If your organization is global, consider picking a central event location—like hosting a conference on sustainability in a sustainable city."

3.) Don't Skip the Site Visits

Site visits are essential for any conference plan, but—given the cost and time required for international travel—it’s tempting to reduce the number of site visits or people on each visit. Be wary of this potentially costly mistake. International venues are not always set up the way U.S.-based planners have come to expect. A site visit is critical to understand how the event will flow. 

With any site visit, setting an agenda prior to your visit is equally important and fiscally responsible. Having an agenda in place will ensure there is no wasted time and that the “right” team is in place.

As an example, a certain Belgian venue seats 2,500 attendees according to its specs online. On the site visit, however, event planners discover it lacks a large lobby, and there’s no place for attendees to gather for coffee before the general session. Without a site visit, attendees would be left waiting outside. But because the planners visited the venue, they could budget for a tented coffee area in the building’s courtyard.

4.) Make Your Event Welcoming and Safe for All

While a conference abroad can expand people’s horizons in exciting ways, there are critical elements that should be in place to ensure everyone’s comfort and safety. Attendees’ personal cultures and preferences should be respected by making a range of cuisine available at mealtimes and ensuring that the timing of meetings doesn’t conflict with cultural or religious traditions. And to remain respectful of the host country, attendees should be educated ahead around local customs, including dress codes and cuisine.

"Make everyone feel safe and welcome. Provide "homey" touches that help attendees feel comfortable. Ensure that pre-event communication and onsite wayfinding equip attendees with the knowledge they need to be secure."

Safety is also critical. Nearly any location—domestic or international—will have some safety concerns, and some attendees will feel more anxious when traveling abroad. A “need-to-know” email sent before the start of the event will help wary travelers feel more secure. This communication should include “best practices” for transportation with a clear, direct message on the best and safest way(s) to travel.

Guidance doesn’t stop once attendees have reached their destination. Extensive signage and way markers will keep everyone on the right path. For a truly white-glove attendee experience, onsite greeters can answer common questions and point wayward guests in the right direction.

5.) Let the Locals Be Your Guide

No matter how many site visits you schedule (and we encourage you to have a few!), nobody knows your event location better than the folks who already live there. Ask your production partner to connect you with a network of on-location vendors who lessen the burden of an international event. They might say “plinth” when we say “podium,” but local event professionals will know the venue, the culture, and the city best—and it can be cheaper and more environmentally friendly to hire locally. Just be sure to anticipate fluctuations in exchange rates when budgeting for their services.

Tempt Attendees with a Trip Abroad

As the business world emerges from the isolation of the pandemic years, people are eager for something new. An international conference gives attendees the incentive they need to pack their bags and hop on a plane. Events are transformational and transportive—both physically and mentally. We don’t go to conferences to be passive listeners. We go to be challenged, to connect with one another, and to learn. By taking your event abroad, your attendees will be assured that the time and effort of travel will be worth the while.

Whether domestic or international, Stagedge has more than two decades of experience helping companies host inspiring events. Learn more about how Stagedge helps event planners make the most of in-person events in our recent blog, Returning to In-Person Events? Here are 5 Things Event Planners Don’t Want to Forget.

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