The Benefits and Considerations of Taking Your Event International
As events get bigger, the world continues to become smaller. Formerly the purview of only the largest corporations, today, many small- to medium-size businesses have global reach and international connections. To reach this crowd and their international partners, many state-side events are expanding internationally.
Making the decision to sponsor an international event can be extremely beneficial, but it is also a significant amount of work. Planners will need to anticipate a variety of challenges. Let’s take a look at some of the possible highlights and potential pitfalls of taking your exhibit international.
Demonstrate a Commitment to an International Region
As a company’s reach expands, so does their competition. Entering a new market is exciting, but it means squaring off against more established brands that have been in business for decades. When growing internationally, brands need to provide a broad range of services to establish a footprint in a new market. By hosting an international event, that brand is helping to cement their commitment to the region.
Choosing a location is one of the most important decisions for an event planner. Nearly every aspect of an event is affected by this decision. Plus, there is always a portion of your audience for whom location will be the deciding factor between making a purchase or not.
The U.S. has a fantastic array of cities that provide some gorgeous scenery and a variety of entertainment and culture. However, a trip overseas opens up entirely new options. The theatricality of Paris. The grandeur of Tokyo. The eccentricity of Barcelona. The history of Rome. These – and more – are all potential locations for an international event.
International locations present many exciting possibilities for attendees, but your event also offers exciting new opportunities for locals. This gives event planners a powerful marketing opportunity to play up the benefits of the location for the event and the benefits of the event for the location.
Educational Sessions and Keynote Speakers
Hosting an event in an international location gives you access to new sources of knowledge and industry professionals who are unavailable in your home country. These presenters are sure to have unique challenges, solutions, and perspectives that your attendees will find illuminating. Providing innovative education and industry solutions is always a plus for an event.
Brands and attendees both have a unique opportunity to create deeper relationships with international consumers and expand their business networks. These are excellent opportunities to develop new partnerships with symbiotic companies and organizations. Creating international networking sessions will help all participants expand their knowledge base and create new partnerships in the global marketplace.
A frequent mistake made by international exhibitors is not giving themselves enough time. Most events involve some travel, but international events involve overseas travel: a considerable obstacle in general. Any attendees who need to travel must have enough time to make these plans and ensure they have proper documentation for international travel. Plus, you will need to secure a venue, book accommodations, secure transportation for any event-related items that need to make it overseas, etc. It’s a lot to plan, and if you don’t allow enough time, it becomes incrementally harder.
However, shortages of time are not your only concern. You will also have to deal with a difference in time. Depending on where you intend to host your event, there could be half a day’s difference between you and the organizations with which you need to coordinate. That makes all forms of communication more difficult: email is significantly delayed, phone calls need to be scheduled at awkward times, and texts arrive in the middle of the night. Should anything urgent come up (and you know it will), it is likely impossible for it to be addressed as quickly as you may like. What takes a day in the states may take up to three days with an overseas vendor because your workdays do not line up.
Do not anticipate that the run-up to your event will follow the same timeline as the states. You need to plan for – and get ahead of – potential delays, or you may find that you are significantly behind.
Working with international venues often means you need to overcome some cultural differences from what is familiar to you in the states. For example, always read your contract carefully before signing anything. In many cases, if something is not in your contract, you will not be able to make any changes once it is approved.
Then, once you do sign, you may find that the venue is slow to respond to your inquiries and requests. If responses are slow to non-existent, it is likely a mistake to assume they will get to it eventually. Persistence is likely required to ensure that your requests are completed as needed.
In short, it is up to you to make sure that everything is in place before you step on the plane.
Depending on the time of year, the wait for a passport can take up to 10 weeks. In fact, you may need a new passport, even if you do have a current one. Some countries want you to have at least six months of eligibility remaining on the passport (this is an assurance that your paperwork will be valid when you leave, not just when you arrive). It is possible to order an expedited passport to get it in a hurry – but it will cost you.
Next is the matter of a visa, which you may or may not need (the State Department website can help you find out). A visa is a whole new level of hassle. For example, you may need to provide attendees with a letter inviting them to the country, so that they can acquire a visa. The level of difficulty for obtaining a visa varies, from simple to really, ridiculously difficult. Even for a country with a straightforward application process, the time to get a visa can be around two months. So, prepare and plan accordingly.
If you are hosting an event in a country where your first language differs from what is primarily spoken, you should think about hiring a translator. Even if you or a member of your staff speak the language, there can be variances in dialect. A translator can help avoid most uncomfortable misunderstandings and interpret any technical talk.
You may also want to research the country to help avoid cultural mishaps. It would be a shame to insult a presenter because you casually stuck a business card in your pocket, when the person who gave it to you expected it to be treated respectfully. Also, there may be greetings or customs for beginning and ending meetings or sessions that attendees will expect.
Securing a Partner
Fortunately, some organizations can smooth the transition into international exhibiting, such as the OCTANORM Service Partners International (OSPI).
OSPI is a network of 150 exhibition service providers around the world that collaborate to take the stress out of international exhibiting. Through OSPI, you can work with your design house, and then an overseas partner will construct the plan precisely according to specifications. In addition, the overseas OSPI partner will simplify the execution of all international exhibiting needs.