Your company has finally asked you to plan an international program and, after you did a private little happy dance, you realized you know nothing about [fill in the blank of your destination], let alone how to prepare for the somewhat daunting road ahead.

Travel1Congratulations, you’re not alone. Planning meetings outside your home country presents a whole set of different challenges than you’re used to. My advice: Get an early start on learning basic guidelines. Here’s some advice from those who’ve been there.

Know thy country. Site inspections are a must. If you’re allowed only one pre-trip planning session ,make every minute count. Work with the local tourist or convention group (many times referred to as a congress), and do comprehensive interviews with multiple local DMs to choose the best one for your needs. They can and should be your best friends when navigating the planning ahead of you.

Respect, don’t fight, the differences you encounter. This is critical. Most other countries show much more respect in areas of protocol and procedure than we do. Along with patience, you’ll need professional guidance in this area, which is where your good relationship with a local DMC will pay off. Depending on the size and scope of your program, you might benefit from paying a professional consultant who specializes in transactions with your point of destination, a third-party planner who lives and does business in that country, for example.

Share your newfound knowledge with your staff and attendees ASAP. This is especially important if your group has never left home before. No detail is too small, so keep track of helpful and surprising things you learn about your destination and consider sharing these tips in a well-planned, comprehensive preparation guide. Sometimes referred to as international briefs, these can be fine-tuned to your group or staff needs. Include information on language, foreign currency, local customs, politics, shopping hours, restaurants, museums and any holidays that coincide with your visit. This document should contain all relevant information or it won’t get the attention it deserves. Example: Many first-time visitors to the Vatican don’t realize they’ll be turned away if dressed improperly.

Research documents needed and health concerns. This list includes visas, passports (that do not expire within six months of your trip), accepted forms of personal identification and/or credit. Check with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention regarding inoculation updates and health warnings.

Consider briefings that focus on your destination. Hire someone who specializes in Japanese tea services to do a show-and-tell at a staff meeting, or get a university professor who specializes in cultural overviews of the people and customs you’ll encounter to enlighten your attendees and create excitement about the trip.

Do plenty of research on all aspects of your program — travel, shipping, gift-giving, protocol, customs, language challenges, timing of events, negotiating tips, behavior styles, business practices — the list is endless. Even simple things like dining etiquette with foods foreign to your group can cause major headaches when faced with conference banquet planning. Do your best to educate yourself and prepare all parties involved.  No matter what country you visit, experienced planners will tell you that you can never ask too many questions.

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Want to add to the conversation? Please share what you’ve learned about planning and attending international meetings in the comment box below.