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HSMAI World Quest Tackles Complexity of International Meetings
In a first-of-its-kind forum, which tackled critical issues facing conferences and conventions held outside the U.S., over 50 professional planners of international meetings participated in World Quest, a one-day event presented by the Hospitality Sales & Marketing Association International (HSMAI) and Associated Management Group (AMG) in Washington, D.C. on June 8, 2004.
“International meetings are vital to the hospitality industry and their complexity dictates a constant need for new information and a place to share best practices which was behind our planning for this new event,” states Fran Brasseux, executive vice president, HSMAI.
“The increase in international meetings is demanding new skills and knowledge to deliver successful meetings,” says Liz Jackson, vice president of Association Management Group and Meetings Management Group. “The Board of HSMAI has answered this need by launching HSMAI World Quest which was overwhelmingly successful in its first delivery. Dates for 2005 in New York City, Chicago and Washington, D.C. will be announced this summer.”
The day’s agenda featured expert speakers, followed by roundtable discussions and presentations, as well as a luncheon keynote address.
Following each presentation, the meeting planners and 19 business partners, including Ritz-Carlton, InterContinental, Accor Hotels, VisitBritain, Switzerland, The Netherlands, Monaco, Aberdeen, Melbourne and more, divided into groups to answer questions related to the subjects and report back to the group.
The first “provocateur” was Marvin J. Cetron, internationally recognized forecast-futurist, who discussed "What is the Future of International Meetings?"
Attendees discussed the biggest challenges facing international meeting planners in the coming years, new technological skills and strategies needed for both face-to-face as well as virtual conferencing internationally, and attracting and appropriately accommodating younger and older participants.
Ongoing terrorism and an increase in transportation costs were reported to be highest on their list of challenges in coming years. Furthermore, there was great concern with the balance between the cost of sophisticated technology and the hosting of participants in person. Attendees recognized the differences in demands and expectations between their Gen X participants and those more senior, acknowledging the complicating factor of their being together in an environment unfamiliar to both.
Next, John Min Ruesch International, and Jeanne Mexic, Hilton Sales Worldwide, talked of “Doing Business in a Volatile Global Financial Market.”
They addressed key issues affecting an international meeting’s bottom line in today’s challenging global economy, including the fluctuation of exchange rates, opening foreign bank accounts and buying forward contracts.
Participants were asked to respond to a situation with a fiscal challenge of suddenly adverse exchange rates and to another of contract negotiations with fluctuating exchange rates. The third question asked them to identify the most critical fiscal challenges they should expect in coming years.
Among factors to be negotiated in the face of exchange fluctuation were the capping of costs and the locking into dollar rates. Fiscal concerns for meetings overseas in coming years involved the fundamental issue of changing exchange rates for events booked far ahead.
The luncheon address was delivered by James Anderson, Esq., Partner, Howe, Anderson & Steyer, PC on “Navigating International Legal Challenges.” He spoke of legal considerations when planning a meeting outside the U.S.: personal and customs entry documentation, ramifications of legal trouble while overseas, issues of tax deductibility, and overseas service contracts.
The third presentation was by Guy Kolb, SRA International, and Cynthia Lett, International Society of Protocol and Etiquette, “Global Effectiveness: Enhancing Your Cultural & Linguistic Savvy.”
Kolb and Lett talked of the vital importance of cross-cultural awareness and of language issues when taking a conference or convention to a foreign locale. Attendees shared anecdotes about cross-cultural mishaps, hypothetical unexpected cross-culturally sensitive scenarios, and uncommon preparations called for in planning a meeting in a totally unfamiliar foreign destination. Preparation boiled down to research, which all conceded should be a high priority in early planning.
The final session was offered by Timothy J. Cahill, Federal Air Marshall Service, Dept. of Homeland Security, and Jim Dunne, Overseas Security Advisory Council, U.S. Dept. of State who talked of “Enhancing Security of International Meetings and Travel.”
Cahill and Dunne provided candid insight into the increasing complexities of international travel security, adding advice and commentary on preparing for worst-case scenarios overseas. The groups were then presented with an overseas scenario suddenly complicated by a dangerous situation to which they were to react on behalf of the safety of the fictitious conference attendees. Another situation was a meeting venue with dual problems of crime and terrorist activity. The third group was given the task of reassuring anxious travelers to a meeting overseas. Some policies proposed were to establish an emergency plan and clear security procedures prior to any meeting, to research other on-site or city-wide meetings to determine any potential controversy, to more effectively communicate the basic safety travel and visitor guidelines in the selected destination, and to create a sense of security, giving key security measures with out going overboard.
HSMAI is an organization of sales and marketing professionals representing all segments of the hospitality industry. With a strong focus on education, HSMAI has become the industry champion in identifying and communicating trends in the hospitality industry, while operating as a leading voice for both hospitality and sales and marketing management disciplines. Founded in 1927, HSMAI is an individual membership organization comprising nearly 7,000 members worldwide, with 42 chapters in the Americas region.
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