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Negotiate International Contracts Like a Pro

So, you’re planning to host an international event. The destination is set, the guest list is organized, and now it is time to lock in the venue. No problem, right?

That’s when the “what ifs” set in. What if things don’t go according to plan? What if you don’t ask the right questions to understand foreign terms and conditions? What if the hotel doesn’t get your ideas? With so many “what if” questions, it is important to familiarize yourself with the ins and outs of international event contracting.

Organizations who choose to host internationally do so for a variety of reasons. Some of our clients select foreign destinations to expand into new markets, meet with local customers, or create settings that will inspire innovation as well as be an incentive to push harder, sell more, and increase company revenue.

When hosting an international meeting, event, or incentive one thing always remains consistent, and that is every country handles contract negotiations differently. Your hosting country’s culture, laws, and expectations will all play a role in the final agreement.

Here are a few pointers on what to expect when negotiating contracts for events held outside of the United States.

Some clauses will not work as written (that’s why it’s called negotiation). Many clauses that protect you, your company, and the financial responsibility in the event a “what if” happens are very vague or non-existent in international contracts.

Take, for instance, Force Majeure. When approaching this clause, you will want to consider all possible variables associated with that country.

Many years ago, we found ourselves in a situation where trash workers were threatening to strike leaving the streets of Naples, Italy covered in trash. Thankfully, at the time, we were familiar with strikes being more common overseas and added a line to our contract pertaining to strikes or threat of strike (it is good practice to do this in the US as well).

Another valuable addition we recommend is for communicable diseases in the area of your event as they can have a major impact on attendance. It is our job to think about Zika, for example, when others are not.

Deadline driven. We tend to see this more in popular destinations during high season or city centers when demand for rooms and space exceeds supply. In the US, most venues will contact you before releasing your space should you miss the deadline for turning in your contract. However, this isn’t always the case internationally.

Attrition and cancellation deadlines are also difficult to negotiate.  We’ve seen many contracts on the verge of failure because the venue and meeting host could not come to an agreement on timing. In fact, we recently found ourselves in this situation with a resort in Jamaica but thankfully were able to negotiate a win/win solution regarding the deadlines.

Payment is required 100% before the event. Typically in the US, you will pay in full once your event has come to a close with pre-approved master billing. However, in other countries, it is standard practice for you to pay in full before the start of your event. For example, in Panama, I was not allowed to leave the hotel until they had a credit card to close out the bill.

Be specific and never leave room for assumptions. When dealing with different countries you are going to run into language barriers as well as a lack of understanding for things you may view as standard practice. We learned this lesson after organizing an event in Paris. The miscommunication happened over easels. Normally, hotels in the US have easels for you to use for signage. However, this particular hotel had no clue what we were talking about, so I provided an image to help with the confusion. Sure enough, they had easels on hand when we arrived. Unfortunately, they provided us with used painting easels made from raw, unfinished wood. Not exactly the polished look we were expecting.

Delayed responses. When working with people in different time zones, it is important to allow more time for planning and negotiating.

Service standards. One of my biggest pet peeves relates to food. My standard direction is, “hot food hot and cold food cold.” That means all food should be kept at the appropriate temperature throughout the duration of the serving period. We’ve had other countries try to serve hot appetizers on a platter over the course of an hour or display cold cocktail shrimp without placing it on ice. Not on our watch! We recommend being as detailed as possible in what your expectations are and always double check to make sure they followed protocol before the start of your event.

The standard ratio of guests to servers is another important discussion to have before signing your contract. What is considered acceptable service varies greatly throughout the world. Adding details to your contract will help to ensure your expectations are met, or even exceeded.

Stay informed. It is imperative you make yourself aware of any and all current events taking place in the area and surrounding areas you are traveling. We recommend checking local news sources and cross referencing your travel destinations with the US website for travel alerts.

For example, we had a function planned for Thailand a while back. Many of the attendees were going to have to travel through Bangkok to get to Phuket.  At the time, Bangkok was experiencing a state of political unrest. Unable to get around Bangkok we ended up having to relocate the event to another country to ensure the safety of our attendees.

When it comes to planning international meetings, events, or incentives you can never be too cautious or detailed. Always expect the unexpected and be prepared to negotiate.

For more on how to minimize your legal risks, we recommend checking out Smart Meetings’ article on international contracting.