Shaw Centre regularly hosts international events such as conferences, symposia and association meetings. In some cases, we deal with meeting planners from another country, while in others it is Canadian and even local Ottawa planners with whom we are liaising.
We welcome these international events as they generate a tremendous positive economic impact for many businesses in Ottawa, which is why Shaw Centre has joined forces with Ottawa Tourism and Invest Ottawa to provide complimentary support to new local ambassadors. Launched in April 2019, the ThinkOttawa program aims at working with local industry leaders to bring more conferences and events to Canada’s capital by supporting them in their international conference bids.
Shaw Centre’s Faran Mirza is a Program Manager with ThinkOttawa and he has several key tips for international meeting planners:
1. Connect with the local destination management organization (DMO)
Local DMO’s are a great resource and know the city better than anyone, plus they have solid connections they have with hotels and venues. A local expert can provide suggestions that will enrich your attendees’ overall experience, whether you’re interested in cultural, culinary or other unique offerings. Keep in mind that for many of the travelers attending your meeting, the city or country is a destination in and of itself. They’ll be interested in insider tips, tourist attractions and restaurants in addition to the standard meeting information.
2. Have a local champion
Having a local subject matter expert as an ambassador is invaluable to any conference. Not only will they know their audience, but they also know their city and can help make suggestions that will elevate the overall experience of the delegates. This individual can help engage other local industry experts as needed to handle technical aspects of the conference and potentially act as a liaison between the host city and their international association counterparts.
3. Book Hotels in advance
It goes without saying that people need somewhere to stay when they visit a destination for a conference. Hotel rooms tend to book up faster than you’d expect so it is a good idea not to overlook putting room blocks on hold for the time of your meeting especially if you have a large number of delegates attending. Going back to the first point, the local DMO is a great asset and can use their connections with hotels to secure the best rates.
4. Budget for exchange rate and local taxes/fees
Make sure you verify the exchange rate and any applicable taxes or fees that always vary from destination to destination. Unexpected surprises can be costly and quite painful at times. In addition to confirming conversions for currency, make sure you understand the units of measurement being applied to exhibit spaces, freight elevator capacities, food and beverage servings and more. It’s a good idea to ask for floor plans, photos and virtual tours of the venue so you can plan more comprehensively.
5. Remember that some services may not be offered for free
Certain destinations may charge for items such as Wi-Fi, which you may expect would come at no cost. It is a good idea to make sure everything is clarified beforehand.
6. Learn about required entry/exit documentation
Make sure you are familiar with any documentation/visa requirements for each country from which delegates will be travelling. Certain requirements are only applicable to those holding passports from specific countries.
7. Ask about preferred suppliers
A reputable event venue will happily share contact details for trusted and professional suppliers, for everything from printing services to décor, entertainment, spousal programs and more.
8. Prepare for the unexpected
Experienced meeting planners know it’s crucial to be flexible and be ready to deal with any last minute curveballs and this is particularly true for international events.
While it takes a lot of hard work to prepare for an international event, which it all comes together and attendees are ‘wowed’, it’s very fulfilling for everyone involved.