With overseas meetings costing no more than in the UK, many firms now take staff and contacts to more exotic climes. By Jane Lewis
Overseas conferencing has never been more popular, fed by the combination of cheap facilities in exotic locations with the increasingly global nature of commerce. Multinationals in traditional industries, long used to holding their annual get-together in different countries, are joined by fast-growing companies in media and IT, while more and more businesses of all sizes and sectors rely on "jollies" to motivate their staff.
"A lot of overseas meetings cost no more than UK-based events - we have proved this time and again," says John Hooker, director of conference organiser The Marketing Organisation. "In off-peak periods a room in Lisbon might cost £50 compared with £100 in Birmingham, and it also offers better value for catering. Air fares will balance that out to some extent but, nevertheless, by the time you have packaged it together you may have made a substantial saving."
IT leads the way
Hooker says that over the past five years there has been a steady increase in the number of companies staging events abroad. Ironically that is led by the IT sector, which for all its hyping of virtual communications needs to physically bring together delegates from around the world to explain the nuances of new systems.
Companies tend to take for granted the organisers' ability to handle the complex logistics of flying out delegates, accommodating them and meeting their individual needs, as well as mounting the conference itself. What they are more concerned about, Hooker says, is ensuring they get value for money and that the conference achieves the long-term aim of getting across a series of important messages.
That can be aided by foreign cultures as a basis for theming, says Andrew Hillary, managing director of Clearwater Communications, which specialises in the creative aspects of conference production.
A conference in Thailand could feature local images such as Buddhist temples as a stage backdrop but there might also be a deeper motif that underscores the purpose of the conference. For example, a Middle Eastern event could focus on the qualities of self-reliance found in nomadic cultures, while the origins of the human race in Africa serves as a metaphor for the origins of a company.
Meetings with a serious agenda can be cunningly disguised as incentive trips ostensib