How to plan safe and affordable meetings and incentives in Europe

According to industry reports, off-site meetings and incentives are making a comeback, and planners are once again looking at international destinations to motivate and reward top talent.

Travel to a foreign land has tremendous motivational appeal – with promises of life-changing adventures, exotic discoveries, and unique cultural experiences. But planning a meeting abroad also poses a different set of challenges. Here a a few things you need to be aware of when looking at venues in Europe:

Hotels: Not consistent in their ratings, rooms can be significantly smaller than what attendees are used to, and might have two fixed twin beds.

Meals: Special dietary needs may be difficult to accommodate. Items we take for granted might not be served – butter with bread, or ice water, for example.

Meeting Space: Many European hotels have inadequate conference space.  Meeting facilities (as well as hospitality and work rooms) are rarely complimentary.

Currency: Rates quoted in local currency or Euros are subject to change, based on fluctuating rates of exchange.

Language: Depending on the country and property, contracts may not be in English.

Contracts: Contract terms and negotiations vary between countries and cultures. Line-by-line transparency not typical in Europe; costs tend to be bundled or packaged together.

Safety and security: Make sure you have a backup plan in case of natural or man-made disasters. Safety and security of attendees during their free time may also be a concern in foreign cities.

How to Avoid Culture (and Sticker) Shock

Here’s a tip that will make planning a program in Europe a breeze: use a cruise ship as your floating venue. Look how an “ocean-going hotel” eases your planning worries:

Accommodations: Book comfortably appointed staterooms with ocean views and deluxe amenities – everyone is happy!

Meals: Meals and snacks are included during the cruise, and attendees can dine in a variety of venues – from formal restaurants to casual cafes. Most dietary concerns can easily be accommodated, and healthy options are always available on the ship.

Meeting Space: Dedicated conference facilities, meeting space, and state-of-the-art AV equipment are available – and complimentary.

Currency and Language: With most cruise lines based in the U.S., there’s no need to worry about language or cultural differences. Rates are quoted in USD and not subject to currency fluctuations.

Contracts: Cruise line contracts are transparent and there is less “bundling” of add-on items, due to the inclusive nature of a cruise.

Safety and Security: When it comes to safety and security, cruise lines are held to a much higher standard than land-based properties. Passengers and crew are carefully screened before boarding, and “walk-ins” are not allowed while the ship is in port.

During your cruise, attendees are a “captive audience” with plenty of activities and evening entertainment options on board. Cruise line shore excursions are carefully planned and escorted by English-speaking guides for safe and memorable experiences in port.

And finally, in the event of natural or other disturbances, your ship will change course and sail to safer, calmer ports.

The Best Deal in Europe – Now at Sea

Business Travel News recently published the 2011 Foreign Corporate Travel Index, listing the average per diem of 100 international cities. We looked at a few European port cities that you might visit during your Mediterranean or Baltic voyage, and the average per diem came in at:

Stockholm – $501; Rome – $397; Nice – $390; Athens – $377; Barcelona – $366; Istanbul- $353

Here’s what’s included in the above rates: one night in an average business-class hotel, three simple meals (continental breakfast, lunch and dinner with non-alcoholic beverage), and minor miscellaneous expenses (like two taxi rides and a bottle of water). No frills, right?

Now compare that to what’s typically included when you book a meeting at sea on a spectacular cruise ship for about half the price:

  • First-rate accommodations in ocean view staterooms, many with balconies
  • All meals, with unlimited choices served a la carte, plus round the clock snacks
  • Complimentary conference, meeting and function space
  • Use of state-of-the-art A/V equipment
  • Catered refreshment breaks for meetings
  • Wide choice of entertainment options, including Broadway and Las Vegas-caliber productions
  • Fitness facilities, wellness and enrichment classes
  • Daily activities and sports facilities – including miniature golf, tennis, basketball, rock climbing, surf simulators, ice skating
  • Transportation between ports

And, for about 100 bucks more than the “no frills” rates quoted in the Corporate Travel Index, you can book your group on a deluxe ship or charter a small vessel of your own that also includes:

  • All suite accommodations
  • Personal Butler service
  • Complimentary wine and spirits
  • In-suite bar setup
  • Gourmet dining in beautiful restaurants
  • 5-star service
  • All gratuities

When you add it all up – simplified planning, better value, more comfort and security, and a greater variety of experiences – a European meeting or incentive at sea is the best way to go.

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  1. [...] star properties. Planners want to create memorable experiences in alluring destinations, including Europe – but at the same time, budgets remain [...]