By David Taylor, MD Grass Roots Meetings & Events
Delivering any successful event always has its challenges but when the event takes place in an unusual location, the problems have a habit of multiplying.
The issues we are confronted with are many and varied. The event may for example be taking place in a town or city that has never hosted a large exhibition before. We provided delegate management for a large event in Eastern Europe and the city had very limited hotel accommodation for delegates that needed to stay together. After some serious overbooking on the hotels’ part, we faced one of our toughest challenges for logistics and customer service.
Then of course there is the small matter of the venues. In such countries the options are often very limited and you have to learn to work with buildings that aren’t really suited to hosting conferences. Walls in the venue can be too thick for Wi-Fi. The registration area may be too small. Signage in the building is often poor or non-existent and security can be limited at best. Even a reliable power supply can be an issue. We even go to the lengths of travelling with independent power supplies and batteries to ensure that we are not reliant on the local electricity supplier to do our job.
Political situations provide unique challenges. For example we did an event that physically crossed two borders. Running Wi-Fi connectivity was simply not possible across the border zone, so we had to ensure our RFID scanners worked offline and could be updated by other methods, not just the Internet.
As for equipment, it’s essential to use an experienced shipping agent who understands the local country’s requirements. Form filling is a popular past time in these places and it’s common to have to list every item’s serial number and date of purchase in addition to a host of other questionable details. Forms completed incorrectly will inevitably result in the non-arrival of vital equipment and then the fun really begins.
Whilst we now tend to take written and spoken English as a given in Western countries, this is often not the case. In developing countries we have worked in English is not a common language, which can make even the simplest tasks more difficult. Scanners also have to be programmed to recognise the local alphabet or it can lead to them malfunctioning and crashing. Try putting together an alphabetical delegate list or laying out name badges when you have no understanding of local dialect – it’s not easy.
People make the difference
Delegate management has benefited enormously in recent years from advances in technology and this has certainly made our lives easier. When you operate in new destinations though you quickly remember that our business remains at its core a people business. Technology can fail, and believe me is more likely to in a remote place. That’s when you need the people and the processes to take over in order to deliver the event successfully.
In summary then my advice to anyone looking to hold an event in an out-of-the-way country would be to expect the unexpected and always work with an experienced team. These events are not for the faint-hearted or those who think they can wing it – believe me you will be found out. Yes, it’s hard work and you find yourself constantly trouble-shooting, but ultimately the sense of delivering a professional event under trying circumstances leads to a great sense of achievement and reminds you why we joined the industry in the first place.