"There’s a McDonald’s in the Louvre!"
No, how we have infected the world with our culture isn’t the subject of this blog installment. I want to talk about European meetings. The thing is, you can see something like a McDonald’s in the Louvre and think that planning a meeting in Europe is just like planning a meeting in the US. You could not be more wrong. McDonald’s is just a mirage. Something that makes you think things are a certain way, when the reality is, they are not. They don’t have Quarter Pounders and they put little or no ice in your Coke. That’s Europe.
European meetings can be the ideal way to make a meeting or a reward trip that much more special. There are still a lot of people who haven’t been to Europe, so a trip that is provided where little knowledge or planning is required for the traveler, is seen by many as a huge bonus, and a definite motivator.
There are a lot of facets to European meetings, but today I’m just going to touch on a few. We’ll get into more detail in later blogs. For now, let’s just scratch the proverbial surface and give you a few hints to pass onto your attendees., or use yourself. We’re going to assume, for the purposes of today’s blog, that you’ve never traveled to Europe before, but you’ve decided it’s time to take the plunge. You’ve decided where you want to go, you’ve booked your tickets, and now you’re just getting everything ready.
A quick aside – if you haven’t already chosen a destination, let me offer a suggestion. Ireland. Ireland is a great first-trip destination. English is spoken there (well, kind of), the Irish love Americans, there is plenty to see and do without much transportation hassle, and there’s nothing that compares to a Guinness in Ireland.
OK, back on track. Here we go with Remedial Europe (Europe 101 will come later):
1. Europeans do a lot of things in very small spaces. Tiny elevators (lifts, as they say), tiny rooms, tiny cars...the one to be mindful of is bed size. Twin beds are very common in Europe. When you’re booking a room, be specific. Look for queen- or full-size beds, not just the number of beds. King beds are very rare (more of an American thing), unless you’re staying in an American-branded hotel. Just because a hotel says you will have “two beds,” don’t assume it will be two queen beds. In fact, just don’t assume when it comes to size.
2. Speaking of beds, jet lag is a real thing traveling to and from Europe. The key is to
acclimate to local time as quickly as possible. Most flights from the US arrive in the morning, so there’s a good chance you won’t be able to check into your hotel room when you arrive. If that’s the case, check your luggage and go for a walk. Do everything you can to stay awake
and stay alert. My wife and I flew to Rome several years back and I booked a museum tour early in the afternoon of arrival day. That was a mistake. Neither of us remember anything about the museum, but my wife does remember enough about it to give me serious grief every time we travel. So yeah, keep your schedule lean on arrival day. If you can check into your room, grab a power nap (no more than an hour or two), and a shower, then go out. Try to stay up at least until 9 on your first day and set an alarm for the next morning. Be tough. Show your body who’s in charge.
3. Tipping is no big mystery in Europe. I know a few travel guides will tell you not to tip. The problem is Europeans know that we tip in America. My advice is to tip conservatively. I’m talking like 10%. Believe me – it’s appreciated. The key in Europe is that in most cases, you’ll need to tell your server ahead of time – like when you ask for the bill (and generally, you have to ask for the bill). Just ask them to add 10% for a gratuity. Can you get away with not tipping? Sure you can. Will you look like an obnoxious, self-important American? Absolutely! You make the call.
4. Breakfast is included with most European hotel rates. Be sure you understand what you’re getting when you book your room. It’s ironic that in our business, the term “European Plan” means lodging only – no meals; whereas “American Plan” typically means that meals are included. Just the opposite of the way things work in real life. Weird.
5. Star ratings are different in Europe. I could spend an entire blog just on this. Let’s just say, the star ratings in Europe generally refer to amenities available, not the quality of service, as they do here in the US. I’ve stayed in many 4-Star hotels in Europe that sucked. Reviews are much more reliable than star ratings.
6. Pickpockets are everywhere and everyone will warn you about them. I’ve made numerous trips to numerous countries in Europe and I’ve not once had my pocket picked. The key? It’s not shoving your money down your pants - although, that would probably work – just tough every time to need to pay for your Big Mac in the Louvre. No, the key is to just pay attention. Be smart about where you carry your money and pay attention to people around you. Also, don’t keep all your valuables in one place.
7. VAT taxes (Value-Added Taxes) are everywhere in Europe. Most countries will provide a refund of your VAT taxes when you depart, as long as you keep your receipts and turn them in at the airport. Every country is different, so read up, but depending on what you purchase, that 15%-19% refund can add up. I’m all about turning those receipts in and sticking it to Europe. It’s your call though.
My time is up, so we’ll leave it there for now. More to follow in the coming months. If you have specific questions about traveling to Europe, shoot me a note at Steve@onyxmeetings.com. I’m happy to answer any questions.
Ciao for Now