Behind the Scenes of the 2018 Dallas-Fort Worth Trade Mission to Europe

By Melissa Maguire, Manager of International Engagement, Dallas Regional Chamber

LONDON, June 16 – It’s Saturday night here in London. The Dallas Fort Worth International Airport and Dallas Regional Chamber support staffs are holed up in a workroom, in a back hallway of the trendy Berkeley Hotel. We are just around the corner from both the Kensington and Buckingham palaces, which we haven’t had time to visit but have seen from our taxi windows.

Two airport staff members – Lena Bedwany and Karen Herberger – and I arrived in Paris on Wednesday, June 13, a day ahead of the Dallas Fort Worth International Airport partners delegation. After being unable to sleep on the plane (instead watching “Pride & Prejudice” twice and finally beating “Angry Birds”), I was ready to hit the ground running with a 36-hour day, spending all day Wednesday in Dallas and all day Thursday in Paris, before falling asleep in London.

Our hotels in London and Paris are spectacular, and their staffs are obsessively accommodating. The Dallas Fort Worth International Airport staff takes hotel hospitality and service into consideration months in advance of the trip, when they’re negotiating room blocks and rates for the delegation. Our group includes Mayor Mike Rawlings of Dallas; Mayor Betsy Price of Fort Worth; the airport board chair, board members, and its CEO; and executives from across the Dallas-Fort Worth region representing companies and organizations such as American Airlines, Downtown Dallas Inc., Santander Bank, and the University of Texas – Dallas.

Their planning pays off: the staff was able to show us the mayors’ rooms, our meeting ballrooms, and our workrooms in advance of the delegation’s arrival. The hotels also pre-key everyone’s rooms in advance, which is a great help to us, as our delegates arrive exhausted and jetlagged throughout the weekend.

Paris to London
Our 10 hours in Paris were a blur of meetings with our on-the-ground transportation logistics team and the Park Hyatt Paris-Vendôme hotel staff to confirm details for the various meetings and events occurring Wednesday (June 20)-Friday (June 22) in Paris. We briefly saw the famous opera house (Palais Garnier) on our way to grab a takeaway lunch, before hunkering down again in the workroom. After 10 hours in Paris, we caught the evening train to London.

Upon arrival at The Berkeley around 9 p.m., we set up our London workroom. We spend exponentially more time here than we do anywhere else, so it’s important to claim your space and settle in fast. I made the mistake of choosing a seat with my back to the window, so the day passes behind me without me noticing.

For the past three days now, we have been editing the week’s “external” mission book, which tracks:

  • each meeting name, date, time, and address;
  • the purpose of each meeting;
  • contact details for each meeting’s organizer;
  • the names, titles, bios, and headshots of each person with whom we’re meeting;
  • the names of all delegates attending each meeting; and
  • transportation notes for before and after each meeting.

On the back end, the “internal” mission book includes information the delegates don’t see, including:

  • every delegate’s contact info, emergency contact info, assistant contact info, flight/train;
  • delegate itineraries so we can track departures and arrivals, hotel confirmations so we can confirm their check-ins and check-outs, and scans of their travel documents;
  • the delegate transportation manifest, a compilation of more than 150 sedan, SUV, and bus movement times, pick-up/drop-off locations, who will be in which vehicles, and the drivers’ contact information;
  • meeting room layouts and seating charts;
  • talking points for delegates with speaking roles;
  • gift plans and who will be in charge of each meeting’s gifts; and
  • pre-written communication emails to the whole delegation each night, with reminders and information about the next day.

It’s a lot to track, and when one thing changes, there is a domino effect of everything else that has to change… The tiniest change involves changing summary itineraries, daily agendas, the transportation manifest, Dropbox versions of the above documents, and Outlook calendar invitations for support staffers, not to mention we usually have to relay changes to our British and French hosting companies, who often provide name tags, building security clearances, parking passes, and more.

We make the books knowing that they will be outdated just minutes later, but the process of creating the books is something that we are improving mission after mission. On top of that, version control between print and digital books adds another layer of complication as we work to transition gradually to digital books.

After several hours of itinerary revisions, I made it to my room around 2 a.m., took another hour to knock out some emails, and passed out.

Friday morning brought Mitzi Chollampel, a Senior Manager in International Marketing and Public Relations at Dallas Fort Worth International Airport, to London to add some helping hands. It’s amazing what a team of five tired women can do in logistics management.

Sarah Carabias-Rush (who leads international outreach at the DRC) and I left the airport team behind for a 9:30 a.m. meeting at London & Partners across the river, to finalize some details for our three events hosted in collaboration with them.

I left Sarah at L&P for an afternoon lunch at The Stafford, where Hugh Boyle, CEO of TracyLocke in Dallas and delegate on this trip, will be hosting a business dinner with the two mayors, the two chambers (Dallas and Fort Worth), a handful of our delegates, and a group of British company executives. I met with the events director to see the dinner space – an 8,000-bottle Stafford Wine Cellar – and began the tube trek to the Balfour Beatty headquarters in Canary Wharf, across town for a similar walk-through meeting.

It’s been fantastic to work with the Dallas and London Balfour Beatty teams, and we’re so grateful that Eric Krueger, Executive Vice President – Texas Division, is joining us on the mission as a representative of the firm’s Dallas office. The Mayor’s International Business Programme Roundtable they are hosting in London will probably be my favorite event on the London side of the trip, given how easy and fun it’s been to work with Balfour staff on both sides of the pond.

Unexpected Texan encounter
Friday night (June 15) wrapped up with the support team going to dinner and watching the Portugal vs. Spain World Cup match on an outdoor screen. While eating, Karen recognized the accent of a gentleman sitting behind us – it was clearly Texan. We were happy to make friends with the group, who then invited us to a very traditional English pub in a back alley, where we closed out the night sharing work stories, pictures of children and grandchildren, and amusing commentary about celebrity sightings in our little London neighborhood.

Today was a little easier. Mitzi, Karen, and I took the tube to Canary Wharf to map the bus pick-up/drop-off route and parking options, to gauge the feasibility of delegates walking from the Balfour Beatty office to our next meeting in Canary Wharf, and to scope out lunch options for delegates. Walking and driving the routes between next week’s meeting locations allows us to map out transportation routes down to the minute; the transportation manifest is by far the tightest-managed document we have, with anywhere from five to seven vehicles running around the city at any given moment. Each car transports not only delegates, but also the appropriate gifts and marketing collateral for the upcoming meetings. It’s a huge operation!

As I finish this blog post, it’s a few minutes shy of midnight, and we’ve just started discussing Wednesday morning’s series of delegate transfers from London to Paris by plane and train. After spending three long, busy days together, the group demeanor has slipped into light humor, with teasing, sarcasm, and jokes abounding. We have started writing down inside jokes as hashtags and using emojis to tell elaborate stories in our WhatsApp chat. After surviving the Canada and China/Korea missions with this group, coming to London was like coming home to old friends.

The Dallas-Fort Worth trade delegation concludes its mission in Europe on Friday, June 22.