What to Know Now: Conference Contracts & COVID-19

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Navigating hotel contracts, attrition, and cancellation considerations due to coronavirus

In an unprecedented rapid timeframe, COVID-19 has made a tremendous impact on organizations that rely on in-person events to advance their marketing or business strategies. As the situation and information changes on a day-to-day – and sometimes hour-to-hour – basis, Meeting Expectations’ in-house Site Selection team is on the front lines, working in partnership with our clients to navigate the challenging decisions about whether to postpone, cancel or continue the course for their events.

While each situation is different, there are three key areas of advice that apply to all events during these uncertain times:

  1. Know Your Contract
    One thing that hasn’t changed with the coronavirus crisis is the necessity to have a full understanding of your contracts with hotels and venues. Because the vast majority of meetings and events never have to consider the ramifications of their force majeure clauses, there can understandably be confusion around whether those clauses apply to the current crisis.

    Force majeure, literally “superior force,” refers to a contract clause removing liability for natural and other unavoidable catastrophes that interrupt the expected course of events and restrict participants from fulfilling obligations. The fact is, most force majeure clauses were not written to include health emergencies or even pandemics. Even in cases where a state of emergency has been declared by the municipal, state or federal government, it may not relieve your organization from fulfilling its contract.

    Tip: Every situation is different and contract terms vary, so the first step before making any decision about your scheduled event is to conduct a thorough review of contract terms. With hundreds of meetings and events booked each year, our team is here to guide you through the process.

  2. Practice Patience
    This situation has hit us all very quickly – in less than a month the entire hotel and travel industry has seen its revenues slashed. We’ve heard from many of our hotel contacts of layoffs or furloughs of up to 50 percent of staff, as Americans cancel plans, employers implement full-time work-from-home policies, and we all practice safe social distancing.

    Just as we are looking to our public health organizations and government leadership to better understand what we should do as individuals, so are these same hotels and venues having to weigh the risks and benefits to their businesses before making decisions. With smaller staffs and so many postponements and cancellations happening so quickly, right now hotels and other venues can only manage the immediate needs – those events scheduled during the period the CDC has recommended for avoiding group events, which (as of this writing) runs through mid-May.

    If your event falls beyond that time period, our recommendation is to wait another week or two before making any changes. Our experience is that the travel industry is filled with hard-working, compassionate people who want to work with you to ensure success, but these same people need the benefit of our patience as they work to provide the best solutions.

    Tip: Understand that hotel salespeople are eager to resolve and rebook your business. They are also facing a tremendous number of inquiries, often with more limited staff. Regular contact with the right hotel connections will help protect you and prioritize your needs. But be patient. A response may take time.

  3. Engage the Experts
    The value of expert advice can’t be overestimated. If you are considering changes to your event, or simply want to understand what your contractual options could be, engage with an attorney who specializes in hospitality issues (or contact us for a referral). Just as in other legal specialties, there are areas of hospitality law that are unique to the industry. With their expertise, in the end they can save you time, money, and provide the best counsel for your particular situation.

    As hundreds or even thousands of events are potentially impacted by this public health crisis, relationships can make the difference in the successful resolution of any change your organization is facing. As a full-service event planning and association management firm, Meeting Expectations employs a staff of site selection and booking experts – many of whom have worked in the industry for more than a decade— who have guided our clients through previous challenging times. Longstanding relationships with hotels, convention centers and convention and visitors’ bureaus provide added value in site selection, contract negotiation, and securing the best possible solution at any time; even more so today.

    Tip: With more than 25 years’ experience, the Meeting Expectations team is battle tested. We are here to advise your organization and plot a successful course through these unusually stressful times.

We know that adjustments to large group gatherings are necessary to protect the health and well-being of everyone right now, but it won’t last forever. And the unique benefits that in-person events provide – connection, community, uninterrupted learning – will always provide business value.

How can we help? Contact us.

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