How many times have you wished you had a crystal ball to tell what the future holds? As meeting planners, this has been a common thought throughout the past nine months. We get these questions often: “What are you seeing when it comes to events in 2021? Who is hosting? How big is the event? Where is the event being held?”
The long and short answer is, “it’s situational”. I would love to be able to forecast what 2021 may look like, but being transparent, conditions still change daily, and I am holding on to this wild ride. To stay up to date, I read articles and listen to webinars daily about the latest restrictions, legal recommendations, and news of face-to-face events that have recently taken place. The desire for current event information is so relevant, in fact, that Meeting Expectations created a first-in-the-industry site to capture and share data on meetings happening safely, today: Meetings Accomplished.
While some industries and organizations do continue to host events face-to-face – or are making plans to do so soon – others have decided to consider the following options.
“Wait and see” is the most popular response we hear from the hotels that are opposed to cancellations or negotiating their force majeure clauses. Hotels or venues would prefer to wait two-three months out from the event before making any decisions. This is challenging to groups that begin their planning cycles six, nine, or twelve months out. Speakers need to be secured; exhibitors approached about sponsoring and/or participating on the tradeshow floor; marketing designed and deployed; the list goes on and on. The good news is that having a team with deep relationships and expertise means we can negotiate more flexible terms on attrition (sleeping rooms, food and beverage, etc.), and come to a mutually beneficial timeframe for both parties involved to “wait and see”.
“Does my event qualify for force majeure?” is still the million-dollar question heading into 2021. Each hotel, city, hotel brand, and leadership team is answering this question on a case-by-case basis. There are so many considerations, for instance: is your event within the next 30, 60, or 90 days? Is it being held in a state that experiencing major spike or include attendees arriving from a region with a high case count? Does the event have international attendees? What are the city and state laws for gatherings? Does your company currently have a travel ban? Have you sent out a survey to attendees to show the percentage of attendees that are not able to travel to your event either due to travel bans, expense budget cuts, demographics of group, etc.? Today, the best course of action is still to work with in-house legal counsel and/or hospitality attorney. It is better to spend a small fee on their contract review, rather than paying potential cancellation fees. Our team can help.
“I’d feel better if we either moved the event to a future year or request reduced cancellation fees and get out of my contract.” Before going this route, think through your desired move dates before engaging the hotel. That way they know you are ready to move and sign – allowing the hotel to keep the business. For those who do want to cancel, and not rebook, expect some level of penalties, or consider signing a multi-year agreement. For our clients, we have been successful in negotiating better outcomes; flexibility, a strong partnership and fair negotiations are key.
“When the vaccine is released, do you anticipate there being a large demand for in-person meetings?” When the FDA authorized the vaccine, many of us felt a small sigh of relief. However, we all know there is not a specific date for the majority of Americans to be vaccinated. So, for now, we continue to monitor the progress and key milestones over future months, like states loosening restrictions and business travel increasing.
Bottom line is, there are still no black and white answers, and what’s best for one organization may not be the same for another. The good news is that are safe ways to hold in-person events today – just as there are also still reasons to postpone, pivot or cancel others.