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“Hi, I’m the Problem, It’s Me”

An association has switched the dates of its 4,200-attendee annual meeting because Taylor Swift is scheduled to rock the host city that same weekend in October.

Of all the hit songs that Taylor Swift has released, the one that’s most likely stuck in the minds of the leadership team at the American Society of Tropical Medicine & Hygiene is “Look What You Made Me Do.”

Why? Because on February 12, the association posted a message on its social-media channels and its website that ASTMH’s 4,200-attendee annual meeting, originally set to take place October 24 to 28, was being rescheduled for November 13 to 17. Here is that message:

“We recently learned that global musical icon Taylor Swift will be performing in New Orleans for three nights directly overlapping our original October meeting dates. Her performance is expected to bring close to 250,000 ‘Swifties’ (Taylor Swift fans) to the city, creating challenges for transportation and restaurants—and resulting in a shortage of available hotel rooms and higher costs for the rooms still available.

Shifting our dates will help ensure that we are maximizing your opportunity to access the meeting as affordably as possible. We appreciate that there is already a significant financial commitment for attendees to come to the Annual Meeting each year, particularly for travelers from outside of the United States.

We also recognize that this shift in meeting dates may impact symposium proposals. As a result, we have extended the Call for Symposia to Tuesday, March 5.

These decisions were made in consultation with the Executive Committee within our Board of Directors and ASTMH staff. We regret any inconvenience and remain committed to ensuring that the 2024 Annual Meeting is the best one yet.

We also extend thanks to the city of New Orleans for working tirelessly alongside our staff to confirm new dates.”

The association did not respond to MeetingsNet’s request for further comment, while the city’s convention and visitors bureau, New Orleans & Company, declined to comment on how it assisted the group with changing its plans.

However, meetings-industry attorney Joshua Grimes, Esq., of Grimes Law Offices, tells MeetingsNet that "when a group is asked to move dates, typically a hotel will offer an incentive—F&B inclusions, lower room rates, waived attrition—to give the group incentive to voluntarily change." Even so, for situations where a change is not feasible for the group, "it's critical to have a good contract clause to deal with this situation where the venue, by refusing to honor the event dates, is defaulting on its contractual obligation to the group. It's a breach of contract, the same as if the group refused to meet on the contractual dates."

In most cases, a good "cancellation by venue" clause would do just that, Grimes notes. "It would allow the group to secure reasonable and significant cancellation damages if the venue does not honor its meeting-date commitment. The damages should be at least partially liquidated damages, so the group would receive a specific dollar amount as part of its recovery. The challenge is that many groups fail to negotiate a good cancellation-by-venue clause into their contracts, or the provision has very vague language that does not grant the group much of a recovery. That can put the group into a difficult position if the hotel insists on a change in dates—either agree, or fight for any compensation."

Grimes believes that in the future, "the meetings industry will see these situations more often, as hotels now view cancellations as an acceptable business decision to get more lucrative bookings, as opposed to a breach of their legal or ethical obligation. It's incumbent on event groups to protect themselves in the meeting contract by making certain that cancellation damages are adequate."

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