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Event Security and Contracts: A Friction Point

Recent meeting cancellations in the U.S. connected with tensions in the Middle East raise important questions: Who is responsible for enhanced event security? And does a force-majeure clause cover a security-related cancellation?

On the heels of a Houston hotel cancelling the late-October meeting of a pro-Palestinian group due to what the hotel called “enhanced security concerns,” a similar event on October 21 was moved out of its contracted hotel by the meeting host, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, due to terror threats against the host hotel.

Just 48 hours ahead of its annual banquet, set for the Marriott Crystal Gateway Hotel in Arlington, Va., CAIR moved the event to a different hotel in a different city, neither of which the group would disclose to non-attendees. Another banquet by an affiliated group set for October 28 at a Maryland hotel was cancelled and incorporated into the CAIR event.

According to this article in The New York Times, “the hotel’s corporate leadership told CAIR that it could not guarantee security after it received a bomb threat and calls about Molotov cocktails. Hotel staff members had also been targeted with threatening phone calls at home.”

“We strongly condemn the extreme and disgusting threats against our organization, the Marriott hotel, and its staff,” CAIR National Executive Director Nihad Awad, who is Palestinian American, said in a statement.

Edward A. Mitchell, deputy director of CAIR, told the Times that because the hotel is adjacent to a metro station and a shopping center, it is especially vulnerable. Further, local law-enforcement officials could not provide security reinforcements due to a number of nearby rallies related to the Hamas-Israel conflict.

It is not known whether the group had to pay a cancellation fee for moving the event out of the hotel. However, Joshua Grimes, Esq., president of Grimes Law Office, notes that a meeting group’s cancellation due to such security concerns “wouldn't be covered by most hotel-drafted force-majeure clauses.” The lesson: Planners who organize events with potential security issues should work to negotiate a force-majeure clause that limits financial liability when threats result in cancellation.

As for a hotel’s responsibilities for providing enough security to allow a meeting to go on, “hotel contracts typically do not require the property to provide more than basic security in the hotel’s common areas, such as the lobby, food and beverage outlets open to the public, and areas such as the swimming pool,” Grimes notes. “Any additional security requirements are typically provided at a cost to the meeting group. But for the venue to have a clear right to impose that cost on a group, the contract should have a provision allowing the hotel to do so based on objective concerns about safety.”

Further, “if the venue anticipated that security measures would be needed based on its knowledge of the meeting at the time the contract is signed,” says Grimes, “the added costs should be included in the agreement unless the security is not mandatory.”

The Flip Side
In the case where a hotel was the party who cancelled a meeting of a pro-Palestinian group due to security concerns, but without citing specific threats, there are different questions for planners to consider.

the Hilton Houston Post Oak by the Galleria announced on October 17 that it would not host the annual conference of the U.S. Campaign for Palestinian Rights, which was contracted to be at the property from October 27 to 29.

“The safety and security of our team members and guests is our top priority,” the hotel said in a prepared statement. “Given escalating security concerns in the current environment, the hotel has determined that it cannot serve as the venue for this event because of the potential risks to our team members and guests. Our priority is and will remain the safety and security of everyone we welcome at our hotels.”

Grimes notes that “we don't know whether the hotel directed the meeting group to pay for additional security, and whether the group refused that before the hotel cancelled the event. Unless that happened, or the hotel had other unique rights to cancel reserved in the contract, it is possible that this cancellation was not permitted according to the contract’s terms. It was not a force-majeure situation under the verbiage in most hotel contracts, as it wasn't ‘impossible or illegal’ to proceed with the event.”

“I suspect that the hotel made a decision to cancel irrespective of its contractual right to do so without liability to the group,” he adds. “Also, I’d suspect that the group will have remedies under the cancellation provision or otherwise allowed under law. The parties will either reach a settlement or resolve the dispute according to the contract's provisions.”

In any event, this [topic] needs more discussion and consideration in event contracts,” Grimes concludes.

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