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Cancel or Proceed? Here’s Some Help Making that Call

Events on the books in the next month face the question of whether to cancel or proceed with the likelihood of reduced attendance. Here’s a process for reaching the decision.

On March 6, the Events Industry Council hosted a webinar on the legal and insurance issues meeting planners are dealing with as they navigate COVID-19 concerns. Over 2,200 event professionals logged in to hear legal experts Barbara Dunn, a partner at Barnes & Thornburg, and Tyra Warner (Hilliard), CMP, department chair, Hospitality & Tourism Management, College of Coastal Georgia.

One of the fundamentals covered in the one-hour session was how to arrive at a decision on whether or not to cancel an event, and Dunn had some savvy advice. At the end of the day, it comes down to the business benefit, said Dunn. “I ask my clients to put blinders on as to the contract or the insurance. That’s not to say that those items aren’t important—they’re very important—but it’s a business decision. What is the purpose of your meeting or event? Can you still accomplish the goals of the event with reduced attendance? Those are the big questions, and I encourage my clients to think about them first.”

Dunn advises clients to chart both paths: on the one hand canceling and on the other hand going forward with reduced attendance. To see what each path looks like, she says, consider these two things:

1. What is the critical mass of individuals who need to attend for the objective of the meeting to be accomplished? For example, Dunn asks, “if 10 percent of your people can’t come, is that going to upset the delivery of what you’re doing—your educational content or your research delivery at your meeting? Probably not. But what about 20 percent, 30 percent, or greater?  It’s going to vary for every event.” Understanding that number is not only important from a business perspective, she says, but from a contract perspective and an insurance perspective.

2. When must you decide? Dunn suggests establishing a decision deadline. “Your team should come together and decide on a go/no-go date for any given meeting,” says Dunn, noting that you need to take into consideration when exhibitors will begin shipping materials.

Once those two questions have been thought through, the next step is getting your arms around all your contracts—for the convention center, hotels, decorators, AV companies, destination management companies, and so on—then looking at whether the force majeure provisions would apply, and then making some determinations. “Lawyers can always play cleanup on cancellation fees or attrition fees; we can argue about force majeure,” says Dunn. “But that’s separate and apart from the business decision that organizations have to make.”

The webinar, now available on-demand at the EIC website, covers force majeure clauses, cancellation policies, and more.

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