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Meetings Outlook: Recent Events Show That Now is the Time for Contingency Planning

Meetings Outlook 11_1_17

Not long before Hurricane Irma, an association that was planning a large convention and trade show in Florida turned to Tyra Hilliard, CMP (MPI North Florida Chapter), an attorney based in St. Simons Island, Ga., for advice. Attendees were assuming the show would be cancelled and were calling the association to confirm. The association wanted to move the event to a different date, in a different city, but was not sure what the contractual consequences would be.

The association’s hotel said it would let the group out of the contract if it brought future business, but there was a hitch: The convention center was planning to be open. The association did not have cancellation insurance. There was a force majeure clause in the contract, but, says Hilliard, it was “very one-sided and it was not clear from the wording that it would apply until the hurricane actually struck and made the facility unavailable.”

Working through a third-party planner, the association managed to negotiate arrangements where it would move the show to a city in the Northeastern U.S. for October 2017 and hold another one in 2018 in the Florida destination it was not able to use.

“That’s how they managed to get this flip-flopping-city solution,” Hilliard says.

Situations like this one are, unfortunately, not unique these days. Given the seemingly constant stream of headlines about Atlantic hurricanes, earthquakes in Mexico, forest fires in the West—as well as news of terrorist attacks, protests beset by violence, mass shootings like the one at an outdoor concert that killed 58 people in Las Vegas and tensions with North Korea—many meeting professionals are bringing more emphasis to “meeting defense,” or protecting their meeting. The latest Meetings Outlook survey found that given the many unpredictable events that can disrupt meetings or cause a crisis, industry professionals are giving fresh attention to details such as contract clauses they may have to exercise if a meeting must be cancelled, as well as aspects such as emergency communications.

“I’m finally getting more meeting planners to ask about creating a crisis plan and asking insurance questions,” says Hilliard—who, in the past, often heard comments such as, “We usually don’t get insurance.”

Still, with many competing demands on their time, meeting professionals are preparing for some scenarios more than others.

“It seems that priorities are being driven by awareness,” says Bill Voegeli (MPI Georgia Chapter), president of Association Insights, the Atlanta-area research firm that conducts the survey. “My sense from anecdotal data is people are approaching those things that have more of a predictable set of actions and reaction associated with them.”

Despite the preparations they are making for the more predictable events, many are increasingly concerned about gaps in their planning.

“We know people are seeking professional advice,” Voegeli says. “What we don’t have a good handle on is exactly what resources are being used to identify reliable sources of advice.”

In response to requests from a growing number of clients who want to be prepared, Global DMC Partners has introduced a standardized “event safety plan” that is customized for each event. To create the safety plan, the DMCs fill out the form with pertinent information about the event, including information about the venue, such as a local emergency phone number, the location of the fire exits and possibly a diagram of the building, working with the venue and vendors to make sure it is complete.

“If we’re at a hotel, their plan is usually what we are going to go with,” says Shawna Suckow, CMP, founder of SPIN: Senior Professionals Industry Network.


Meetings Outlook is developed in partnership with MGM Resorts International and supported in partnership with IMEX Group.

About the Author

Elaine Pofeldt
Elaine Pofeldt

Elaine Pofeldt is a freelance journalist in the New York City area who contributes to publications from CNBC to Forbes and is the author of the upcoming book The Million-Dollar, One-Person Business.