Event Planning in the Midst of a National Shutdown

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2020 has certainly turned out to be a challenging year for event planners. While all of us are extreme organizers and have great tool kits to plan for the unplanned, I don’t think anyone could have predicted the current state of things. Events that planners have been working to create and execute for months, some even over a year, are all now cancelled. The details we spent so much time coordinating to ensure both the execution and experience were perfect are now being unraveled as planners reach out to vendors to talk options on refunds of deposits and potential dates to re-book.

With the onslaught of ever-changing information and updates to government mandates, you are trying to keep pace, and begin to think, “what if I have to postpone or cancel events that aren’t just within the next few weeks but the next few months?” As the dust settles on the cancellations–because let’s face it, eventually you run out of things to cancel–we must ask ourselves in the event industry, “What now?” How will this pandemic affect events in the future and how will the industry change as a whole?

Reshaping industry standards

Contracts will most likely be one of the first things to change. Whether the industry asks for more deposits upfront, or whether they put more clauses in them, all event planners will be looking at the cancellation policies in more depth. What was once a clause that was just like so many others–something we are all guilty of breezing through and thinking it would never be relevant–will now be taken much more seriously. As I pulled out all of the contracts for many of the events we had to cancel, I realized how different they all were. This will be a huge area of learning for planners.

Hotel room blocks may be a thing of the past for conferences. Why does the institution running the conference need to secure a block of rooms? A discounted price for attendees was always the thought. However, after reading through cancellation policies, that is where the company takes the biggest hit. I think companies will start analyzing and weighing their risks when booking a room block to be a good host. Attrition is costly and paying for room nights for a large conference that is cancelled becomes a liability. This would force attendees to book early and be subject to market prices. In reality, hotels have much more lenient cancellation policies for individuals booking than a company booking a room block. Often hotels require a 72-hour cancellation policy for individuals (or as little as 24 hours), but will hold your company accountable up to 270 days prior to your event–just short of a year!

A chance to improve and learn

As an industry, let’s look for the silver lining in this unprecedented event and figure out how we can improve. How can we work with our vendors who help support our functions, and still support our company’s goals and events? I know one thing is certain: once we are all able to congregate in spaces closer than six feet, we will have one heck of a party!

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