by Michael C. Lowe | May 01, 2015
Last April, Alex Murphy got the bad news by phone: "We're sorry, but we have to relocate your meeting." The call came from the director of sales and marketing of an Orlando hotel Murphy had worked with a number of times over the years. Now Murphy and colleague Lauren Andrews, who together had led the site-selection process for the client, needed to move the meeting of more than 300 people, just six weeks out.

Murphy, senior director of site selection for Atlanta-based third-party planning firm Meeting Expectations and a 16-year industry veteran, was in shock. "It was very upsetting for us and our client," she says. After doing some digging, she and Andrews found out that the hotel had taken on a larger and more lucrative pharmaceutical event that overlapped with their client's dates.

"Just as groups can cancel on a hotel, a hotel can cancel on a group for whatever reason, even just weeks or days before the meeting, but it would be responsible for any damages related to the breach of contract," says Chicago-based Barbara Dunn, a partner and hospitality attorney at Barnes & Thornburg LLP. In other situations, such as if the contract had a cancellation-by-hotel clause, the property would be responsible for those terms as well, but not much can be done to actually prevent a hotel from canceling.

Meanwhile, Murphy and Andrews had very little time remaining to find a new venue for their meeting, the planning of which had been well under way, from the banquet orders to marketing efforts touting the now canceled hotel. To further complicate matters, a number of exhibitors had already made plans to ship materials to the original property, and many of the attendees had already booked their flights.

The hotel that canceled suggested a competing property with similar dates and space for the group, but Murphy and Andrews ultimately declined assistance. "We wanted to be the driving force when it came to finding a replacement, because we knew best what the group was looking for, and we had their best interests in mind," Murphy says.

Rather than alert their client right away, the planners decided to hold off and seek a solution. "We felt that if we could present a really solid plan to them, we could turn this negative situation into something more positive and keep everyone a little more calm," Andrews says.

Meeting Expectations mobilized its entire 26-person team, which quickly went to work speaking to most of the Orlando area hotels that would fit their group. "We spoke to about 16 to 20 convention properties in 36 hours," says Andrews. "Everybody was hitting the phones and calling in favors. All other projects were on hold."

Within a few days, the team had created a PowerPoint presentation highlighting the top three substitute options, which they then presented to the client.

Ultimately, the group relocated to another Orlando hotel and, with the help of a hospitality attorney, reached an agreement under which the original property would compensate them for any damages incurred for the breach of contract. The money from the settlement was used to bring down the guest-room costs for attendees from $179 to $99 per night, enhance the F&B offerings and purchase park passes to either Disney's Magic Kingdom, EPCOT, or Universal Studios for the attendees and their families.

"The client loved the new hotel and it was a happy ending, but we were very fortunate that there were three hotels with the exact same dates available for our group," says Murphy. "In a smaller city with less availability, it would have been an incredible challenge."

While Murphy's and Andrews' meeting ultimately took place to the client's satisfaction, other planners might not be so fortunate if a hotel suddenly cancels on them. What follows is a closer look at an issue that can cause even the most battle-hardened event professionals some sleepless nights.