by Jonathan T. Howe, esq. | May 01, 2005

Many people in the meetings industry think of citywide events as gatherings of thousands taking over a big town like Chicago and filling every inch of McCormick Place. But an event also can be a citywide in a smaller town. 
    As far as legalities are concerned, planners of any meeting that uses several hotels and venues should have a common goal: making sure there is cross-agreement in all contracts, using identical clauses.

Universal Language
Yes, this means coordinating contract language with all hotels, convention centers, trade show contractors, destination management companies, transportation firms, florists, caterers, speakers, entertainers and anyone else who is providing a service for the event.
    Cancellation and force majeure clauses, for example, must be identical in each and every contract. This covers the meeting host if there is any need to cancel the program or if a falloff in numbers causes the planner to lower guarantees to avoid attrition troubles. 
    Agreement across all of the contracts will allow the planner to cancel or reduce the requirements using the same terms and conditions without liability.
    Getting all the parties to agree to use the same clauses can take some time. You need to start negotiations with this requirement. I find that once you explain to all the parties that matching clauses contribute to the success of the event, they might not like it, but they tend to understand. If they don’t, you can take your business elsewhere.

In citywide contracts, certain issues need to be addressed. For example, spell out what will happen if the convention center becomes unavailable; you should have the right to cancel all contracts without liability. If a percentage of hotel rooms around the center no longer is available for whatever reason, then all contracts should be subject to cancellation or reduction in obligation.
    If it is important to the success of the citywide that certain speakers or exhibitors be present, planners should be able to cancel or reduce their obligations if those factors fail to materialize.

CVBs to the Rescue
The local convention and visitors bureau can be of major assistance with citywides, keeping both suppliers and planners informed about the destination. For example, updates on union contract negotiations and expiration dates, city construction issues and anything else that could have a material impact on the success of the program need to be discussed with both the facility and the planner.
    If you have any worries about ongoing issues with the city, keep an eye on the news yourself. Read the area’s online newspaper, and regularly check out the city’s website. (Similarly, if you are a supplier, get on the host organization’s website and monitor what is happening to your customer’s industry.)

Paying the Premium
In all cases, meeting professionals are advised to buy cancellation insurance for citywides. The term “cancellation insurance” actually is a misnomer; what you are really guarding against is business interruption. 
    Among a multitude of other issues, the policy should cover the unavailability of ground transportation, such as a strike by bus drivers and other mass-transit operators. Similarly, a union strike involving hotels and other facilities should be covered.

    Such insurance assures that the organization will be able to recoup or at least minimize the adverse financial impact disruptions can have on the program.

Jonathan T. Howe, Esq., is a senior partner in the Chicago, St. Louis and Washington, D.C., law firm of Howe & Hutton Ltd., which specializes in meetings, travel and hospitality law. Legal questions can be e-mailed to him at[email protected].