by Jonathan T. Howe, Esq. | April 01, 2015
Every meeting professional is faced with myriad challenges, and many planners have contingency plans in place well in advance of an event. However, some important issues too often are overlooked completely, and not for their lack of prominence. Today's news headlines provide plenty of warning concerning problematic conditions in various venues, and your contracts should cover these possibilities.  

Slowdowns and Strikes
You never know what issues in a destination are going to cause people to rise up and try to get their voices heard. Recently, housekeepers in Chicago went to the picket line to protest a hotel's environmental policies, which rewarded guests if they went a day without having housekeepers tend to their guest rooms. The hotel did this to conserve water; the housekeepers saw the move as cutting into their paychecks.

Does your contract address ways to minimize the adverse impact of a labor strike on your group? Your meeting property might not be able to quell every incident, but there should be written language noting what your group's rights and compensation would be in such an instance.

Concealed Firearms
While local laws still vary, all 50 states and the District of Columbia now allow properly licensed people to carry concealed firearms. What do you know about the implications of the legal ordinances in effect where you are going to meet? If desired, is your organization able to limit what can be brought onto the premises or to your functions? How would the venue with which you are working handle a request from you that no guns be allowed on-site during your meeting?

Infectious Diseases
The Ebola virus recently created a major scare for many, and some groups attempted to use the health crisis in Africa as an excuse to cancel programs far away from the disease's ground zero.  

What we learned from the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (or SARS) epidemic of 2003 was this: Public health concerns should be addressed in your contract, spelling out what will allow limited performance or cancellation without liability.

The contract should indicate that an independent third party, such as the Centers for Disease Control or the World Health Organization, will need to issue a travel advisory before you can attempt to cancel.

Terrorism is another scary reality. Contract clauses need to be specific and also have objective criteria to allow the parties to cancel without liability. While U.S. State Department Travel Advisories are helpful, you need to spell it out further, such as adding language that an incident taking place in or near your venue within a certain time period is just cause to negate the agreement.

Jonathan T. Howe, Esq., is a senior partner of the Chicago, St. Louis and Washington, D.C., law firm of Howe & Hutton Ltd., specializing in meetings and hospitality law. Email questions to him at [email protected]