Never cancel: The show must go on. Over the
years, this credo has applied to the meetings industry as much as
it has to Broadway. But today’s planners are, or should be, savvier
when it comes to cutting one’s losses and putting a big “X” on the
calendar whether due to low attendance, security risks,
weather/force majeure issues, competitor conflicts and the
Calling It Quits
Company meetings executive committee meetings, sales or planning
meetings, or staff/HR events can be expensive to cancel but
generally are more forgiving and easier to reschedule.
On the other hand, canceling meetings involving members,
customers and other people outside the company can have serious
repercussions on sales and reputations, and the criteria for
cancellation should be more stringent. This applies to events such
as user conferences, CME or other education meetings, trade shows,
customer acquisition or recognition programs, and product
Before pulling the plug, consider whether the event can be salvaged
by, say, being shortened, or perhaps combined with another meeting
If it cannot, it is time to conduct a thorough liability
analysis and a pro/con list of the theoretical repercussions.
Calculating the contracted liability is fairly straightforward.
If your firm’s procurement department is involved with meetings,
much of the potential liability already is in the company’s files.
If not, it always is a good idea to determine in advance the worst-
case scenario liability.
Among the direct and indirect costs to be considered are
attrition, food and beverage or other minimums, travel and
materials. In some cases, you might be liable for the travel costs
incurred by attendees who are not able to recoup items such as
airfare and hotel accommodations.
There are non-monetary costs to consider as well. How would
canceling this meeting hurt your company? Would there be a
tremendous loss of sales or association membership, or would there
be damage to vendor relationships or staff morale?
When it comes to cancellations, often the vendors
(particularly venues and catering) bear the brunt of the damage and
Consider how this will affect your relationship down the line
and how you would expect your clients to handle a similar
cancellation with you. In short, be fair and give vendors as much
notice as possible.
With regard to hotels, rarely can you invoke force majeure,
even in the case of natural disasters. For example, if the one
available airport on an island is destroyed by a hurricane, and the
venue is still accessible via boat, the force majeure clause might
not take effect.
Similarly, transportation strikes are common in Europe, but
don’t expect force majeure to cover a cancellation if a strike
takes place during your event.
Spreading the News
The keywords here are quick, personal, direct, simple and honest.
E-mail announcements are OK for larger events, but for more
personal events, sometimes a phone call should be made to each
attendee. If you have a rescheduled date or venue, provide that
Insurance for overseas events is almost always a must. In
addition, do your due diligence with “what if” scenarios. In the
same vein, have a disaster plan and criteria for cancellation in
place that is approved by executives and committee members, so you
can act swiftly if and when you need to.