by Louise M. Felsher, CMP, CMM | October 01, 2005

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 like.

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 launches.

Weighing Liability
Before pulling the plug, consider whether the event can be salvaged by, say, being shortened, or perhaps combined with another meeting or event.
    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?

Notifying Vendors
When it comes to cancellations, often the vendors (particularly venues and catering) bear the brunt of the damage and expense.
    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 information.

Smart Precautions
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.