Meetings & Conventions: Planner's Portfolio June
The Law & the Planner
By Jonathan T. Howe,
HANDLING A HEALTH SCARE
When a SARS-like illness threatens your meeting, what legal
recourse do you have?
With the threat of contracting severe acute respiratory syndrome
continuing to be a source of concern, it will be a while before
travelers and meetings return full-force to the destinations that
were hit hardest by the new disease.
In evaluating the SARS situation or any similar instance where a
health problem might cause meeting hosts to withdraw from a
destination, several factors must be taken into consideration.
For example, the World Health Organization, which is an agency
of the United Nations, identifies areas that are susceptible to the
SARS epidemic and other health concerns. The Centers for Disease
Control and Prevention, a U.S. public-health agency, also takes on
the responsibility of making such identifications.
Unfortunately, these organizations can have differences of
opinion. For several weeks, the WHO and the CDC disagreed on how
dangerous it was to travel to Toronto, leaving travelers in a state
of confusion and causing several organizations to pull their
meetings from the city. If their cancellation clauses were not
worded well, those organizations are liable for the revenue
promises they made to their host hotels, and they might face
charges outlined in their contracts.
A POUND OF CURE
As we continue to experience ongoing travel concerns, the need for
realistic ways to work together becomes more important. Meeting
professionals must include in contracts the ability to reduce their
numbers because of the potential lack of attendance; wording must
also define what constitutes the need to cancel the program
outright. With this outline, planners and suppliers will be better
prepared to work creatively and consistently in tandem.
All contracts related to the event should include a uniform
cancellation/modification proposal. This means the number-reduction
and cancellation clauses in the hotel agreement should be the same
in contracts for all third-party vendors, such as the special-event
producer and the transportation provider.
Meeting participants are facing other issues. With companies
restricting employee travel in a number of ways, the planner needs
to consider these mandates in the same vein as a travel advisory
from the State Department or CDC. The meetings professional should
address up front with the hotel and other vendors what each can do
to minimize the financial risk if attendees choose not to visit the
area. For example:
Know your group. Will your attendees be faced
with issues or limits that might prevent travel? If your group is
made up of individuals who might need to be in point A but cannot
make it to venue B, it should be spelled out in the contract. For
example, if the group includes corporate executives who are now
mandated to go to the home office, not the sales meeting, the
contract needs the flexibility to make the change.
Define the process for change. Make sure all
involved parties understand their responsibilities for
communicating what revisions need to be made to the contract and
when they can be made. In good times, the block might need to be
increased. In bad times, the block must be reduced. Outline
specific timelines in the contract for adjustments.
Speak up ASAP. One cannot be blamed for bad
news, but one can be blamed for not sharing it. Thus, even without
contract provisions that provide protection, it is the
responsibility of meetings professionals to communicate the status
of their group. Waiting until it’s too late for the hotel to fill
those rooms with other business just makes matters worse.Jonathan T.
Howe, Esq., is a senior partner in the Chicago 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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