by Jonathan T. Howe, esq. | December 01, 2004

It has been a while since we addressed some of the issues concerning contracting for trade shows with convention centers. Here is what you need to know now.

Do No Harm
To a large extent, convention centers are owned and run by government entities. An old adage applies here: “The king can do no wrong,” meaning the standard contract will be worded strongly to protect the convention center from any troubles.
    Thus, in looking at agreements with convention centers, meeting planners need to determine what responsibilities their organizations as the trade show sponsors have concerning what will take place within the hallowed convention hall. In no small part, the center will be looking to the event host as well as exhibitors to indemnify and hold harmless the hall even if something occurs that is the fault of someone acting on the center’s behalf.
    Any insurance policies taken out for the event also have to keep the center in mind and should specifically cover whatever the parameters of the event will be. Be sure you know where those certificates of insurance are. The convention center contract might require you to provide proof of insurance.
    You also should request such proof from the facility as well as from all the suppliers you are dealing with. Not only do you want to see the certificate of insurance, you also need to request notification from their carrier in the event the policy lapses or is canceled for any reason.
    For example, you might obtain the certificate in April, but the program is not going to be conducted until sometime in November. Meanwhile, in August, somebody forgets to pay the premium, and the policy is forfeited. You need to know this so you can replace the vendor or get assurance that the coverage has been reinstated.

Yes, You Can Haggle
Most convention center contracts will be presented as being totally non-negotiable.
    Before reacting, take a deep breath in and let it out slowly, because these agreements certainly can be negotiated if you are bringing substantial business for the community to the table. Which means you need to do some homework and evaluate what your event will mean to the destination you have chosen and how it might compare with other business on the center’s books.
    Today, planners have more choices than ever for where to place their trade shows, as convention centers have been springing up in second- and third-tier cities. This means meeting professionals can finagle a great package, voting with their feet for the very best deal.

When negotiating convention center contracts, some key elements must be tackled in other contracts that you are negotiating as well.
    For example, in your agreements with the hotel(s) and suppliers, you need to include a provision that if the center is not available to you, you have the right to cancel the program without liability.
    Additionally, you might want to consider a clause that would require a certain number of hotel rooms within the city to be available to your group. If an adequate number is not available, the clause should state that you reserve the right to cancel not only the other hotel contracts, but also the convention center agreement and your agreements with the event’s various suppliers.

    The most important rule for planners to remember is that any trade show contract should reflect your true needs in writing. If you have a requirement that is not in the contract, there’s no guarantee your needs will be met.