Meetings & Conventions: Planner's Portfolio March
The Law & the Planner
By Jonathan T. Howe,
WHEN WAR IS ON THE AGENDA
Contingency plans and strong communication guide events
through uncertain times
The saber rattling has become a cacophony. Terrorism alerts are
at an all-time high. State Department travel warnings are issued
Concerns with Iraq and North Korea have heightened the
discomfort of travelers. While airlines and other industry agencies
have developed contingency plans to deal with war-related threats,
emergency measures such as commercial planes being diverted to move
personnel and equipment for military purposes can leave passengers
high and dry.
SAVING THE MEETING
If there ever was a time for maintaining communication between
planner and supplier, it is now. In times of strife, you want to be
able to renegotiate elements of contracts already in place, in case
location, attendee jitters and corporate travel policies jeopardize
Recognizing the changing nature of meetings in this time of
uncertainty, several major hotel chains have announced that they
are waiving any cancellation or attrition fees in an effort to
capture business. Meeting planners should be asking their suppliers
if they are prepared to do the same, and what else can be worked
out to allow business to go forward.
From a legal perspective, this negotiation will depend in no
small part on how your contract and its force majeure clause covers
the issue of excusing performance.
The force majeure clause in a 21st-century contract
automatically should deal with issues of terrorism, discontinuation
of transportation and a high level of national alert, such as an
orange or a red warning. The cancellation clause also might include
references to alerts, state department warnings and travel
advisories, but if you have a strong force majeure clause, the
cancellation portion will be moot.
We will also include a line covering the situation where the
host or the attendee’s company has issued a no-travel policy,
causing the meeting to be canceled or the block to be reduced.
If your organization decides to go forward with an event, try to
renegotiate with the hotel to eliminate any liability charges, such
as attrition fees. It is to the benefit of both parties to do this.
If the parties cannot come to terms here, I can guarantee the
result will be a “lose/lose” situation, where the host will have to
pay the fees and the property will lose the planner’s future
GET THE WORD OUT
Beyond the contract, now is the time to go back to your client (if
you are a supplier) or your vendor (if you are a planner) to
discuss contingency measures. You should have in place a “rapid
deployment plan” for communicating with attendees, vendors and
other customers through e-mail, fax or telephone.
It will be imperative to demonstrate to attendees that they will be
as safe at the meeting as if they had remained at home. The planner
and the venue need to show they are aware of concerns and that
precautions and plans are in place in case of emergency.
All in all, not only from a legal but from a practical
standpoint, effective communication and working to encourage
attendance are paramount. You need to make your event and program
important enough for people to attend regardless of the
As was often said after Sept. 11, 2001, we should not let
terrorists interfere with what was and is important to us. The
admonition used at the beginning of the roll call on the classic TV
police drama Hill Street Blues is appropriate here, too: Go out and
do business, but “be careful out there.”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 email@example.com.
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