So what are some of the newest clauses planners are seeing or attempting to use in their agreements these days? One surprising answer involves groups including some sort of protection in case the venue wants to cancel a contracted event in order to open up space for them [the venue] to book a larger, more profitable group. Say what? Yes, what once was an unthinkable activity is actually happening due to the abundance of meeting business trying to find dates and rates, so planners had best include some protective language addressing that potential.
Another hot button that planners constantly struggle with is the need for full disclosure about additional costs. Savvy planners have learned the hard way to request itemization of all expenses in order to avoid those unwelcome surprises that are sometimes tucked in to that final hotel bill. This can include addressing credit card fees for processing payments, resort fees that blanket cover a multitude of items which your group may or may not need, want or use during their stay, box handling and storage fees along with many other miscellaneous and oftentimes puzzling (in the context of ‘why are they charging me for this?’) items. And when it comes to costs, experienced planners know the importance of getting everything clearly stated in contractual terms starting at the earliest planning stages.
With last fall’s Ebola scare, companies are taking harder looks at their Force Majeure Clause to measure its effectiveness when faced with the new normal of today’s uncomfortable realities. Deadly viruses, terrorism, unusually harsh weather and corporate cyber-attacks that can cripple commerce across the globe are almost daily news items that were unheard of in the not-so-distant past. According to industry lawyer Joshua Grimes, all of the above should be considered crises that cause prospective meeting attendees to re-think their participation.
“Planners seeking the option to cancel their meeting if one of these crises arise must [plan ahead to] carefully craft a force majeure/excuse of performance clause and negotiate it into their meeting contracts. The issue is not only whether the unforeseen occurrence will allow cancellation without liability because it makes holding the meeting impossible or illegal – the traditional criteria for a force majeure – but also whether cancellation should be allowed because it becomes ‘inadvisable’ or ‘impractical’ to move forward. These additional words allow cancellation if the meeting could technically go forward, but it makes no sense to do so if the planner can prove that significant numbers of anticipated attendees won’t attend. This includes if that lack of attendance is due to an unproven fear of catching a disease or becoming a terrorism victim through travel.”
Joshua then goes on to add, “If a planner and supplier agree on a clause allowing cancellation because it is inadvisable or impractical to move forward, it is reasonable for the supplier to expect the planner to prove that a material number of anticipated meeting attendees have either canceled their attendance, or failed to register (based upon meeting history).”
As a reminder, when Ebola first hit last fall many planners thought it would only have an effect on international meetings, but we quickly learned that, just like Avian flu before it, the misconception of everything surrounding the disease was traveling faster than the speed of the airlines who were transporting health care professionals to fight it. Attendees were canceling from meetings requiring air travel and reservations were lost, both in the air and on the ground. As a result some planners scrambled to hold webinars for their attendees that couldn’t, or wouldn’t, risk the travel to show up in person. This was a noble effort to recoup attendance numbers, but overall Ebola had quite an effect on worldwide economy in a short reign of time.
Further, many predict another yet-to-be-named deadly disease is bound to follow suit at some point in the future, so all the more reason for planners to pay close attention to all terminology included in contract negotiations. Like it or not, most agree that successfully negotiated contracts containing clear language covering comprehensive details and contingencies are, in the end, a planner’s best friend.