In August of 2005, a few of the staff of the Community Action Partnership (CAP) were busy completing final preparations for their annual convention at the New Orleans Marriott. Then Katrina hit. The hotel was severely affected, the airlines were not running most of their flights, and a majority of the hotel staff had left.
A decision was made to cancel their conference which was to be held that week.
What if this happened to the conference you’ve been busy planning for? How do you handle when weather makes it impossible to meet? There are two key aspects of cancelling a conference: preparation and flexibility.
A great event planner thinks of all the possible outcomes of each scenario. Part of cancelling a conference is thinking about the question “What if?” before it happens. It you are preconference planning, ask these questions:
- Do we have a Plan B? Can we reschedule the event if necessary? Many times the answer might be no, but deciding upon that answer beforehand is vital. Have a back-up date and/or cancellation clause in every service contract dealing with the venue, service providers, and speakers.
- Is cancellation discussed in our registration form or website? The Colorado Council International Reading Association is holding their conference in February of 2016 in Denver. On their website in the section Frequently Asked Questions, (FAQ) the question is asked:
“If it snows, how will I know if you cancel the event?” The answer: “The conference has never been cancelled due to weather. However, if you want up-to-date information please check our Facebook page or Twitter feed. The Electricity Advisory Committee was to have a conference in Arlington, Virginia. On their website they put a large statement cancelling the event due to a strong winter storm predicted. They told their attendees that rescheduling details would be posted online and published in a new Federal Register notice.
The point is to know exactly how you are going to a communicate possible cancellation and a definite cancellation, months before the event.
- Do you have a disaster plan in place? Work with your venue to have a detailed plan for your attendees.
Flexibility is the key to allowing other organizations to alter conference plans. If your event is cancelled, rescheduling at another venue should always be a consideration.
- Rescheduling. The Association for Operations Management, (APICS) was affected by Katrina just like CAP was. But as soon as Katrina hit, the conference planner and staff started immediately on the logistics of a move to another city by working with the Kansas City Convention and Visitors Bureau. Because they were flexible and acted quickly, the speakers, exhibitors and attendees did not have their schedules interrupted. They just had to change transportation plans.
- Consideration. Put yourself in the conference attendees' place and go over exactly what a cancellation or a rescheduling would mean to them. Talk to your hotel about the possibility of refunds due to a cancellation. Make sure that the hotel you use in your rescheduled venue is comparable to the original and that transferred reservations are possible. If you have an official airline for your conference, request that the providers allow penalty-free changes if rescheduling happens.
By using preparation and flexibility, cancelling a conference will be an inconvenience but not a tragedy.