Meeting Mentor Magazine

June 2020

8 Things to Rethink Before You Rebook

What a relief! The venue for that meeting you had to cancel due to COVID-19 is letting you cancel with no cancellation and attrition penalties as long as you rebook for later in the year under the same terms. All you have to do is pencil in the new dates on your old contract and you can call it done.

Not so fast, said Joshua Grimes, a meeting industry attorney with Grimes Law in Philadelphia (pictured). “What happens if you can’t make your room block, or we have new advisories at that point, or if we have social distancing requirements that will make it impossible to squeeze your attendees into the space you contracted?” he said. “Many venues will be less flexible the second time around.”

While we don’t know what the future will hold when time for that rebooked meeting comes around — who knows what regulatory restrictions and health guidances may or may not be in place by then —  Grimes said thinking about these considerations will help to protect your event as you renegotiate the contract.

1) Consider whether you want to stay with the same size room block and food and beverage (F&B) commitment. Right now, room rates are much lower than what they were a few months ago, and it’s impossible to know where they’ll be in another few months. Grimes advised that planners include a clause that ensures that your rate will be comparable to the rates the property is charging at the time of the meeting.

2) Ask the venue to agree to implement hotel cleanliness and sanitation standards in accordance with industry practices and government advisories at the time of the meeting. While it may be tempting to spell out exactly what that means — and many of the major chains have already rolled out a list of what they’re going to do in this regard — Grimes said to resist the temptation. “I suspect those might change over time,” he said.

3) Similarly, ask the venue to implement standards in accordance with government recommendations to protect the health of attendees and staff, which could include testing people coming into the venue and monitoring employees’ health.

4) Take a hard look at what could cause your rescheduled meeting to be canceled. “The force majeure clauses in many contracts have proven to be insufficient for the COVID-19 pandemic. I would argue that a new cancellation clause should say that should the health threat rise to a level where government advisories recommend cancellation, then both parties can cancel without liability,” he said. Similarly, it should be cause for cancellation without liability if a venue’s ability to accommodate the meeting due to health-related requirements be compromised to the point where it can’t possibly accommodate the meeting in the manner contracted. For instance, if the six-foot social distancing requirement is still in effect and the venue doesn’t have rooms that can accommodate the anticipated attendance with social distancing, you should be able to cancel without liability.

Also, if some of your attendees aren’t able to attend because their employer imposes a travel ban, you should account for that in your force majeure clause.

5) Set a specific go/no-go date in the contract. Whether it’s 60 days or 90 days, you should set a date for when a decision to cancel or not must be made. “This has been an omission in many current agreements,” Grimes said. While the meeting organizer may need to make a determination two months out, if you don’t set a date, the venue may say you have to wait until the meeting date, because things may improve.

6) Make it clear what kind of government declaration would be considered a force majeure. Is it a government mandate? A government advisory? Is it a government recommendation? For example, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevent (CDC) only issues recommendations and advisories, whereas state governments typically issue mandates. “For it to be a force majeure, do you need a state government order saying the hotel can’t perform, or is a recommendation or advisory sufficient? This is something the venue and the meeting host need to work out.”

It’s also important to specify whether the declaration should be from the local, state or federal government. “I would put all three in, but most clauses I see now just mention the CDC, which is not the best way to go,” he said

7) Make it clear that deposits for your original meeting dates will apply 100% to your rescheduled meeting date, and if the rescheduled meeting has to be canceled because the meeting can’t go forward, those deposits should be refunded in full.

8) Consider including a comprehensive indemnification clause to protect the group from liability if the venue fails to adhere to the cleaning and sanitary standards they say they will follow. “That’s an important one,” Grimes said. “It’s great that we’re now seeing pages and pages of practices the venues plan to implement, but it comes down to ensuring the frontline people at each property do what they’re supposed to do.” — Sue Pelletier

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ConferenceDirect is a global meetings solutions company offering site selection/contract negotiation, conference management, housing & registration services, mobile app technology and strategic meetings management solutions. It provides expertise to 2,500 corporations and associations through our 325 Associates globally. www.conferencedirect.com

About MeetingMentor
MeetingMentor, the leading publication for senior meeting planners, is circulated to the clients, prospects and sales associates of ConferenceDirect, which books more than 3.87 million room nights. www.meetingmentormag.com

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