It's a feature on our software that I didn't think would be used very much and it's the button for cancelling events. In the current climate though with the coronavirus imposing restrictions, it's not only events using our software that are being cancelled, but this is happening to events all over the world. Outside Asia, it began in February with the cancellation of large events like Mobile World Congress in Barcelona and then has snowballed from there. Companies understandably didn't want to be responsible for either exposing their employees to the COVID-19 virus or hastening the spread to host countries and kept them at home.
How do event managers manage cancellations?
Before you do anything, consult your contracts and insurances. I'm not a solicitor and you would need to consult your own one, but I think that you're looking for a 'force majeure' clause in the contract and it is thought that this may include the virus.
Secondly make a plan for rescheduling the event. The future is a big unknown at the moment and it might seem that this will never end. However, 'this too will pass' and normal life will be resumed at some point. Getting your plans in plans in place now as well, will show confidence to everyone involved that you're open for business.
Next is the venue
Then it's onto conversations with the venue, using the advice you've been given from your membership organisation or your solicitor. Yours won't be the only event that's being cancelled so a positive and understanding attitude will help. Try to negotiate possible dates later on in the year when this outbreak is likely to be over. As nobody knows when exactly this will be, a bit of give and take will need to be on both sides but this will show that you’re confident your event will go ahead. You may have to bear some liability but some variable costs will be avoided eg catering, extra staff etc so it would be reasonable for venues to profit from the crisis by charging full cancellation while not incurring full expense. If the venue does insist on sticking to its contract terms, how about asking them to donate the raw ingredients you’ve paid for to a charity?
Then the presenters
Next, the speakers need to be contacted and do it before you make any announcement as it's not a good policy to let them find out second hand! They will be expecting your phone call anyway because of the current Government recommendations. Use the phone call to explain your plans for rescheduling the event and the possible dates you've arranged with the venue. Speakers will be having a pretty tough time as well at the moment as all events are being cancelled and their livelihoods are drying up and an understanding attitude, however stressed you are, will be appreciated.
Finally exhibitors and delegates
Exhibitors and delegates will need to be contacted with the same information; exhibitors possibly by phone and the delegates by email. By keeping an upbeat tone and outline details of the rescheduled event, they will be reassured that you are confident that the event will go ahead after all.
What's the future?
With the current uncertain times, the events industry will be hit hard. Instead of world leading exhibitions and experiences, we have empty venues. To show that you’re open for business, make sure you have a plan and let all your stakeholders know and all should not be lost.