By Christina Welty, MA
In 2004, in just 6 short weeks, Florida was hit by 4 major hurricanes – Charley, Frances, Ivan and Jeanne. I was working for another association at the time, busy planning our Fall Seminar & Expo. Of course, staff was keeping tabs on the storms, but no one expected so much damage.
About three weeks before the meeting, I received a call from my sales manager at the hotel. Even though I could tell from her tone that it was not good news, I was shocked to hear that the hotel had closed to the public and that we would not be able to have our meeting there. Pause for a moment and imagine hearing this news. It would be enough to rattle a senior meeting planner, much less one who had been in the field for a little over a year!
A million questions crossed my mind. What options did we have? Could we postpone the meeting? Could we switch to another property? Do we have insurance and if so, what’s covered?!
Potential disasters related to meetings come in all shapes and sizes, whether it’s adverse weather, fire on property, speaker cancellations, receptions involving alcohol and so on. Regardless of the situation, here are three quick tips that will help you should disaster strike.
1.COMMUNICATE WITH THE HOTEL.
Before you sign a contract, have a conversation with your sales manager regarding disasters.
- What plans does the property have in place if a natural disaster occurs before, or even worse, during your event?
- Does the hotel partner with sister properties in other cities or is it part of a national brand that could help with accommodations?
- Do they have a written plan that includes evacuation procedures and local shelter check points?
- Do they have generators and radios?
- Do they work with the local Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB) to help customers with their needs?
2. FOSTER RELATIONSHIPS.
Customer relationships are one of hotel’s most valuable assets. Much the same, as meeting planners, we recognize the importance of building strong relationships with our sales manager, general manager or Convention Services Manager (CSM) to create the best possible event. Whether it’s a natural disaster or perhaps an issue with a speaker cancellation or alcohol, these are your contacts that will do everything in their power to give you potential solutions and help save the day.
Going back to my example, we were fortunate to have held the fall meeting at this particular hotel for several years and had built a partnership. These key personnel knew the needs of the program as well as our members’ needs. Our sales manager was able to work with their sister property in Jacksonville, who had somehow escaped all of these hurricanes and they were able to accommodate our group on short notice. As you can imagine, there were many logistics to deal with, but we were extremely lucky to be able to hold the event at all!
Just like car, life and health insurance, there are coverages available for Event Liability Insurance. You can enroll in an insurance policy as early as right after signing the hotel contract. These coverages include anything from adverse weather, non-appearance of a speaker, acts of terrorism and so on. There are many companies to choose from, so definitely do your research and make sure your needs are covered well before your event.
One more reason to hold your meeting in Florida is a great resource through VISIT FLORIDA. In order to attract meetings to the state, VISIT FLORIDA offers complimentary Cover Your Event (CYE) Insurance. If you have a meeting during the months of August, September or October, this supplemental insurance is intended to cover any cost directly related to re-booking a meeting should it be displaced due to a named hurricane. To read more about this opportunity, go to: http://www.visitflorida.com/en-us/meetings/cover-your-event.html
To recap, most disasters are out of our control and unfortunately, they WILL happen at one point. As you prepare for your next event, keep the above quick tips in mind and you should get through your next (or first) disaster with a little less stress. Who knows? You might even find the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow!