Ramos said that she was fairly confident that the hotel would at least be made whole because of the rooms it would be able to fill with area residents and emergency responders, so her general council wrote a letter stating that they were formally canceling the meeting, and her vice president of communications began working on a message to alert members and other attendees, along with preparing an FAQ section on their website notifying attendees about when their registration fees would be reimbursed along with other critical information.
“At that point we knew we weren’t as welcome there [in the hotel] as we were a couple of hours ago, and that they could cut off the Internet at any time, and if we call for more soda and cookies, we knew they were not going to be jumping,” Ramos joked, adding that the property never did cut off their service, and very soon became aware of the immediacy of the situation when their switchboard started lighting up with people canceling their rooms.
“We had a deposit, and they were not going to waive the deposit for the attendees, so then we had a lot of people that were very mad because they were not getting back their deposit,” Ramos said. “So it was a long afternoon.”
In the end, though, the hotel turned out to be very reasonable, and it was all a matter of when the mitigating factors could be claimed to necessitate the cancellation of the meeting in both the eyes of the client and the facility.
“We had a dinner planned with the hotel Tuesday night, and we said ‘Do you still want to talk to us,’ and the hotel salesperson said, ‘Yes, it’s all about relationships.’ By Friday the hotel had sent us an email by 5 o’clock that said they would accept our force majeure cancellation, as at that time there was a hurricane advisory and the airport was closing at 5 o’clock on Saturday.”
According to Ramos, if everything works out to her association’s satisfaction in regard to the cancellation of the 2017 event, it will begin the process of booking a future meeting at the property.
“We wanted to have the meeting, we were ready to have the meeting, it was just not our time to have the meeting,” Ramos said, who added that she was particularly proud of her stakeholders’ decision to cancel the event. “There’s a time when you look at it and say, ‘Is it worth the loss of life to do what we do? I give them a lot of credit for doing the right thing, even though it was the harder thing to do.”
Minding the Process
Society for the Advancement of Material and Process Engineering (SAMPE) CEO Gregg Balko was scheduled to hold its 8,000-attendee The Composites and Advanced Materials Expo (CAMX) event, co-produced with another association, Sept. 12-14 in Orlando, but successfully rescheduled the meeting for Dec. 12-14, rebooking at Orlando’s Orange County Convention Center.
“On the Monday [Sept. 4] we were all off on holiday, and we started to watch the storm on the news, and on the Tuesday we started having conversations and examining models, which at the time showed it going up the East Coast,” Balko said. “As it got closer to Cuba we realized that the meeting wasn’t going to happen, and both associations started getting calls from concerned customers. We decided internally on the Wednesday that we were going to postpone it.”
After checking in with his carrier about cancellation insurance, the associations made the decision to cancel on the Thursday.
According to Balko, having a robust, proactive social media effort helped a great deal in regard to attendee and exhibitor communication.
“Social media was incredibly useful in getting the word out, in addition to our database,” he said. “As soon as [the cancellation] became public the phone calls and emails stopped. We said we were looking at new dates and as soon as we got a package that was reasonable we would be back.”
Moving at light speed, Balko said that the cooperation between the Orange County Convention Center and the host hotel, the Hyatt Place Orlando/Convention Center, made it easy to honor what he believed was a commitment to keep the meeting in Orlando, a destination that is also strategically important to both associations.
“We had an obligation to the city—the city had been very good to us,” he said. “Yeah, we were going back there. It was never a question.”
Balko believes having a good communication strategy was key, such as having status updates and a detailed FAQ section with updated times on the event’s website, along with making sure to have a unified message and not simply send out emails to individuals, who can forward them on like wildfire to create the perception of chaos.
Trust, however, may be the most important commodity of all.
“You really find out how much trust you have with your customers and your staff and volunteers,” he said. “You really need to trust your staff. It becomes a real illustration about how your key stakeholders respect your staff, as well as trust with your hospitality partners.”