By Beth Buehler
The meetings and events industry around the world is tackling challenges and creating opportunities in response to the recent outbreak of coronavirus (COVID-19). In Colorado, industry professionals are working closely with planners to come up with tailored solutions for clients to rebook meetings in summer and fall and make other adjustments as needed.
“Colorado’s hospitality community always amazes me with its perseverance through ever-changing conditions. We are all doing the best we can to show up and make an impact in the best way we know how,” says Lindsey Rohrbaugh, sales manager for Visit Fort Collins.
Rohrbaugh along with two other Destination Colorado board members, C Lazy U Ranch Director of Sales and Marketing Brady Johnson and Visit Aurora Director of Sales Justin Clark, offer several tips, insights and words of wisdom about doing business in the era of COVID-19.
Are you seeing business being rescheduled or cancelled? Are planners moving forward with confidence or hesitation?
Lindsey Rohrbaugh (LR): We are seeing business being rescheduled or cancelled. Our destination, as well as planners, remain confident in summer business. With that said, our fourth quarter is filling up with rescheduled business.
Brady Johnson (BJ): Right now it is a mix of both. Most of it is being pushed out, which is the best solution. I worry most about a group that has a credit looming and wants to use it after the pre-determined expiration. This will have an ongoing economic impact in the form of future liabilities that don’t have a future cash influx in some instances. You get the cash now but have to provide the service later. It’s an internal management issue for each company.
Justin Clark (JC): Yes, we are seeing a large percentage of business that has been cancelled or delayed in March and April and rescheduled for later dates. There is some hesitation in these uncertain times, but both meeting planners and suppliers are eager to rebook business and recover from the impacts of COVID-19.
What two or three tips do you have for booking/re-booking in this era of COVID-19?
LR: Communicate, communicate, communicate.
JC: Be a good partner. Meeting planners and suppliers have the same goal and have to navigate an uncertain and challenging marketplace. Successfully book or rebook your meeting or event by being clear in your communication, negotiating in good faith, and working together with partners to reach your shared goal together. Be flexible. Everyone wants to rebook business, but rebooking a meeting or event can be challenging due to limited availability because of already booked business. Any flexibility you have with dates, pattern, meeting space and lodging needs will help hotel partners successfully rebook your meeting or event.
BJ: Create policies as guidelines but only as a guide. React to customers as humans and do the right thing. Don’t be afraid to refund or credit future stays. Keeping a customer for life is the end goal and the lifetime value of a loyal customer will always supersede the short-term revenue you may be able to keep because of a policy.
Are bookings coming in for summer and fall and what does the business look like (size, type of meetings or events, social vs. business bookings)?
JC: For the summer and fall of 2020, we are sourcing predominantly corporate meetings ranging from 50 to 1,000 attendees. We are also sourcing a smaller number of association meetings ranging from 10 to 500 attendees.
BJ: For summer, calls have been mainly about transient/family business. I expect there will be lenient cancellation policies. For fall, there has been group rebookings but little new group business.
LR: Current bookings appear to be strong for our summer months. Fall events will be robust with business that has been shifted due to COVID-19. Leisure travelers and business transient markets will likely delay bookings until the economic certainty becomes stronger. Our forecast indicates that our group markets will return to normal during our summer months, but we are anticipating booking windows to be shorter.
How are destinations, lodging properties, venues and other suppliers in Colorado working in close partnership with planners during this rapid impact of COVID-19?
JC: Many destinations, lodging properties, venues and other suppliers are proactively reaching out to planners to discuss open RFPs and booked business, discussing options and when necessary working collaboratively to postpone, rebook, etc. We also are working to find creative solutions to address impacts related to COVID-19 to support our industry through these difficult times.
LR: The Fort Collins hospitality community has made efforts to stay in close communication with our planners to be sure their efforts and impacts are not lost through this pandemic.
BJ: We are a resource to bounce off ideas. Two minds solving a problem is better than one. Planners are receptive and trying to help but for the most part we’re just having candid conversations and agreement that the music has stopped and there is no specific end date in sight quite yet. It’s not up to us, it is up to the end users and the groups booking, and they are not doing anything at this time. Most everything is on hold.
What are some important things meeting and event planners should think about in regard to cancellation clauses, whether it’s for a conference, incentive trip, family reunion or wedding?
BJ: Are you dealing with an at-risk party amongst the group such as grandparents and pre-existing conditions? If so, you need to have some flexibility. Are your guests from out of the state or country? Attention needs to address the location of the party.
JC: Understand that cancellation clauses are part of a legally binding contract, and both meeting and event planners and suppliers have a stake in the success of a contracted meeting or event. If a meeting or event is to be cancelled, negotiate in good faith and work to come to a solution together.
Is COVID-19 prompting changes in contract language moving forward, on both sides of the table (planner and supplier)?
JC: COVID-19 has prompted changes in contract language, particularly as it relates to cancellation clauses.
BJ: Right now, I’m only working on this from the supplier side. We want to update all our force majeure language. I absolutely expect planners and end users (which are not always planners) to expect and demand more lenient terms on bookings.
Watch for upcoming blogs that feature more tips and highlight the summer and fall seasons in Colorado.
Beth Buehler has been editor of Colorado Meetings + Events magazine for 15 years and helped launch Mountain Meetings magazine in 2013. She has planned numerous meetings and events and enjoys exploring Colorado.