2017 was a turbulent year full of natural disasters, sexual harassment accusations and political upset around the world. How can planners protect their meeting from fall out if the worst happens despite their best efforts? We turned to veteran hospitality industry attorney Lisa Sommer Devlin for advice. She counseled that piling on legal clauses may not always be the best option. Here are some things to consider:
Navigating Force Majeure
The problem: Force majeure, meaning an unavoidable accident, has occurred, causing an inability to carry through with the contract on one or both sides. This includes natural disasters, such as wildfires and hurricanes, and excludes circumstances including economy changes or prevailing rate changes.
Common clauses: Wording often includes “threats” or “potential” for disasters, which are not officially defined. Effective force majeure clauses should be unambiguous and objective as broader clauses may cause greater potential for disputes with the hotel.
The better play: In the case of a true force majeure, hotels will not expect you to hold an event or pay. Communicate with the hotel as situations develop. Discuss and evaluate the risk. Consider the financial impact on both parties.
Touchy Political Situations
The problem: The destination where your event is planned has passed a law you and your group disagree with.
Common clauses: Wording that makes an event tentative using ambiguous and uncertain terms. It may even state that you will not hold your event should a certain law pass.
The better play: Politically-categorized clauses are not protected under federal law, and not upholding the contract could result in paying cancellation fees. If cancelling is an option, alert attendees of the potential financial loss. This is another instance where communicating early with the hotel regarding potential cancellation can go a long way toward finding a solution.
The problem: In the wake of #MeToo, planners worry about the safety of their attendees.
Common clauses: Including sexual harassment policies or codes of conduct for the staff. Should a figure at the hotel be accused of sexual harassment or assault, events may be cancelled free of charge.
The better play: Hotels usually already have their own codes of conduct, which you can most likely find on their website. Sexual assault is illegal and the law protects employees and attendees, so there’s no need to add that to a clause.
The Bottom Line
Concerns about disasters and disruptions are real, but clauses aren’t always the best way to address them. Devlin suggests working directly with the hotel to find adequate solutions to potential problems. You can hear more about other concerns planners face and the best solutions in her webinar Beyond Event Contract Basics: Do You Need Special Clauses? on the SmartMeetings.com website now.
Note: Please regard this information as general recommendations. We advise our readers to check with a professional about specific situations.