The professional events industry is half planning and half improvisation. No matter how much you prepare and strategize, something can – and will – go wrong. Maybe your keynote speaker is suddenly unable to make it. Maybe the airlines have suspended travel and you’re expecting 1,000 attendees. If you ask meeting professionals if they’ve ever experienced a program “disaster,” most will give a knowing smile, lightly chuckle, and say “oh, you have no idea…” That’s why it’s so important to have a professional event design team to rely on and a dependable meeting planning company that has your back.

Luckily, with challenges come learning experiences. Creative Group Account Manager Michal Skalski presented in a MeetingsNet webinar titled: Everyday Meeting Disasters: Creative Workarounds—and Smart Strategies to Avoid Them Next Time. Michal shared four situations that he or other Account Managers have had to overcome – an abrupt hotel management change, undelivered merchandise, overbooked hotel/unsatisfied room blocks, and significant travel disruptions. After hearing these tales, you’ll understand why partnering with a meeting planning company will ensure success – even when all odds are against you.

Situations + Solutions = Seasoned Advice

1. Abrupt hotel management change

The Situation: Two days before the main arrival, the government authorities in Panama evicted the board of directors and management from the contracted group hotel.

The Solution: Our team immediately began to source a new property, and the account manager conducted site inspections as soon as she landed in Panama. Meanwhile, the team back in the office began to send attendee communications to alert them of the change, while the team onsite notified suppliers and reprinted updated program materials. We also sourced a new spa venue, as the replacement hotel did not have one. We then communicated arrival flight information to the staff at the new hotel, to ensure that as many rooms as possible were ready for check-in when our attendees arrived.

Seasoned Advice: This situation solidified for us the importance of having an experienced team, ready and willing to rectify challenges as they arise. Plus, you need to be forward-thinking enough to see how other aspects of the program may be impacted. When so much needs to be accomplished quickly, you must trust the company you keep to problem-solve in the best interest of the program.

When operating programs, keep an eye on the destination and properties in advance of program operation, so you know if the geopolitical climate may impact your event. Having strong local contacts – “boots on the ground” – are critical to helping make last-minute adjustments, especially if there are cultural or language barriers. Regarding your hotel contracts, ensure a “change of ownership” clause is always included.

Read the full case study here.

2. Undelivered goods/merchandise

The Situation: Attendee gifts were shipped to Portugal, and one box containing high-end digital cameras was held up in customs. The authorities were demanding very high import duties to be paid for release.

The Solution: Upon realizing the box was held in customs, we worked quickly to determine what the issue was. Then we worked to revise the customs paperwork for that box. However, when we explored our options regarding the duty payment, it proved that the duty would be a higher cost than the value of the gifts. Consequently, and with agreement from our client, we requested that the box be shipped back to our office in the states. We then adjusted the schedule for onsite gift distribution, sending a room amenity and card advising of a gift delivery upon return home (instead of the room-dropped cameras onsite). Additionally, knowing our attendees would still want the opportunity to capture memories onsite, we hired a photographer to capture attendees during activities and evening events, and we distributed those photos after the program.

Seasoned Advice: To avoid the potential of merchandise getting held in customs, weigh the cost/benefit of sending high-value gifts onsite. Another option is to source gifts locally, as destination-specific gifts add sentimental value. If you must ship gifts on-site, use a broker service and send them to your DMC partner’s office. Alternatively, you can distribute smaller items among your staff to carry-on to the destination.


3. Overbooked hotel/unsatisfied room blocks

The Situation: For a large sales meeting, where 1,000 reps needed to share rooms, the hotel incorrectly assigned our double rooms to another group.

The Solution: We immediately involved our National Sales Office (NSO) and leveraged that relationship to negotiate additional resources and concessions. We moved all staff and vendors to single rooms, and pre-checked in as many rooms as possible, ensuring we received the highest volume of double rooms available. We then gave displaced attendees two options: to either share a king bed or have a king room with a rollaway. And we offered displaced attendees a spa credit or room amenity and set up a help desk in the hotel lobby.

Seasoned Advice: When selecting a meeting hotel, be sure they have an adequate number of proper accommodations, be it double rooms, suites, etc. Review contract clauses regarding room blocks and negotiates well for problem resolution. Additionally, utilize hotels where you have strong NSO relationships. Our hotel partnership proved invaluable as our NSO was able to assist us in managing the crisis quickly.


4. Travel disruptions

The Situation: Two days before the main arrival, we learned of a European air traffic controller strike that would affect our main arrival day travelers.

The Solution: Our air team worked quickly to rebook or reroute attendees where possible. However, with the limited airlift into the Catania airport, almost half of our group had to be routed through Rome, with a layover of anywhere from 6 to 12 hours. With just a day’s notice, we worked with our local DMC to arrange a room for each stranded couple at the airport hotel, put together a communication to the attendees informing them of the delay and the accommodations we were arranging for them. We also arranged for DMC staff to greet each couple in the airport, to help them walk to the hotel and answer any questions they might have. In the end, several attendees took advantage of their layover in Rome, got out to see the city, and felt it was a bonus destination. Everyone was incredibly thankful for how well we took care of them during the last-minute layover.

Seasoned Advice: If a travel disruption occurs, especially at the end of a program, poll your attendees, and create criteria for attendee travel priority. By taking care of those who must arrive or depart as scheduled before those who have flexibility in their schedule, it helps attendees feel cared for and avoids further frustrations. Depending on budget, you can also plan for air charters or identify alternative transportation options (like trains or cars). When a travel disruption does occur, be sure to realize the greater impact on hotel needs, and plan accordingly to maintain the integrity of the attendee experience.

Surprisingly, an audience poll conducted during the webinar revealed that only 41% of participants currently have an emergency plan. And when asked if (because of this session) they would create an emergency plan in the future, 50% responded “Absolutely!” Having an experienced, trusted partner to guide you through these unexpected situations can save the attendee experience.


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