From wedding planners to festival organizers, event planners around the world are dealing with the fallout of cancellations due to the Coronavirus (COVID-19). Whether you decide to postpone your event to a future date or cancel it completely, there are a number of issues to consider. During this time, it is important to keep your community safe while also taking steps to minimize your financial losses.
Before you decide to continue or cancel your event, consider your options. Be sure to stay informed on the latest recommendations from the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO), as well as orders from your federal, state, and county government. Updated frequently, these guidelines specify how many people you may safely have at any gathering and what safety measures to take. These guidelines are intended to keep your community safe, and in some cities, you may face penalties for violating the orders by holding an event, such as fines or even jail time.
However, you may have other options for holding your event. If your event is not scheduled for many months, consider waiting as long as feasible before making any announcements, while ensuring you give enough notice to all parties involved. Instead of canceling, you may consider postponing until a future date. However, often it may be difficult to predict when it would be safe to reschedule. A final option is moving your event online, using streaming technologies to broadcast performances and to allow for virtual meetings.
If you have decided to cancel or postpone, and even if you decide to hold your event virtually, your ticket-holding attendees will be eager to find out your refund policy. It is best to have this in place before making any announcements. Many organizers are offering full refunds whenever possible, even if this means a loss for your business, as this situation is outside of everyone's control and this is an opportunity to build goodwill with your customers.
If you used a third-party service to handle your ticket sales, such as Eventbrite or Ticketmaster, check with that company to see what your options are for refunds. Find out if they will handle the refunds directly, and whether or not you will be refunded for any fees incurred as an event planner.
With any event, you likely have many people involved in the logistics, from security to presenters to the owners of the venue. All will be eager to know what your plans are for canceling or postponing. Even before you make your ultimate decision on canceling or postponing, keep everyone in the loop on how you intend to move forward. Be sure to explain your rationale for changing the event, with a focus on keeping the community healthy and safe.
You may have a different communication strategy for attendees or guests of the event. They should also be kept informed, but do not need to appraised of all the event planning logistics. However, you should let them know of any potential date changes and options for refunds.
Check with your insurance policy and agent to see if you have event cancellation insurance to help minimize some of the costs. This may cover expected revenue and paid expenses that cannot be refunded. Some policies may be limited to natural disasters and issues with performers, and may not include coverage for a pandemic or communicable disease outbreak. However, if your event must be canceled due to government orders, your policy may apply. As with any insurance, you must have had this in place before the outbreak.
If part of the funding for your event is from sponsors, communicate with them as soon and as clearly as you can about the situation. Ideally, you will find a solution that minimizes your financial losses while maintaining a positive relationship. If you decide to postpone or move to a virtual event, discuss options to keep them on as sponsors.
If the event is fully canceled, offer the option to provide a sponsor credit for a future event. In some cases, you may decide to fully or partially refund the sponsor. If you have already marketed the event using their name on promotional materials, you may argue that they have already received some benefit for their sponsorship and should only get a partial refund. It may come down to what is in your contract with the sponsor, and what arrangement can be agreed to by all parties.
If you have questions about promised performances and what party will be responsible for lost revenue, take a look at your contracts. You may be entitled to refunds for certain expenses, and some performances under contracts may be excused due to the circumstances. What options you here will be dependent on your particular contract. You can read more about what contract clauses to look for in Nolo's article, Coronavirus and Business Contracts: When Performance Becomes Impossible or Impracticable.