Hotels and convention centers are getting smarter. During 2020 and 2021, the terms of pre-COVID agreements governed most event operations, allowing organizers to cancel events with few repercussions. The event venues had little recourse to recover their financial losses, given the force majeure provisions that were part of most agreements. But having been burnt by those pre-COVID provisions, the venues have adjusted to the new reality. Though they once bore the risk, now we do.
We can’t entirely control attendee wariness about traveling to our events. The best we can do is make operations as safe as possible with masking and vaccination policies, message that, and then hope that previous attendees now will generate a level of registrations that is acceptable to exhibitors. But what if attendees are slow to return to our upcoming events? Should we be running poorly attended shows? Can we afford to? Can we afford not to?
Can we afford the prospective impact of badly attended events on our reputations? Can we absorb the financial losses should cancellations incur large hotel/convention center penalties? Can we live to fight another day, or will we go out of business?
Part of the situation is self-inflicted. Show organizers rarely pay much attention to attendees as we do with our exhibitors, an irony given our dependence upon attendees. We have no show without attendees. Knowing how our attendees think and act, given the everchanging unknowns of today’s environment, is central to staging an event with some degree of confidence as we await a return to normality vs. dealing with the angst and worry of wondering whether an event will have passable attendance until things get better. Of course, understanding exhibitors is a big help, too.
Can we afford not to have the pulse of our attendees’ plans, needs, and behavior in these very unsettled times? Our shows are now depending on it.