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Contract Tips for Working With Convention Centers During the Pandemic
Thanks to positive vaccination news and its subsequent rollout, meeting professionals are cautiously optimistic about the return of meetings and events in the latter quarters of 2021. But with the threat of variants looming, the road back to large events at convention centers is more unclear.
Much of the consideration around planning for large events amid the pandemic spurs contractual questions. Will large-scale events be allowed to take place in the next year? How can you work with convention centers to plan for every scenario in a fair way? To help parse out the legal issues and give you advice on how to proceed when working with convention centers, we spoke with Tyra Warner, a leading attorney in the meetings and events industry and professor who teaches on legal issues in hospitality and business at the College of Coastal Georgia.
Flexibility Is Key
“The key to contracts—and convention center license agreements—right now is flexibility,” Warner advised. “Planners are wading back into signing agreements, but asking for flexibility, which is not typical of venue agreements, especially convention center license agreements.”
Warner said some common points of flexibility can include:
- The ability to resize the group depending on the live/remote mix.
- Flux the meeting space depending on social distancing requirements or preferences.
- Shifting the dates if attendance doesn’t look promising.
Watch for Fees and Surcharges
Warner added that in addition to flexibility, planners need venues to be transparent about fees and surcharges in COVID-19 recovery for services, whether those services are typical or are tied to new items like social distancing requirements, hybrid meetings or creative food and beverage solutions.
“What planners don’t want to see is facilities hiding fees and surcharges around every corner to recoup the losses everyone is aware of. Transparency is key,” she stressed.
Out and Postponement Clauses
When asked if there are any specific out or postponement clauses planners should consider adding to their contracts, Warner said there is no easy answer.
“If I had this answer, I’d be a very popular lawyer,” she said. “This is a negotiation point for the parties. Every contract should have a force majeure clause that gives each party an ‘out’ due to circumstances beyond each party's control. However, what constitutes a force majeure for each party and when force majeure can be claimed is regularly disputed.
“I don’t have a one-size-fits-all clause to share, because there isn’t one,” Warner continued. “Likewise, postponement is something that has to be negotiated by willing parties. Neither party has to agree to it, but it may be worth having business on the books for a venue to agree to if the planner is negotiating in good faith. Whether an ‘out’ or a postponement is a cancellation or a force majeure continues to be one of the most contentious issues between meeting organizers and facilities, especially during these COVID times.”
Her final piece of advice? If you do add such clauses, make sure they are carefully written and reviewed by an attorney.