How to Navigate Contracting in Unstable Times

How to Navigate Contracting in Unstable Times

Over the past few months, meeting and events have been cancelled and postponed at record levels. In this unstable environment, planners and suppliers are focusing on contracts and additional terms more than ever. Becoming more familiar with contracting terms, along with clear documentation from each contracting party, has become critical. In a landscape of uncertainty, contracts need to be sound and relevant. Visit Alexandria invited industry experts to share their insights on navigating contracts during this time.

Keep reading for tips from our panelists, who boast a combined 65 years of meeting planning and hospitality experience:

  • Nancy Rosenbaum | Vice President Maritz Global Events
  • Robert Smith, CMP, CMM | Director of Meetings | American Educational Research Association
  • Kim LeDoux | Area Director of Sales and Marketing | Autograph Collection Hotels of Alexandria

1. How do you determine and amend outdated contracts?

While there is no one-size-fits-all solution, as contracts are created on a case-by-case basis, here are some tips from our experts:

  • When possible, create an addendum to build on an existing contract.
  • At times, pre-existing contracts can be so out of date that starting fresh may be the best option.
  • Keep in mind, no single new clause will capture or cover everything.

For meeting planners, the first step is to call your hotel contact and walk them through where you are today and establish a verbal agreement. Let them know why you’re changing your plan—if you’re pivoting to a virtual platform, rebooking for a later date or cancelling outright. After your phone call, be sure to document the cancellation with a follow-up in writing and secure an acknowledgment. The timestamp of cancellation is important here in terms of what you may save or lose financially.

However, many hotels are being generous and flexible with cancellation fees, maintaining amicable partnerships for the mutual goal of getting business back on the books. Check to see if your hotel partner has added new booking incentives since your original contract. Just remember to inform your hotel of your cancellation within 30 days, as they will otherwise have recalled staff to support the event.

Image Credit: Kim LeDoux, The Alexandrian Old Town Alexandria, Autograph Collection

2. When is the best time to discuss force majeure clauses with cancellation?

The best thing you can do while addressing force majeure clauses (in addition to seeking legal counsel as available) is to maintain an ongoing discussion while considering your options. As we are all in uncharted grounds, it is never too early to open the lines of communication.

To those who worry that changing the contract today opens up a can of worms for a full negotiation, Nancy pointed out how most hotels are stepping up with a good faith attitude to maintain a form of your original agreement. Again and again, our panelists encouraged continual dialogue with your partners and building in regular check points and sliding scales along the way. These benchmark dates increase flexibility to mitigate this ever-changing climate.

While evaluating and eventually cancelling his association’s annual meeting, Robert’s approach can be summarized as follows: “Know your group, know what you need, protect your association but be straightforward with partners.” Another recommended tip: Keep a laundry list of everything you are hearing right now, such as new clauses, staff-to-hotel ratios, room size, room capacity, food guidelines, etc.

3. How Will Safety and Sanitation Requirements Affect Room Set-Ups and Contracts?

Moving ahead with your event or developing an upcoming meeting? Over the course of the spring and summer, hotels have proactively introduced brand guidelines to prioritize guest (and employee) health and safety. For example, The Alexandria Autograph Collection is following guidance from various sources, including:

  • Marriott’s Commitment to Clean
  • Regional regulations like the City of Alexandria’s ALX Promise pledge program.
  • Hotel -specific guidelines such as keeping meetings clients posted with ongoing regulation updates and projected conditions at the time of the event.

Panelist tip: Look (or ask) for updates and diagrams describing how your hotel can accommodate your meeting, with additional or larger rooms, switching from a buffet to stations each staffed with chefs, etc., ideally within same price point.

Discuss how new logistics affect program scheduling. If breakout sessions release at the same time, where will attendees go? Will sessions require extra time built in to clean and turn over rooms in between uses?

Panelist tip: To find out the status of a region’s re-opening status and guidelines, visit the National Governors Association’s round-up of each state’s reopening plans.

The Westin Alexandria Old Town | Image Credit: Misha Enriquez for Visit Alexandria

4. What Role Do Relationships Play?

“At the end of the day,” Kim shared, “people go to people, especially in times of crisis.” A relationship based on trust and a shared interest in the event’s success can soften the tension of these sticky negotiations. Depending on the scale of the event, these relationships between meeting planners and suppliers have developed over weeks, months or even years. Additionally, by investing in relationships with your CVB reps, you’re sure to be up to date on the latest developments in your city, with a direct connection to the best local experiences.

How do you deepen these relationships? While it is important to cement decisions in writing, Robert advised picking up the phone every once in a while. So much can be misinterpreted over email, and phone calls allow you to share in-depth details while reinforcing relationship-building and trust. Panelist tip: Phone calls can help each party understand the other’s pain points before they expand into larger obstacles.

Focus on the partnership’s long-term mutual benefits, which will pay dividends in times of normalcy and crisis alike. After all, contracts begin and end with people.

Insider’s Tip: Your destination’s CVB is a valuable resource in unstable times. Connect with the sales team at Visit Alexandria for updates about the city’s reopening status, information about the ALX Promise program and help connecting with hotels. For more expert advice, watch the full webinar here.

Header Image Credit: Kim LeDoux, The Alexandrian Old Town Alexandria, Autograph Collection