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Planners Gather to Discuss Industry Response to Sandy

BizBash and NYC & Company co-hosted a meeting of about 40 event professionals on Tuesday afternoon to share information about Hurricane Sandy's impact on events and meetings. Held at the Sentry Center conference facility on Seventh Avenue, the meeting effectively took the temperature of the industry as it begins to formulate a response to the economic impact of the storm.

NYC & Company C.E.O. George Fertitta opened the meeting with an overview of the convention and tourism bureau's efforts so far and stressed the importance of balancing concern for the people most affected by the storm with the importance of communicating that New York is largely back to business as usual: “We do not want to be in a situation where we send a message that keeps people away.”

Fertitta and other event professionals stressed the point that for out-of-town hosts, spending money on events and meetings here is one way to help the city recover.

An attendee suggested that the challenge is to temper the “business as usual” message with the sentiment that many people and businesses do need help. BizBash C.E.O. David Adler suggested encouraging the power of gathering people in the season ahead, both for camaraderie and for the economic impact on the city: “This is a good time to have a holiday event.”

Several corporate planners mentioned that because many companies are already interested in incorporating charitable elements into their meetings—often billed as corporate social responsibility programs—an authorized set of Sandy-related activities would likely be popular.

Fertitta stressed that what's needed most is monetary donations. He suggested that planners encourage hosts to donate to the Mayor's Fund to Advance New York City as part of any charitable activities. An in-house corporate planner in the room said that for the time being “every event should have a fund-raising component.”

The attendees were a mix of event professionals including caterers, venue owners and managers, independent planners, and in-house corporate planners, many of them also representing local chapters of organizations include the International Special Events Society, Meeting Professionals International, the Society of Incentive and Travel Executives, and the National Association of Catering Executives.

While few attendees from venues and vendors spoke about their own problems during the meeting, in private conversations several expressed concern over losing business due to the storm. It was clear that the industry is worried about the ongoing loss of business, due not just to physical damage or events scrapped during the power outage, but also from event hosts cancelling gatherings due to changing priorities, questions about perception, or issues that might not actually be related to Sandy.

In a conversation about clients invoking force majeure clauses in contracts while canceling events—a topic that perked up many in the room—one planner mentioned a client looking to cancel an event booked for December 2. When another planner asked the question, “Where do you draw the line?” others in the room nodded their heads.

Postponed events are also creating considerable work for independent planners, who aren't likely to be compensated additional fees for the extra time spent effectively producing something a second time.

People on both sides of negotiations—clients and vendors—mentioned that in many cases large corporations are requesting refunds from small businesses with no hope for recouping the money, who are likely to suffer more from the lost revenue.

Participants made plans to work together to raise funds, share information, and help find resources for struggling businesses in the areas most affected by the storm. As a couple of people used their phones to read from emails they received during the meeting, it was clear that the industry is still in midst of figuring out how to respond to the still-evolving situation.


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