by Ron Donoho | December 04, 2017

Nobody wants to reschedule a meeting or event. It's a huge headache for both sides of the meeting planner/venue equation. But cancellations and re-bookings have long been a reality most meeting planners face at various points in their careers.

In the current marketplace, there have never been as many stumbling blocks just waiting to derail an event taking place in its host city. Of course there is terrorism and there are other random acts of violence that are all too common now. Health scares have become routine. Controversial new local and state laws can also play a part in a group's decision to pull out of a contracted meeting. Natural disasters -- like the major hurricanes that hit the U.S. mainland and Caribbean this year, or massive wildfires like the recent ones in Northern California -- can also create the need to relocate. For a variety of reasons, sometimes venues that are supposed to be ready for an event, well, aren't.

When any of these potential disruptors occur, it's natural to first think about approaching large destinations that have high hotel-room inventories. But if you think it's only the first-tier cities that will have spare rooms late in the game, think again. That's when a planner needs to keep a cool head and reach out to trusted contacts who've solidified their mutual relationship over the years with stellar results from meetings past. And often the solution can be found in smaller, mid-market venues -- even if the event is large.

Don Welsh, president and CEO of Destinations International, describes the "community of support" that a CVB and its partners can provide when the unexpected strikes. That is arguably even more the case in midsized destinations.

"They know the availability of convention centers, hotels, whether there is an event taking place that could preclude a group from going, or whether they have space for the event but maybe not the hotel rooms," says Welsh. "These destinations have a marketing manager that is not only charged with looking at their own destination, but does analysis on their competitors."

When a 40,000-person group had to
leave a major U.S. city, Indianapolis
was able to accommodate it

Indianapolis, for example, is best equipped for meetings sized anywhere up to 25,000 -- but the city does annually host a pair of 50,000-plus events: Gen Con (a gaming group) and FFA (formerly known as Future Farmers of America).

And when a huge group recently had to leave a major U.S. city, they turned to Indy. "I think holding those big events looked good on our resume and helped in the sales process of stepping in for a tier-one city to handle this convention," Visit Indy Director of Sales Dustin Arnheim says.  

In addition to that coup, here are more details on other cases when non-supersized destinations stepped up big time when the chips were down.

Hurricane Relief
Hurricane Irma blew into Florida this past September with wall-to-wall media coverage. Thankfully, the damage wasn't as bad as many were predicting, but it did affect groups planning to meet in October at the under-expansion Miami Beach Convention Center.

Miami Beach's $615 million renovation and expansion will bump the total number of square feet to 1.4 million. The LEED-certified facility will include 500,000 square feet of exhibit space, advanced technology, and versatile indoor/outdoor public spaces. And even though work is ongoing, and the expansion is due to be unveiled in 2018, the center has been open in limited capacity for business.

Irma caused some flooding, but the real damage was lost time on construction efforts due to preparation for the hurricane, the storm itself, and remobilizing afterward. The hurricane led to the cancellation of two events -- an auto show and America's Food & Beverage.

Fort Lauderdale proved an ideal
alternative when the ICFF Miami show
had to be moved

Two other shows -- the International Contemporary Furniture Fair (ICFF) Miami and a jewelry trade show -- were able to be relocated 30 miles to the north in the Greater Fort Lauderdale/Broward County Convention Center, where comparable dates were available -- with just one month's notice.

ICFF attracted thousands of design and architectural professionals Oct. 2--3 who checked out 150 exhibitors, and officials say that even with the venue change, the event saw a 30 percent increase in attendance.

"ICFF Miami far exceeded expectations, even with a last-minute move to Fort Lauderdale due to structural damage caused by Hurricane Irma at the Miami Beach Convention Center," says Kevin O'Keefe, ICFF Miami show director and senior vice president of Emerald Expositions.

The move demonstrated the resiliency of attendees and the professionalism of exhibitors, says O'Keefe. "And we appreciate the efforts of not only the Greater Fort Lauderdale/Broward County Convention Center, but also the Miami Beach Convention Center, to ensure a seamless transition between the two venues. We owe a large part of our success to their efforts," he says.

"Our experienced convention sales staff is always at the ready to help meeting planners," says Jessica Savage, public relations director for the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention & Visitors Bureau. "In the case of ICFF, we were able to assist in moving their group just a few miles north from their original location, which was extremely helpful for attendees who had already made travel arrangements to South Florida, and mitigated additional costs and change fees."