Dear Event Doctor:
A running event planned for our city was canceled at the last minute by the organizer, which left many participants who had traveled to our city unhappy. We’re also concerned that other event organizers might have been left with a bad impression of us because of a situation that wasn’t our fault. How can we put our city in the most positive light for future events?
The perceptions that are generated by a canceled event can be as devastating to a host city as it is for an event organizer. The participants who came for the event may hold both responsible for the situation, regardless of whose fault it was.
When an event is canceled, it is essential to retain legal and public relations counsel. As tempting as it is to lay the blame, what you say and how you say it can result in lawsuits and public mistrust. Caring, I think, is more important than assigning responsibility.
Your role as a host community does not end when the event evaporates. Make sure that those affected understand that you still care about them. Work with the hospitality community to offer free refreshments, discounts on hotel rooms and food, opportunities to enjoy local attractions and incentives to return to the region. The word on the street will be that your community cared enough to look after those who were inconvenienced. Understand that these people will be upset and may not demonstrate any degree of grace when you make these offers. But, after the fact, they are likely to remember that your community at least tried to make the best of a bad situation.
The best remedy, of course, is prevention. Work only with reputable event organizers to minimize the chance of a cancellation occurring. Stay in regular contact so you know whether the event, or the entity staging it, comes under financial stress. This will help avoid the other casualty of a last-minute event cancellation—your own business community. Enabling hotels, restaurants and event venues to replace lost business is more feasible the earlier you understand a problem is on the horizon.
Finally, investigate why the cancellation occurred, and if your legal and public relations counsels agree, let the public know you cared enough to find out. If there were contributing factors at work within your own community, work to mitigate them. Being an honest and believable advocate for the people who spent the time, money and energy to visit your region will pay dividends after the sting of the situation has worn off.
This first appeared in Sports Travel Magazine and appears here courtesy of SCHNEIDER PUBLISHING COMPANY, INC.