No one likes bad weather -- but for meeting planners, inclement conditions can derail an event that has been months in the making. While one can't control the weather, there are a few ways event coordinators can plan ahead.
The good news is that planners needn't cross certain destinations off their lists. In fact, areas that are prone to heavy snowfall may be the most well-equipped to handle winter events.
"There is a benefit of working with destinations accustomed to seasonal changes in weather," said Deidre Wetelainen, vice president of sales & services at Visit Rochester. "In general, these communities are well accustomed to weather events, such as winter snow storms. In Rochester, there have been very few -- if any -- events over the past few decades that have been dramatically affected by weather. Convention facilities and clients all operate with a 'show must go on' mentality."
What's more, booking an event during a city's off-season can help cut venue and transportation costs.
"The winter months can be extremely desirable for both hotel venues who are looking to fill need times, and for meeting planners who are looking to cut costs and take advantage of lower hotel rates and greater incentives," pointed out Caitlyn Floyd, director of sales for Visit Champaign County.
Read on for tips from a handful of meeting professionals on how to ensure your events go off without a hitch when bad weather strikes.
1. Pick a Venue With a Plan
When selecting an event venue, meeting planners must consider size, nearby transportation and on-site amenities. According to industry experts, whether the facility has a well-defined emergency response and inclement weather plan should also be at the top of the venue checklist.
"When planning for an event, the emergency response procedures should be reviewed by your operations team for whatever facility you are working with. This includes snow," said Shannon Licygiewicz, CEM, director of sales for the Albany Capital Center. "Our operations teams have a snow removal procedure that is followed when we have a storm, and there is a call chain in place to make sure enough staffing is able to make it in for the day. Having a written plan in place is not only helpful for our facility, but also helps to put meeting planners at ease. Should an event be taking place when a storm is happening, we work closely with them to help their attendees continue to have access to our facility while keeping our staff safe as well."
2. Negotiate Contracts With Caution
If there's a chance your conference could be affected by the weather, proceed with caution when drafting up the contract. Be sure to include wording that protects you in the event of extreme weather or natural disaster, and work with the venue to set up a back-up date just in case.
"We always recommend having a force majeure clause within the contract when planning an event when weather is unpredictable," said the sales team at The Otesaga Resort Hotel in Cooperstown, N.Y. "Instead of allowing a cancellation with no charge (both sides of business lose) or canceling with a charge (this would leave a bad taste in the meeting planner's mouth), it's best to be flexible and offer alternative dates or allow the group to reschedule within the year with no fee."
3. Create a Flexible Event Schedule
After months of preparation, the last thing an event coordinator wants to do is cancel the conference. Rescheduling can also be a hassle and it's best to avoid doing so if possible. To keep from canceling or rescheduling, preemptive planners should craft event schedules that can be easily rearranged as needed. It's also a good idea to encourage attendees to arrive to the destination a day or two early and work with the hotel on establishing flexible room blocks.
"We recommend that planners not plan a scheduled event on the night of arrival and even start any meetings later on the second day to ensure all the guests are able to get to the facility prior to scheduled events," said Lori K. Rehm, director of sales at The Sagamore Resort on Lake George. "Adding a special post-night rate in case they aren't able to get out due to weather will help with coordination and not leaving any guests out in the cold."
4. Have a Back-Up Plan Ready
Seasoned planners know to expect last-minute changes and always prepare for the worst. This means having an extensive plan B ready to go when a snowstorm strikes. Be prepared with a list of back-up venues, speakers and activities. Wetelainen of Visit Rochester also advises creating an emergency contact list.
"The list should include contacts for the local airport, CVB, hotels, venues, local hospitals, etc. It should also include emergency contacts for all attendees and local public safety departments," noted Wetelainen. "All event staff should be prepped with this list."
5. Connect With the CVB
Convention and visitors bureaus are an event planner's secret weapon, with a treasure trove of insider information on the local area. Be sure to establish a relationship with the city's CVB prior to the event, so you know exactly who to reach out to if the weather worsens. The CVB can keep you informed on weather updates, provide transportation tips and more.
"Connecting with the CVB is important so it can enlist the help of other partners in the local community," said Jay Cloutier, director of sales for Discover Albany. "Having those relationships can help meeting planners who are unfamiliar with the area to problem solve and come up with solutions."
6. Watch the Weather
In the final days before your conference kicks off, you'll want to keep an eye on the weather. Wetelainen of Visit Rochester suggests starting to monitor the weather a week in advance. You'll want to check on the road conditions, as well as the status of airlines, rental car companies and hotels.
Katie DiDonato, General Manager for the Holiday Valley Resort in Ellicottville, N.Y., agrees, and cautions planners to "watch weather reports not only for your location, but also for the cities that your attendees are traveling from and through. Stay in contact with the hotel and catering partners and update them on expected attendance and any scheduling changes that might result from travel delays."
7. Embrace the Snow
Once your attendees have arrived safely on site, let the fun begin. Take advantage of the snowy weather to create a cozy conference environment and make time on the schedule for winter sport group activities.
"Try to embrace the season and incorporate it into the event," said Eric Rottingen, director of sales & marketing at The Queensbury Hotel in Glen Falls, N.Y. "Think bonfires, cocoa and marshmallows or mulled cider on breaks. Snowshoeing, snowman making, ice skating and horse-drawn sleigh rides are all activities we can incorporate into our winter events."
Attendees may have traveled from great distances, and braced for the weather -- simply make sure the event is memorable and worth their investment.