Registration Terms - Refunds or certainty of delivery?
A major factor on the minds of anyone planning to host or attend an in-person conference or travel, in general, is what happens if a Covid event prevents them from attending or being able to stage the event? What happens if there is a covid outbreak in their home location and they must isolate or covid strikes at the conference destination?
Inevitably this leads to a subject that, until the pandemic, was hardly ever discussed - registration terms and the cancellation clauses expressed therein.
Hard and expensive lessons were learned by many organisations who were about to stage conferences during most of 2020. They found out that should the host cancel the conference, not only are there fixed costs that must be paid and often also cancellation penalties but even worse they had to refund all revenue. They also experienced mass cancellations with many delegates, exhibitors, and sponsors expecting full and immediate refunds.
Can these risks be mitigated and perhaps more importantly, can measures be introduced to protect revenue? You can forget insurance as there is no currently available policy that provides any cover of covid related issues.
At CCM we have been strong advocates of the hybrid conference, which provides in-person attendance for those who can travel to the destination and virtual options for those who cannot. All of the projects we are currently working on are hybrid conferences and special consideration has been given to registration and cancellation terms. Whilst not risk-free, the hybrid approach provides a lot more flexibility and certainty for all parties involved. Some conference hosts actually achieved record attendances in 2020 using virtual conferencing. Don’t expect that to continue, however. The lack of opportunities for real networking and contact inherent with digital conferences is keenly missed.
The prime obligation of anyone selling registrations to a conference is to deliver the content. Without delivery, anyone who has paid a registration fee is entitled to a refund of whatever they paid. For this reason, we have modified registration terms to emphasise a guarantee of content delivery, rather than an offer of refunds. Because this is included in the registration terms to which delegates must agree when completing their registration form, the delivery guarantee forms part of the agreement between the conference and the delegate from the very beginning, thus avoiding conflicts later.
To date, we have experienced a very positive response to this approach. Effectively the registration terms for hybrid conferences include the following provisions:
No refunds under any circumstances for virtual / non-physical registrations. There is no need for a refund as all of the content is available on an on-demand basis for three months following the conference, so the delegate has plenty of time and opportunity to access the content for which they have paid;
For physical registrations, should a delegate cancel their registration 30 days or more before an event, a full refund of whatever they paid less an administration fee is provided;
Delegates with physical registrations wishing to cancel 29 days or less prior to the conference are not offered a refund. However, they may either transfer the registration to another delegate who can attend or transfer their registration to a virtual registration, in which case a credit is issued for the balance of what they paid for the physical registration against the cost of the virtual registration. This credit can then be redeemed at the next conference or as another virtual registration for an associate to attend the conference. Again, the content is online and available for three months so they have plenty of time to access it.
The above terms emphasise the certainty of content delivery and provide value to delegates. Effectively they work along the same lines as airlines and hotels are using with current bookings. Those operators effectively allow you to change your reservations at no additional cost but don’t provide cash refunds. We think it is perfectly reasonable that conferences do the same.
These registration terms provide the confidence to the host organisation that they do not need to refund large amounts of event revenue should they receive a large number of late cancellations immeidately prior to their event due to a covid incident.
So what happens if the host cancels the entire event? Well, we would always advocate against cancellation, and an outline of registration terms to mitigate that contingency will be the subject of our next post.
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