It’s Wait and See for Meeting Planners

meeting planners
For now, for many, it’s wait and see.

A just-released survey of 295 meeting planners from Prevue’s audience found that many are adopting a wait-and-see attitude about postponements and cancellations.

“Wait and see” appears to be the prevailing strategy for many organizations, according to a just-released survey of 295 meeting planners who follow Prevue in print and online.

About half of respondents (52%) said they have postponed fewer than 10% of their meetings to date. Even associations appear to be taking a wait-and-see approach, with 67% saying they have postponed fewer than 10% of their meetings so far.

Meeting Planners On Hold

“We have two conferences each year,” said Dawn Pettus, CTP, vice president of events at the National Tour Association. “We had to cancel one in March and our other is set for November. We have postponed our registration open date, but not the show itself. And, it’s really too soon to tell if we’ll move it to a virtual show or not.”

For now, she said, “We’re keeping a close eye on everything and will make a decision mid-summer about the fall conference.”

One thing is certain: So far, canceling is far less common than postponing, according to the survey results. Just 19% of the respondents said they have canceled all their meetings to date.

For Doug Wheeler, principal, Summit Performance Group, it’s a mixed bag. “Many of our clients are still in a holding/wait-and-see pattern. I would anticipate that things will start moving again in the next two to three weeks.” He also has had several programs rebook in the late fall and several cancel.

“We also have several clients who have asked us to research incentives in the first quarter, 2021, and we are working on those projects right now.”

On the incentive side of the business, 71% of respondents who plan incentive travel have moved some or all their 2020 trips. A majority—66%—are moving them to 2021. Just one quarter of respondents who plan incentive travel have changed the destinations for those incentive trips. (New destinations they listed included Cayman Islands, Canada, Maui, Bahamas, Banff, Hawaii, Napa and San Diego.)

Kate Landers, president of Incentive Travel Source, reported that all of her clients have moved their incentive trips to 2021. “They are essentially inviting the 2020 award recipients to the 2021 trip. Since the 2021 trips were already contracted, we were able to make addendum’s to those contracts adding room nights to accommodate the additional guests.” That means a change in destination for the 2020 winners.

Virtual Fills the Gap

Of the respondents who are moving some meetings to virtual, 60% said that applies to just a fraction—fewer than 10%—of their meetings. Only 5% said they are moving 100% of their meetings to virtual.

The type of meeting dictates the ability to easily move it to a virtual setting. Leslie Zeck, CMP, CMM, HMCC, director of meetings at the International & American Associations for Dental Research, was forced to cancel her association’s General Session & Exhibition scheduled in March in Washington, DC. It was expected to draw more than 6,000 attendees from around the world to present scientific research and to celebrate the association’s centennial.

Since then, she has turned to WebEx to hold two virtual Council Meetings. “We had multiple speakers from around the world, slide presentations and more than 100 participants on each call, with the ability to ask questions. It worked very well for standard information—more like a conference call than a virtual meeting,” she said.

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Barbara Scofidio is editor of Prevue and heads up the Visionary Summits, our exclusive conference series targeting senior-level meeting and incentive planners. In 25 years of covering the industry, her articles have spanned topics ranging from social media to strategic meetings management. She is currently the media liaison for FICP's Education Committee and was the first member of the media ever to be invited to sit on a committee by GBTA, where she spent three years on the Groups and Meetings Committee. She has also been an active member of Site, chairing its Crystal Awards committee and acting as a judge. A familiar face at industry events, Barbara often leads panel discussions or speaks on topics close to her heart, such as green meetings or how the industry can help combat human trafficking. She is also on the board of ECPAT USA, the human trafficking organization. Barbara is based outside Boston, in Groton, Mass.


  1. When will we really be able to figure out the impact of COVID19 on 2020 or even 2021 meetings? Or all those who made deals to move their 2020 to ‘next open date’ for them, esp. for associations, and get some credit on the cancellation dollars if force majeure was not permitted as a reason to not hold a meeting? Or for the dollars in deposits that some paid?

    All this is complicated by furloughs of sales people and having one point of contact who is either not used to selling or booking because they have been in supervisory roles. Or complicated because of who gets priority time for help – those w/ ‘right now’ meetings or those w/ late Summer or early Fall meetings?

    A big question, having faced this time and again for employers and then clients’ in the nearly 50 years in the industry and nearly 40 with my own company: rushed contracts. “Trust us” contracts – ‘not thoroughly read but must be signed contracts’ – many I fear being signed now to rebook to avoid cancellation fees. It’s never good to rush – that is, not carefully read and confirm the meaning of language or to not think about the implications of bigger-than-our-meetings events on the meetings we are booking. So many bad contracts are now causing problems with the issues of COVID. What will happen w/ the even more rushed contracts that groups are being pressured to sign to avoid paying cancellation fees that may bankrupt companies or associations? (Jon Howe and Tyra Warner addressed this oh-so-briefly on a GMID session on 14 April.)

    Hotels, their owners, and the management companies all want money in _this_ year. We get that. Groups who rely on registration fees do too. That doesn’t mean that a new contract should be rushed and we face this again in a few months when a city or state or territory or country locks us down again.

    If there were ever a time to relook at how we do business .. it began in Jan. 2020. Alas, too few paid attention to the issues and now it’s all a major scramble. It’s exhausting.