SPECIAL EVENT INDUSTRY professionals responding to an informal poll by Special Events Magazine two weeks after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington report that 20 percent of their business through the end of the year has been postponed and another 10 percent has been cancelled outright.
Events slated for September have been the hardest hit, representing 60 percent of total postponements/cancellations. Roughly 15 percent of postponements/cancellations are affecting events slated in October.
Individual responses vary widely. Event professionals handling corporate clients in New York have been hit hard; some social professionals and those abroad have seen no change whatever.
By far, corporate events are suffering the worst losses, representing 80 percent of all affected business. Social events represent about 15 percent of affected business.
“Thus far I've had no cancellations,” a prominent wedding planner in Chicago notes. “The only thing I am having trouble with is flying guests in, and numbers of attendees are changing not day by day, but hour by hour.”
“Some [corporate clients] didn't change their events at all because of the cost of doing so,” a Florida event planner reports. “But there is no frivolous spending.”
Some event professionals picked up business in the wake of the disaster. “We served customers stuck in town” when air travel was halted, a Baltimore caterer reports.
Others expect events to shift their way in the future. After the blow to New York, “London may become the world's financial center,” notes an event producer based in that city.
AN END IN SIGHT?
Some 40 percent of respondents think business will stabilize in October. Roughly the same percentage expects business to stabilize by year-end, while the remaining 20 percent don't see a change until 2002.
“The panic is over,” a special effects company in Florida reports.
“I'm hopeful that clients will want to produce nice holiday parties,” adds an event planner in Boston.
Some respondents were more skeptical. “Business was down considerably from the last five years already due to the slowdown in the economy,” a Los Angeles-based event planner says. “This disaster will add to the process, but in the long run, business will return at about the same pace as it normally would. My guess would be about two years before we see a serious turnaround.”
Many respondents caution that prolonged or widespread military action could change their forecast completely.
Event professionals are using a variety of strategies to shore up their event business.
Themes are being reworked to avoid echoes of the tragedies of Sept. 11. One event that was going to use a prop of a wrecked airplane quickly revamped its decor. Also, “We had a venue at the top of a skyscraper that we changed,” a planner on the East Coast says.
Event planners are also adding a charitable donation or fund-raising element to events and reworking themes from celebratory to patriotic or customer/employee appreciation themes.
“Anything celebratory is being scrapped,” says a Florida-based planner. “It's being replaced with patriotism and appreciation parties.”
Finally, event locations are shifting to avoid forcing guests to travel by air or to visit high-profile venues. “We see a move to second tier cities and away from symbol venues,” a Florida planner says.
A question hanging in the air involves cancellation fees. “Some companies are refunding deposits, while others are not and are charging for the lost business on top of it,” reports a New York-based event planner. “We're taking it on a case-by-case basis. Was it a big client? A repeat client? Did the client lose an employee in the World Trade Center disaster?”
“This will change how the middlemen and resellers structure their contracts,” a Florida-based decor company says.
Watch our Web site — www.specialevents.com — for further coverage of the special event industry's response to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11.