Managing Last-Minute Participant Cancellations


No matter how carefully meeting and event planners prepare for meetings, conferences, and events, last-minute cancellations are often unavoidable. They happen for a number of reasons: accidents, illness, flight delays resulting in missed flight connections, and heavy workloads that make some participants decide to stay at work rather than attend.

There are other types of cancellations that are particularly problematic. For example, I recently had a guest give four hours’ notice that he would not be using the transfer that his company had paid for but hopping in a cab and leaving early. Guests who simply do not show up for dinner even though they have checked in is another common scenario.

Managing last-minute participant cancellations is definitely a common challenge in the events industry. There is the need to balance flexibility in accommodating the real needs of participants and also delivering expected and agreed upon revenue to event professionals.

Cancellations Due to Accidents or Illness

As long as the minimum targets for expected revenue have been met, I have found that most resorts, hotels, and event venues are fairly flexible. A standard clause that my company includes in contracts is that one guest room may be cancelled up to 72 hours in advance due to illness, accidents or the illness of a child. We have been finding that this is not enough. Inevitably, these situations are arising truly at the last minute, with less than 24 hours’ notice. A number of venues have suggested that, for the peace of mind of everyone, we modify our clause to allow for cancellation or early departure at any time by one guest room as long as revenue targets have been met. This is a win-win scenario. If the block falls below the guarantee, then standard cancellation would apply.


There are no easy answers for this scenario. A venue cannot be expected to absorb the associated costs. A frank discussion about no-shows needs to be initiated with clients early in the process of planning an event. A policy needs to be developed and it needs to be carefully communicated to all participants.

For Discussion

Some clients do charge back individuals who cancel at the last minute without a valid reason or who simply do not show up for group events once they have arrived at a venue. Naturally, this is very controversial.

How do you handle last-minute cancellations by guests?

Do your corporate clients charge back employees who are no-shows?

Room Block Strategies II: Managing Incidentals & Special Situations offers more tips for managing situations involving attrition.

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Anne Thornley-Brown

Anne Thornley-Brown

Anne Thornley-Brown has an M.B.A. from York University’s Schulich School of Business in Toronto, Canada. She shaped the management development strategy for two major Canadian corporations. Anne has extensive business experience in a variety of industries including banking, wireless communications, high technology, transportation, the non-profit sector, and film and television. She speaks English, French, and Spanish. Anne has toured Asia 18 times and facilitated workshops and team building for over 2000 executives, managers and professionals. She has worked with a number of clients from Gulf (GCC) countries in the Middle East.

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