This is one of the top questions for event planners these days. And it is heartbreaking. They have spent so much time, money, and effort into planning their leadership conference, ladies retreat, etc., just to throw it all away. But before you say that dreaded word, let’s look at some alternatives.
First, we need to establish some of the reasons a planner might consider cancelling an event. In today’s world, the most pressing reason is COVID-19. But there are other things that might lead to this question, such as low attendance, insufficient funds, or venue problems. Those are all valid reasons to…you know.
The simplest alternative is to actually just hold the event anyway. I know that sounds silly, but if you have made the commitment and already started planning, stick to it and don’t let it go to waste. This is specifically true in low attendance situations. Maybe all the couples in your church expressed interest in a couples getaway, but now they are coming up with reasons not to go and not registering. These people have what we call “Retreat Commitment Issues.” The event might not be as to scale as what you dreamed up, but there is no reason it can’t still be successful. And those people who did already sign up will be grateful. Just make sure you keep your venue updated on all attendance changes.
If the hesitation in this instance is financial, see where you can cut costs, but still have a full event. Sometimes the lack of attendees is what decreases the budget. Cutting certain activities this time may not be great, but you can always do them in a future event. If you simply can’t cut any more activities, look at your lodging. Filling rooms and choosing dorm style can help lessen the cost. Fundraisers and sponsors are other options to help tip the financial scale. If the need is great enough, the money will find a way.
For those that know right now they just cannot have an event, work with your venue to postpone it to a future date. All of the planning done up until that point will not be in vain, just moved. IMPORTANT: Make sure you update every single registration piece that included the first date. Add a pinned post to your Facebook event explaining the date change. Title your emails with the new date. Then continue to promote up until the new date.
The final (and least fun) option is to provide people with a virtual alternative (I’m looking at you COVID). Whether it is restrictions or health issues, for some guests, you may not be able to put enough safety practices in place to get them to attend. I’m going to be honest here, they are going to miss out on some serious fun and true depth of a retreat experience. A video will never be able to capture physically being somewhere. But some links to your services could be enough to make them happy and get your attendance numbers up. Just remember this creates more work for the planner, both in setting up the video alternative and in keeping registrants and cost/payments organized between physical and virtual attendees.
The thing is events are booked months to a year in advance. And at that time, you never know what is going to happen. Could have loss of interest. Could have a pandemic. Anything can happen. But that doesn’t mean you should give up. You had an idea and a reason for booking in the first place. That reason isn’t going to go away.