When Shows Cancel: How Associations Treat Exhibitors Varies Widely

Frances Ferrante, Senior Editor

CHICAGO — A touchy topic for exhibitors who prefer a refund, some organizers of canceled association shows are only offering credits for shows as many as three years into the future.

One example is the Plastics Industry Association, which recently announced it will issue nonrefundable credits for its NPE 2024 trade show to exhibitors who had made deposits for space at its 2021 event, which was canceled because of Covid. It has held the booth deposits since January 2021, when it decided to cancel the show planned for that May. Some exhibitors had paid in full by then. The association relies heavily on the event — held every three years and which provides about $36 million in revenue, according to Plastics News — to fund its operations.

This is in contrast to the practices of many other shows, such as the National Business Aviation Association (NBAA)’s 2022 Schedulers & Dispatchers Conference. After postponing the event — which was scheduled for January 18-21, 2022 — and moving it to April 5-7, it offered exhibitors choices if they were unable to participate the new dates. They could either credit their exhibit fees to 2023 or request to have their exhibit fees refunded.

Robyn Jones, Conference Manager, Association for Asian Studies, ended up in an entirely different scenario when some exhibitors offered to donate their fees to the nonprofit organization after it had to cancel in the midst of Covid. “Before we canceled, we had already offered exhibitors the option to transfer their booth reservation to 2021, and many chose that option. After cancellation we reconfirmed, and although we were offering a 100%refund for booths, many still opted to transfer the reservation, allowing us to retain some revenue,” Jones said. “We also had a small number of exhibitors offer to ‘donate’ their fees, or maybe just the additional registrations they purchased. We did not ask for donations from exhibitors, but our long-term exhibitors — 20-plus years — made that decision on their own.”

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It’s important to understand that an association’s position may be a result of its underlying contract with the convention center or hotel, Kimberly A. Pendo, Partner at Chicago Law Partners, said. “It’s possible that the hotel/convention center is holding the association’s deposits/payments to be applied toward the next show,” she said. “It’s important that associations communicate with their exhibitors to ensure mutually beneficial and positive continued relationships” in every case, she added.

Reach Robyn Jones at (734) 391-1651 or rjones@asianstudies.org; Kimberly A. Pendo at  (312) 929-1964 or kpendo@clpchicago.com