We all know that unforeseen circumstances can get in the way of an event. This was especially obvious in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, which led to an unprecedented number of event cancellations.
Canceled events can be confusing for attendees, especially when communication from the event creator isn’t clear. On the other hand, a well-executed cancellation can showcase the integrity of your brand.
So what should you do when faced with the difficult decision to cancel an event? Learn how to cancel your event gracefully and get our tips to turn an unfortunate situation into an opportunity to delight with above-and-beyond customer service.
1. Switch to a virtual format instead
If 2020 taught creators anything, it’s that there are many events that can be moved online and still be successful. If an in-person event is not possible because of safety regulations, consider whether it would be appropriate to take your event online.
Thanks to the availability of livestreaming platforms like Zoom or Facebook Live, virtual events can work for musical performances, author readings, and corporate conferences. Even events centered around cuisine can work virtually if you send the food or beverages directly to your attendees at home. You may want to think about adjusting ticket prices or giving partial refunds if the event was intended to be in-person and goes virtual instead. With appropriate pricing, your attendees will still feel they’re getting their money’s worth.
Not sure where to get started with planning a virtual event, or taking an in-person event online? Get some tips from our essential guide for hosting a virtual event or our list of virtual event ideas.
2. Communicate with your attendees and stop taking sales
If you’re sure you have to cancel your event, the first important step is to communicate with your attendees and stop selling tickets. Your ticket buyers are your number one priority, and you should tell them as soon as you’ve made the final decision.
Determining how far in advance to communicate with attendees is never easy, but ideally, you’ll give at least 24 hours’ notice. However, the more notice — whether it’s a week, or a month — the better. This is especially true if attendees are traveling far and need time to re-arrange travel plans, hotels, and transport.
Email your attendees as soon as you can, and if possible, give everyone a call. Some folks aren’t always checking their inbox, and emails often go into Spam folders, so take all possible routes (even social media) to communicate this critical information. Your website, marketing emails, or other promotional materials are also good channels to make the announcement.
When emailing attendees, be clear about refund amounts, when you’ll start processing refunds, and when attendees should expect to see refunds credited to their accounts. Lastly, simply signing off the email with a name and title (“_______, Event Director”) instead of your event name adds a human touch to your delivery.
Here’s an example email to get you started:
This message is to inform you that this year’s Corgi Festival has been canceled in keeping with local regulations regarding the COVID-19 pandemic and large social gatherings. The safety of attendees, pets, and crew always comes first.
We sincerely apologize for any inconvenience this may cause and look forward to greeting you, and your furry friends, next year.
We are issuing full refunds and you’ll receive an email within the next 1-2 days to confirm your refund has been issued. At that point, it’ll take 5-7 banking days for your funds to be available for use. Only primary ticket purchasers will receive a refund. For questions, please contact us: [https://www.dfloenteventsgrp.com/contact].
DFLO Entertainment Events Group
If you’re unsure where to start, we have multiple event cancellation notice examples you can refer to.
3. Issue full refunds
If you charged for tickets, you should issue a full refund to attendees — and start the process quickly. If your event runs for multiple days and only one day is canceled, it’s perfectly fine to offer a partial or prorated refund to multi-day ticket holders. A partial refund may also make sense if you’re moving your event online, as a consideration for the change in what you’ll be providing to your attendees.
Postponing the event rather than canceling? As long as you have a date and venue in place, you can offer to transfer their spot to the new event. Offer the refund too — that new event date may not work for everyone.
One tip here: You may want to tell attendees to talk to their bank or credit card provider to check on the status of refunds. Make sure attendees know not to send you their personal account or card information to check on refund statuses.
No event organizer wants to have to cancel an event. But when done in an open, responsible way, cancellation doesn’t have to be the end of your event. Attendees and creators have both had to adapt to more event cancellation announcements during the COVID-19 pandemic, so your attendees are more likely to understand why your event was canceled than ever. Whether you’re canceling for health and safety reasons or bad weather, the experience can provide you with opportunities for growth, and may even form the foundation for a very successful event in the future.
Even with due diligence, there still may be some things that are out of your control, but you can follow best practices to resolve inevitable challenges faster and protect your attendees from the chaos. Our COVID-19 Event Safety Playbook can help you plan ahead and mitigate future risks.