Events are a fantastic way to fill rooms and generate income in property. If a festival is happening in the local area, or a wedding is being held onsite, demand will spike for accommodation that is located conveniently nearby. But what happens when an event is cancelled, particularly if it’s at the last minute?
Responding to unforeseen circumstances
The annual Boardmasters Festival in Newquay, Cornwall, was cancelled this summer because of storm fears. Organisers pulled the plug just hours before it was due to start after the Met Office warned of wild weather, including heavy rain and high winds. Around 50,000 revellers were left with no festival to go to – and there was a knock-on effect for local properties.
Cindy Stockwell owns Jasmine House, a small B&B in central Newquay. Six out of her eight rooms had been booked for Boardmasters, and guests who had been due to come to the festival contacted her to ask if she would forgo the cancellation fee. “I agreed to waive the fee,” she says. “I didn’t have to, but it wasn’t their fault that the festival was cancelled. I did it out of the goodness of my heart.”
It wasn’t their fault that the festival was cancelled. I did it out of the goodness of my heart.
Lumped with six empty rooms, Stockwell opened them back up online. “I am noticing an increasing number of guests booking rooms at the last-minute, so I took a gamble on being able to fill them quickly. It paid off – I filled all six rooms within the day.” Stockwell lost £200 from the festival cancellation, but says the peak season timing worked in her favour. “If it had been any other time of year I would have lost a lot of money. But Newquay is busy in August [when the festival was held] and people always need rooms then.”
Stockwell’s advice to another property faced with guests cancelling following an event being axed would be to take the first night as a deposit but waive the fee for the second night. “This will protect you, in case you don’t get booked out. Also consider your insurance – it’s not always worth claiming as your annual rate could go up. You need to do the maths and weigh up whether it’s worth making a claim.”
Flexibility is also key. Stockwell usually has a two-night minimum policy, but opened her rooms up for one-night stays when the festival was cancelled. “Booking.com’s discount for last-minute reservations, combined with my offer for a one-night stay, was a real incentive for people to book. Accommodations need to look for solutions, be flexible and respond quickly to something like this in order to protect themselves.”
In some cases, events are cancelled within the property itself. Glenapp Castle, a luxury hotel in Ayrshire, Scotland, has 17 rooms that can be booked exclusively for one party, such as for a wedding or big birthday celebration. With the average cost of a summer wedding – including exclusive hire of the castle – starting at £25,000, the hotel takes steps to protect itself financially.
“We have a robust payment policy, and we always suggest to brides and grooms that they take out wedding insurance, especially if their wedding is a few years down the line,” says Jill Chalmers, Managing Director at Glenapp Castle. “It’s a delicate conversation to have, but it means that if for whatever reason the wedding gets cancelled, their insurance takes care of any loss, and payments to the hotel are not affected. We have to protect ourselves, but the couple needs protection too.”"Ensure that the booking and payment terms and conditions are clear to the customer" Photo by: Katie O'Lone, Glenapp Castle
Glenapp takes a 50% deposit on confirmation of the event or wedding. If the wedding is three or more years away then the hotel can be more flexible, and might take a smaller percentage upfront. The total amount must be paid 30 to 60 days in advance of the event.
Chalmers, who has seen just one last-minute wedding cancellation in almost three years at Glenapp, says: “My advice to other properties hosting events or weddings would be to ensure that the booking and payment terms and conditions are clear to the customer. Discuss these openly during the booking process and with transparency so everyone is clear of the agreement they are entering into.”
Making customers aware that wedding or event insurance is available is also a good idea. Chalmers says: “This gives the customer peace of mind that, should anything untoward happen, it is covered.”
- If an event cancellation occurs, being flexible and adjusting standard policies could help you fill an unexpectedly empty room
- Guests affected by the cancellation of an external event will likely appreciate gestures of goodwill but remember to protect your business in the process
- If you host events like weddings at your property, make sure the customers are aware of insurance, particularly if there is a long booking window
- Make sure you have a clear payment policy and ensure your booking terms and conditions are communicated to the customer