Meetings Industry Feels Impact of Shutdown

Already hurting from sequestration, the meetings and events industry is further challenged by the gridlock in Washington

  • by Jessica Boudevin
  • Published: October 8, 2013

Several events at Walter E. Washington Convention Center have faced cancellation due to the government shutdown. (Photo from Events DC)

With approximately 800,000 government workers furloughed and all federally-run facilities closed, the effect of the United States Federal Government shutdown on the meetings and events industry continues to swell. Not only is the federal government a large buyer of convention space, but many government employees travel for conferences each year.

Steven Adelman of Adelman Law Group said meetings canceled or postponed due to the government shutdown are a result of a “force majeure event,” meaning that the cause of the cancellation is outside the control of the organizers. Adelman said that instead of imposing harsh penalties on organizers who faced cancellation because of the government shutdown, "the smart business decision was to credit them their fee toward the same meeting next year."

Joyce Watson, director of convention services at Events DC, said that Walter E. Washington Convention Center’s one-day Symantec Government Symposium in Washington was canceled after several of their high-end speakers were furloughed. Former Secretary of Defense and CIA Director Leon Panetta was scheduled to speak to the group. 

“The integrity of their program just couldn’t happen because their attendee base wasn’t able to come,” said Watson, who added that the event was rescheduled to March 11 at a local hotel. “We’re looking to give them some sort of credit for the same meeting next year.”

The American Association for the Advancement of Science and its AAAS Auditorium in Washington have also felt the effects of the shutdown. The Data to Knowledge to Action event organized by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy was supposed to be held Oct. 2-3; however, the organizers are now looking to reschedule to sometime in November due to speakers and attendees being furloughed.

Also, the Oct. 7 symposium on Microbiomes in the Built Environment, organized by AAAS with sponsorship of an Alfred P. Sloan Foundation grant has been postponed until further notice.

“Assuming the OSTP event is rescheduled as planned, there will be no financial impact for us,” said Earl Lane, AAAS’ senior Communications officer. “Similarly, the AAAS-Sloan microbiomes event will be paid for by the Sloan grant. The funding will stay in place, though it will be stretched somewhat because of the extra staff time required.”

Though he said the direct financial impact on AAAS Auditorium is minimal, there are several “difficult to calculate, but real” costs to attendees, including hotel cancellation fees and airfare change fees.

It’s a difficult situation for venues and organizations to handle.

“People are trying to be understanding but, at the end of the day, if it’s something that’s going to cost them, they have to be reasonable in terms of what they can do,” said Watson.

wash_conv_ctr.pngWalter E. Washington Convention Center has more than 700,000 sq. ft. of exhibit space. (Photo by Events DC)

Walter E. Washington Convention Center will host the 2013 Association of the United States Army Annual Meeting and Exposition, Oct. 21-23.

“Originally, we expected to do more than $1 million in food and beverage, but exhibitors may not be willing to spend that kind of money if they don’t have the same audience level,” said Watson. “It will affect us, but we’ll work with them.”

This isn’t the first big hit to the meetings industry this year.

Many members of the Society of Government Meeting Professionals, SGMP, were already impacted by sequestration, or budget cuts, from earlier in the year. The shutdown is bringing the challenges of the meeting industry to another level.

“An overwhelming majority of federal government meetings have been canceled this week and for the near future, so the shutdown negatively affects our supplier members who provide facilities and services to these meetings,” said SGMP Executive Director & CEO Rob Bergeron, who added that he couldn’t give specific examples of canceled meetings because SGMP’s members, and their supervisors, “are quite hesitant in the current industry climate to put a light on their own agency.”

SMG’s network of convention centers is seeing an impact due to the government shutdown, also.

“I am aware of at least six outright cancellations, with numerous other events obviously impacted by regular attendance,” said Gregg Caren, SMG Exec.VP, convention and exhibition centers, who added that the shutdown has caused a trickle effect.

If the events have government attendees who are no longer able to travel, the lower attendance hurts exhibitors and sponsors.

“Each of these events includes a few hundred to a few thousand attendees,” added Caren. “This is on top of the sequester earlier this year, which had some first-round effects on events that we are still feeling today.”


Some events scheduled for federal facilities have been moved to venues such as Carnegie Library At Mt. Vernon Square in Washington. (Photo by Events DC)

Some nongovernment buildings are seeing a windfall in light of events having to move. One of Events DC’s venues, Carnegie Library at Mt. Vernon Square in Washington, has scheduled a number of additional special events for its 75,000 sq. ft. of event space.

“It’s not uncommon for events in D.C. to utilize the Smithsonian museums, which account for around 90 percent of the museums in the city,” said Watson. Since the Smithsonian facilities are shut down, VIP receptions, dinners and events are being moved to new locations.

“We’ve actually picked up some dinners and events at Carnegie Library because we’re still operating when the Smithsonians are not,” Watson added. “We have an exclusive on catering, so we’re working with planners on how to keep the integrity of their events.”

Even though it’s caused additional events to schedule at one of the Events DC venues, Watson certainly isn’t a fan of the government shutdown.

“I have the same attitude that I think everybody across the country has,” said Watson, “that it’s ridiculous and it would be great if everybody could just get back to work.”

Interviewed for this story: Steve Adelman, (480) 209-2426; Rob Bergeron, (703) 566-3630; Gregg Caren, (610) 729-7922; Earl Lane, (202) 326-6431; Joyce Watson, (202) 249-3082

  • by Jessica Boudevin
  • Published: October 8, 2013