Government Shutdown: What It Means for Meetings

With federal employees on furlough and unable to attend meetings, some associations are dealing with reduced attendance and speaker cancellations at their events. One association meeting planner gives advice on how to reduce the impact.

It’s day three of the partial government shutdown, and its effects are being felt throughout the meetings industry, including among associations.

While she doesn’t know of any associations that have had to cancel an event over the last couple of days, Leslie Thornton, president of Courtesy Associates, a subsidiary of association management company SmithBucklin, said she’s heard from associations dealing with the impact.

“What we’re primarily seeing, and what we’re anticipating in the future depending on how long this goes on, is lower attendance among our groups that have government attendees,” Thornton said.  “A lot of our groups also have high-level speakers [from the federal government] who are now at the last minute not going to be able to speak.”

To help associations mitigate these effects on current and future events, Thornton advised organizations to be transparent with all stakeholders and plan for the worst-case scenario.

“Communicate, communicate, communicate,” Thornton said. “What we’re trying to do proactively with our meetings that we’re not in the middle of right now but could be impacted in the next few weeks by the government shutdown is communicating with our clients, speakers, attendees, sponsors, exhibitors, venues, and  all of our supplier partners in advance.”

Thornton suggested letting partners know what percentage of attendees are government employees and may not be able to attend events.

She and her group are also creating backup plans for upcoming events.  “We’re going through complete schedules of meetings that are going on this month and looking with a magnifying glass at what possible implications the shutdown could have on every piece of these meetings,” Thornton said. “I’m not a pessimistic person, but sometimes in this business you have to anticipate the worst and hope for the best.”

Associations with events scheduled in venues owned or operated by the federal government may be forced to find another location. Sarah Maciejewski, director of communications at Destination DC, said in an email that the conventions and visitors bureau is working with its partners to make a list of alternative meeting spaces available should events scheduled for federally run sites need to be moved.

Although some associations are seeing lower attendance or are having to reshuffle and find new speakers or venues, the impact of the shutdown is not as bad as it could have been, Thornton said.

“The government market in general has been so different since the conference spending scandal last spring,” Thornton said. “The market never came back from that, and it will never come back in the same way. So to some extent I guess it’s a blessing that we didn’t have this massive amount of meetings that were going to be cancelled right and left on behalf of the government.”


Katie Bascuas

By Katie Bascuas

Katie Bascuas is associate editor of Associations Now. MORE

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