There is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all cancellation policy, but there are some general tips that can help you find the right policy for your event. Creating a cancellation fee policy presents companies with a tricky balance to calibrate: on the one hand, there are advantages to a more punitive policy. No one wants to lose money and resources due to cancellations and the more a customer has to lose over a cancellation, the less likely they are to cancel. On the other hand, if your policy is too punitive, it may damage essential relationships. You’ll want to be able to show that you can accommodate the unexpected in people’s lives. Ultimately, what you want is a policy that will protect both your company and your client relationships.
Here’s what to remember when crafting your cancellation fee policy:
1. Communicate clearly
No matter what kind of policy you create, clarity and communication are key. It’s important to state your cancellation terms in your event listing—this will protect your relationships and ensure that registrants and exhibitors are not surprised or confused if you cannot offer them a full refund. Then, restate your terms in the confirmation email that your clients will receive after registering.
Clear communication can also help prevent future cancellations. Sending reminders, not only for the event but also cancellation policy, in the months and weeks leading up to your event can help prevent a last-minute cancellation.
In addition to planning the timing of your communications, offer flexibility in the way in which reminders are delivered. Ask your registrants if they prefer a phone call, email or text message. Considering the needs of your clients will help to prevent cancellations and strengthen relationships.
2. Know your boundaries, customize accordingly
When writing your cancellation policy, ask yourself these crucial questions:
What kind of refund can you provide?
Many event managers choose a policy that offers different time frames for different refunds: 31 days or more before the event, get 75% back, get 50% back. If you cannot offer a refund, offer to apply the registration fee to a future conference.
Do you need to create different policies for fees for registrants and exhibitors?
Consider the relationships and the financial loss and gain of a potential cancellation. You can choose what’s right for you, but this information must be clearly stated and communicated.
How far in advance of the event start date would you like registrants to inform you of their cancellations?
24 days? 72 hours? A week? Think about your contracts and commitments with the venue and vendors, and base your policy for attendees on your own deadlines.
3. Collect and use your data
To create the best policy and prevent future cancellations, it’s important to understand why people cancel. Start tracking cancellations and see if there are trends. Are registrants canceling last minute, or months in advance? If your registrants and exhibitors cancel primarily because of unanticipated circumstances, then a more punitive policy will only upset them. If you’re getting cancellations because your registrants were unable to accommodate the date in their schedule, then it’s worth your time to evaluate your communication strategy with clients.