The Show Must Go On - Hurricane Sandy's Impact on Venues & Events
The Eastern half of the United States is now hard at work recovering from the devastation of hurricane Sandy. We offer our expertise and advice for venues and events as they roll up their sleeves and get back to business. The best practices herein are not limited to the hurricane affected areas and are applicable to all event organizers and venue owners.
Earlier this Summer we wrote 'Responding to a weather cancelled event' when a rare “derecho” storm swept over the East coast Our intent with that post remains the same in the aftermath of hurricane Sandy - people first.
The very idea that an event or concert is more important than a person's life is abhorrent. Event safety and the well being of patrons is to always take precedence over commerce. Only once the crisis and any resulting response to the needs of people have been properly addressed, should a venue begin to consider the first steps for a fiscal recovery.
In the past few hours, the list of events cancelled or rescheduled by hurricane Sandy has grown to number in the tens of thousands. There are several excellent sources for those in the New York and New Jersey areas, Jay Lustig's work at NJ.com immediately comes to mind.
To get a sense of the size of the area that hurricane Sandy has affected, one need only to note the distance between these two similar headlines (1,345 miles):
Listing all of the cancelled or postponed events is obviously beyond the scope of this post, but we know there are three things every event impacted by the weather must do. Communicate, facilitate and accommodate.
We cannot stress this enough. Even if you have no concrete instructions to provide to your patrons, state as such. It is far better to make a polite statement that you are working on an issue than silence. As the situation at your venue improves and decisions on rescheduling or refunds are made, communicate that in real-time. Do not wait. Make use of all the communication channels right away and frequently. Update the status of an event every hour if need be and avoid long intervals of silence.
Also, your patrons will have little interest in information that only pertains to your revenue ("We are waiting for our insurance agent to arrive..."). As selfish as it seems, ticket buyers have little concern for your finances and will only want information about the performance/event they have purchased tickets for. An exception would be if a severe circumstance like a post-storm fire has dramatically affected the venue itself. Patrons can set their own expectations if they know the venue has incurred extensive damage ("The fire department has not finished inspecting the building. More soon.")
With your communications being made frequently across every available channel, next is to facilitate the re-scheduling of your events. The weather cancelled event dates can be incorporated into the "recovery window" of time that is generally one week or less. Any longer and the overlap on established, future event dates becomes impractical for everyone involved. Event patrons do not have the luxury of "flying stand-by" like the airlines enjoy. They have multiple airplanes at their disposal but you have only one venue.
When there are printed paper tickets for a re-scheduled show already in the hands of your patrons, the admissions process at the gate must be adaptable. If the ticketing software you use supports barcode scanners the process will be relatively painless. A savvy event staff and box office employee can scan and see the original performance that was postponed and take the appropriate action quickly. Paper tickets that do not have barcodes will be a much more arduous task on the day of the re-scheduled event.
Should you be unable to facilitate a postponed show on a new date, and forced to cancel it outright, the move to make is to be as accommodating to the ticket buyers as possible.
Allowing ticket buyers to exchange their tickets to a cancelled event for another performance is preferred but sometimes that just is not possible and refunds must be issued. No business owner likes the idea of a refund. If no other alternative is possible, bite the bullet and serve the needs of your customer. An overly strict "NO REFUNDS" policy for events cancelled by the weather will make for bad publicity. It would be wise to make a special exception for catastrophic weather cancellations and incur the losses in the short term, amortizing them over the long term - possibly in the form of a reasonable per-ticket fee ("Sandy damage repair fund fee - One dollar")
One high profile event doing everything it can to accommodate patrons in Sandy's aftermath is FunFunFun Music Festival in Austin Texas. The event organizers have several acts who reside in the area affected by hurricane Sandy and not all are able to fulfill their appearance obligations. FunFunFun is first communicating to ticket holders frequently about the performers' status, then they are adjusting their policies to reflect the situation.
A ThunderTix staff favorite, Gregg Michael Gillis aka Girl Talk, resides in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania. The Pittsburgh travel hub had most of its flights cancelled in the past 72 hours. Girl Talk has made a heroic effort to travel to Austin and perform at FunFunFun on the scheduled date. But some FunFunFun tickets holders on the East coast have not fared as well as Girl Talk. FunFunFun has been telling ticket holders unable to make it to the festival because of hurricane Sandy to re-sell their tickets on ebay or Craigslist, but providing a refund would be even better.
The Show Must Go On
Your event must be ready in the future for situations not in your control. Even if you were not impacted by Sandy, the ever increasing violent weather instances across the country should be reason enough for you to review your emergency contingencies and ticket policies. Always be prepared!
What do you think? Should a destructive force like a hurricane Sandy or a wildfire be reason enough for you to alter your current ticket policy for postponements or refunds? Have you heard of a venue or event going above and beyond to serve its patrons needs after a severe weather event?