Coronavirus FAQ

ASJA 2020 NYC Conference

last updated March 16, 2020

Frequently Asked Questions

Deciding not to hold a 500+ attendee conference in New York City is no small task, even under the threat of a pandemic. The ASJA Board of Trustees appreciates everyone’s patience and understanding as we considered all of the consequences of making such a decision. Your positive responses to this process and decision affirm ASJA as a truly special organization made up of generous and kind people. Thank you.

We thought it only fair to help answer some of the questions you might have about how and why we made this difficult decision. In addition, there are the logistical aspects to consider. This page will be updated as more information is available. If you have an additional question that you would like answered here, please email asjaoffice@asja.org.

Why did the ASJA Board of Directors decide not to hold the 2020 spring conference?

We hope the answer to this question is obvious by now. During the week of March 9, 2020, the World Health Organization had declared the coronavirus a pandemic, New York City had banned gatherings of groups of 500 or more, and conference attendees had shared that they were increasingly concerned about traveling. By midweek, it was abundantly clear that we could not go forward with the conference as scheduled. The only responsible option was not to hold the conference in April.

Why did it take so long to make this decision?

Originally, we planned to announce a decision about the conference by April 2. At the time of this announcement, the United States was still attempting to contain the virus. It seemed that this was the most conservative date we could offer. All of that changed the week of March 9.

While the decision to not hold the conference became clear very quickly, we needed to review our contract with the hotel and develop alternative plans. There was no question that we would not hold the conference, but as stewards of ASJA’s fiscal health, the board and staff needed to be clear on what the financial consequences would be.

Please know that we were not putting finances ahead of our attendee’s health.

This was a matter of balancing two very critical responsibilities within the shortest time period possible. We wanted to come to our attendees with a plan for moving forward. We felt that it was worth spending five days to research our options and come to a decision about whether or how the conference could be held in 2020.

To make this decision, we gathered a tremendous amount of information, including the possibility of rescheduling the conference for later in 2020, the fiscal consequences of not holding an in-person conference in 2020, and the possibility of holding a virtual conference. Because this was an unprecedented event, no one was prepared for the onslaught of schedule changes. Despite the chaos, Kellen (our management company) and our hotel worked overtime to get us the information we needed to make short- and long-term plans.

Early in the week of March 9, we planned to have an Executive Committee meeting on Friday, March 13 and an emergency Board meeting on Monday, March 15. By Thursday, it was clear that we needed to decide on Friday, rather than Monday. The Executive Committee voted to not hold a conference in 2020 and made that recommendation to the Board, which approved the proposal. Within an hour, we alerted our members and others with this decision.

What contractual considerations did the board need to consider?

All event contracts contain a Force Majeure clause, which allows for cancellation of a venue (and other amenities) with no fiscal consequences in the event of something truly unavoidable. At first thought, it seemed that we might be able to invoke this clause. However, it became clear soon enough that we could not. Therefore, we were beholden to other clauses of the contract:

  1. reschedule the conference by March 18 (for a date before April 19, 2022) and incur no penalty;
  2. cancel before March 18 and incur a $30,000 penalty;
  3. cancel after March 18 and incur a $90,000 penalty

We can thank our management company, Kellen, for the first option, which is not part of the Marriott contract usually. Because Kellen negotiates all of our contracts, we were better protected financially. We ultimately decided to take the first option, opting to reschedule the 2020 conference for 2022 (the exact date to be determined). (We have already contracted with the Marriott to host our 2021 conference.)

Why was the conference not scheduled for some time in the fall of 2020?

This was perhaps the most difficult decision we had to make. Because we elected to reschedule the conference, we could technically hold it at any available time between now and April 19, 2022. The hotel had three available dates in July and two in early November. To meet the terms of our contract, we are required to schedule for the same days of the week (Sunday and Monday). Rescheduling for July felt too risky. While experts have predicted the virus to peak in mid-May, we can’t be certain that this prediction will come true.

In a discussion about hosting the conference in November 2020, we were presented with other challenges. First, we were concerned that the virus threat might not be over even then or at least that the country might be suffering from the consequences of the pandemic for longer than the pandemic itself. Second, we considered the effects on our volunteers, who have already spent months on developing the April conference schedule and activities. We didn’t want those efforts to go to waste, and we were uncertain that we could replicate the conference for the fall. We were also aware that our volunteers (in particular our conference co-chairs and our Client Connections co-chairs) had committed to their responsibilities for a limited period of time. Last, we worried that our members and others would not be able to attend a conference in the fall of 2020 and another in the spring of 2021. With conferences only six months apart, it seemed that we might be robbing our spring conference in order to have a fall conference.

Ultimately, the board opted to meet our contractual obligations by scheduling a conference in 2022, rather than the fall of 2020. The financial results of this decision will never be fully known. We can expect to lose as much as $16,000 in revenue by not holding a conference in 2020. However, we might have lost at least as much by holding two national conferences only six months apart. In addition, we risked volunteer fatigue by holding two national conferences so close together. As is true for so many difficult decisions, we could only make the best decision possible with the information we had at the moment. All of our choices required risk and compromise.

Why isn’t a virtual conference scheduled for April 19-20, 2020?

Several ASJA leaders met with experts in this field. At one point, we briefly considered holding the in-person conference for as many people as could make it and live-streaming from the hotel for those who could not. We decided against this plan as the threat of the virus continued to grow. Within hours, it became clear that no one should be travelling to New York City. In addition, we learned that the costs involved in live-streaming would be close to $20,000, which is not in our budget.

We also considered hosting the conference remotely and online on April 19-20. Several ASJA leaders met with an expert in virtual conferences, who recommended that we not host a two-day conference virtually. Instead, we’re considering how to roll out elements of our conference online over several months. We have not begun discussing the details of this option, and we ask that you stay tuned for more information. We will likely need volunteers to help with various tasks.

Finally, we recognize that the biggest draw for the NYC conference is Client Connections. There is no way to replicate that experience via live-streaming at the conference site. However, ASJA has been offering Virtual Client Connections for several years now. The Client Connections team is eager to offer the in-person meetings virtually in the coming months. Again, stay tuned for more details. We will share them when the process is finalized and ready for registration.

What about the 2020 ASJA Awards?

Our awards program will go on as expected, minus the in-person award ceremony on April 19, 2020. At this time, we’re not certain when or how we will honor our award recipients. Honorees will be notified via email within the next month. More details will be posted here and in other ASJA publications, when they are available.

Note: ASJA Award fees are not connected to the conference, and therefore will not be refunded.

How will ASJA manage conference registration refunds?

ASJA will offer one of two options: a full refund or a deferment of the 2020 registration fees to the 2021 conference. We ask that you wait to contact the Kellen office until we announce the process for requesting a refund or deferment, unless you are in dire financial straits and need your refund immediately. We want to be sure to process these requests efficiently and without hassle. Thank you for your patience on this matter. We should be able to announce the process no later than March 23, 2020.

How do I cancel and get a refund on my hotel reservation?

Full refunds are available to anyone who registered via the ASJA website. You should have already received a cancellation email from Marriott. If not, check the bottom of your confirmation letter for instructions on how to cancel your reservation and receive a refund.

If you reserved your room differently, refer to those cancellation policies. It appears that Marriott Bonvoy members are able to cancel their reservations without penalty.

How do I cancel my transportation?

Refer to your confirmation letter for information on how to cancel air or ground transportation. Those with travel insurance can invoke those clauses. Amtrak and multiple airlines are offering various options for cancelling tickets, including full refunds and vouchers. Contact your carrier for details.

I had Broadway tickets for before or after the conference. What can I do about those?

Broadway shows have been cancelled through April 12, 2020. Contact the individual theatre or ticket seller for details on how to get refunds for those shows or whether or not refunds are available for after April 12, 2020.

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