Q: I own a small business and every year I exhibit at a major trade show. As usual I had booked a year in advance, and as usual I paid a sizeable deposit upfront for the pitch. Then COVID-19 hit us and the exhibition was postponed. The organisers contacted me and gave me a new date, but then that also was postponed. And so we have gone on.
Meanwhile my business has been badly affected by the lockdowns, staff going into self-isolation or shielding, problems with supply and delivery and cancelled orders. As there was still no sign of a firm date for the exhibition I decided to try and cancel and get my deposit back, but the organisers have refused. Where do I stand on the basis that they cannot give me a date?
A: Unfortunately, this is a situation affecting a great many businesses. The problem is that the organisers have postponed, not cancelled, and their reason for postponing is due to matters beyond their control.
You need to check the terms of the contract to see whether it allows the organisers any flexibility in respect of the date the exhibition will take place. If it does not, then it may well be that the organisers are in breach of their obligations under the terms of the contract by failing to provide what was agreed. This being the case, you could be entitled to cancel and get a refund.
In the first instance, however, you could point out to the organisers that whilst they, like you, are probably feeling the pinch of the financial challenges brought on by the coronavirus pandemic, and whilst the postponement is not their fault, it would be in their best interests to be sympathetic to your situation as they will be relying on maintaining their reputation to encourage future exhibitors to book with them.
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