For Michael Key, the Durham, N.C.-based director of meetings and incentives for Monumental Life Insurance Co., Tuesday, September 11, was the beginning of an unprecedented week. He had recently increased the room guarantee at the Moon Palace Cancun from 650 to 800 to accommodate additional qualifiers for Monumental's 2001 Chairman's Round Table Conference, scheduled for September 20 to 25. But airlines were grounded, airports shut down, travelers were afraid of things they couldn't explain, and no one could imagine what the next day — let alone the next week — would bring. “Nothing in my CMP training had prepared me for this,” says Key.

It took 10 days of intense deliberation for Monumental to cancel the conference. “We followed daily news and travel reports. We asked for input from our field managers and leaders. We had to weigh many factors. In the end, the safety and security of our employees was our primary concern,” says Rosemary Riesett, second vice president, sales communication.

Although Key estimates that at least half of the qualifiers would have canceled on their own, the company still had to deal with hundreds of disappointed agents. “Our field force worked hard to make the sales targets needed to qualify for Cancun,” says Key. “It was a big incentive and reward. They were angry that terrorists had forced us to cancel their trip. Of course, they understood why. A trip to Cancun was insignificant compared to the destruction and loss of lives in New York and Washington, but they were still disappointed.”

There is a glint of light at the end of the tunnel. The Moon Palace agreed to apply Monumental's deposits of $800,000 to new conference dates in January 2002.

“The field force was pleased to hear the good news,” says Key. “They are now looking forward to the unexpected midwinter break in Cancun. We just hope the world situation doesn't again change our plans.”

Suppliers Kick In

Key has only good things to say about the way Monumental Life's suppliers responded to the crisis. He stayed in touch with Jack Davito, the Moon Palace's director of insurance industry sales, during the hectic weeks following 9/11, and the relationship paid off. “They already had our money — and a contract that said they could keep it. But management said, ‘Let's see how we can help.’

“I asked if we could look at some future dates. They offered dates in November and December, but we couldn't put a conference of this size back together that quickly. So they suggested January — their peak month! They are honoring our contracted rates and giving us nights they know they can sell at almost double the price.”

The airlines also worked with Key to make sure more than $700,000 in airfare was not totally lost. “American and US Airways refunded all of our money,” he says. “Continental and Delta gave us one year to use their tickets. We did lose a small amount from some airfares purchased as part of tour packages, but that was less than 10 percent of our total airfare expenditure.”

For Monumental's meeting planning team, the rescheduled dates mean four more months of intense planning for a major conference that was just days away from being delivered. “New registration forms had to be sent to all qualifiers. Guest names may change if vacations can't be rescheduled. Flights must be rebooked for everyone planning to attend. Those without passports must now get them — they are now required to cross the border,” says Key. “But we are all committed to do whatever it takes to deliver our Cancun conference and reward our people for jobs well done.”