No Refunds from HIMSS 2020 Annual Conference Exhibitors Becomes Partial Credit Towards HIMSS 2021 and 2022

I’ve been needing to write a post about the HIMSS 2020 Conference Cancellation for weeks since they announced that exhibitors would get no refunds from HIMSS (keep reading for the latest update). Between being overwhelmed with COVID-19 Health IT coverage and just the sick feeling I get thinking about HIMSS being cancelled, I’ve avoided writing about it.

As you all know, here at Healthcare IT Today, we’re all health IT all day, every day (and my wife would argue every night). We believe that technology should and will have a transformational effect on healthcare and when implemented in the right way it does. It’s no surprise that going to the HIMSS Annual Conference with all its faults is a great event for us where we get together with 45,000 of our closest friends. We learn from people doing the hard work of health IT. We hear about new innovations. We connect with smart people that inform the content we share with the Healthcare IT Today community.

With that in mind, it was really hard news to hear that HIMSS had chosen to not refund any exhibitor fees that were paid (Full Disclosure: Healthcare IT Today is one of these exhibitors). The only remedy offered was a HIMSS20 Digital event which includes a MapYourShow listing.  I haven’t met anyone that believes this will provide any meaningful leads.

To add insult to injury, Freeman who does booth logistics wasn’t refunding the booth expenses for most exhibitors. They’ve later gone back a little on that and said they’re not refunding anything that was already completed. Although, I’m still waiting for proof that they’d done our carpet and put out our table and chairs before the show cancelled. Furthermore, the convention center also offered no refunds for things like power that every booth has to buy. And some hotels have chosen not to refund exhibitors either.

Long story short, the HIMSS20 cancellation was leaving exhibitors with a really bad taste in their mouth. Exhibitors were out thousands and up to hundreds of thousands of dollars (maybe a million?) with what seemed like no compassion from HIMSS for the situation. Most people I talked to in our healthcare marketing community were sick that HIMSS original announcement didn’t offer any real remedy. They understood they probably wouldn’t get most of their money back, but that HIMSS would offer no discount off HIMSS21 and instead would call on their non-profit status was tough to take and that’s putting it lightly.

In better news today, HIMSS has announced a partial remedy for exhibitors as follows:

We are very happy to share that Exhibitors will be able to use 25% of their total spend from HIMSS20 for HIMSS21 and HIMSS22! 15% to be applied to HIMSS21 and 10% to HIMSS22.*

For Startup** and University Row Exhibitors, 100% of your total spend on HIMSS20 can be used for HIMSS21 (50%) and HIMSS22 (50%)!

*To be eligible for the HIMSS22 financial remedy, the Exhibitor must exhibit at HIMSS21. Please speak to your HIMSS sales representative for further information.

**Applies to Startup Exhibitors that were approved through the formal application process with HIMSS.

They also noted their previous “remedies” of applying paid exhibitor staff and client badges to HIMSS21 and the listing on the MayYourShow section of HIMSS20 Digital.

In this announcement they also offered the following about Hotel Refunds that haven’t happened:

Regarding hotel reservations, we have learned that while some hotels have already refunded attendees we understand other hotels have not. For those who have not received a refund, we are sorry the hotel appears to be giving you the run-around. We are puzzled why the hotel would send you back to HIMSS when it holds your deposit and we have informed them, on more than one occasion, that the decision as to whether to issue a refund is theirs, and their decision alone, as it is based upon the hotel’s cancellation policy, not HIMSS. We wish there was more we could do. We will update our website FAQs if updated information becomes available.

It’s unfortunate that this wasn’t the initial response to exhibitors from HIMSS.  It’s good that they’re listening to exhibitor complaints, but I fear that this may be too little too late for many vendors.

Just to be complete in our coverage, HIMSS had previously announced that HIMSS20 registrations would be automatically applied to HIMSS21 registrations as per their cancellation policy.  Many have complained that the HIMSS20 registration couldn’t be applied to a new person at HIMSS21.  The credit had to be applied to the same person which is unfortunate for many organizations who go through turnover of staff.

Needless to say, it’s going to be interesting to see what it’s like at HIMSS21.  How many vendors will continue to exhibit?  Will vendors shrink the size of their booths because of this?  Will not exhibiting at HIMSS20 hurt company pipelines or will it illustrate that companies shouldn’t be spending that much money at HIMSS?  Will COVID-19 make it hard for companies to know the answer to this question?  No doubt there are still more questions than answers and COVID-19 isn’t helping that situation.

It’s true that HIMSS is more than the conference and does some policy advocacy work as they noted in the remedy email, but that’s not the reason most people exhibit at the HIMSS Annual Conference.  They do it for the leads.  They do it for the exposure.  They do it for the press.  They do it for the connections to partners, their own customers, investors, and potential acquirers.  Only time will tell if these new offers from HIMSS to exhibitors will be enough to bring exhibitors back in 2021.

Let us know what you think in the comments.  Will you be at HIMSS21 in Las Vegas?  Will your company be exhibiting?  Will you be changing how you exhibit if you are planning to exhibit?  Will you be holding off on a HIMSS21 decision until later in the year?  Let us know in the comments and on Twitter with @hcittoday.

About the author

John Lynn

John Lynn

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com, a network of leading Healthcare IT resources. The flagship blog, Healthcare IT Today, contains over 13,000 articles with over half of the articles written by John. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 20 million times.

John manages Healthcare IT Central, the leading career Health IT job board. He also organizes the first of its kind conference and community focused on healthcare marketing, Healthcare and IT Marketing Conference, and a healthcare IT conference, EXPO.health, focused on practical healthcare IT innovation. John is an advisor to multiple healthcare IT companies. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can be found on Twitter: @techguy.

14 Comments

  • I will not plan on attending HIMSS21. Hugely disappointed in HIMSS position on this whole affair at each step of the journey. Hoping another more forward thinking, better organized, and certainly better value organization picks up this gaping hole. We need a meaningful digital and “consumer to vendor team” near real-time exchange that does not have such a high price for both to pay – and not just financially. As a consumer, the conference is about multi-year strategic planning. Its about getting the right people together in a short period of time to formulate solutions to use cases and to develop new use cases without submitting ourselves to the unending torture of CRM automated next steps and junior sales cycles. Its about a focused period of time to gather the information to develop strategies, budgets, resource estimates, inter-connectivity plans, dependencies, lessons learned, and the specific names of folks that can fill the information gaps at senior levels. Here’s to the hope of a better value exchange without all the HIMSS overhead and risk.

  • That’s very surprising. We were attending AONL and they fully refunded all paid exhibitors, with an offer of a discount or credit towards next year’s event. I understand not being able to convince the hotels and ancillary vendors to do the same, but the organization itself is taking a massive loss instead of passing it through to their audience. Thank you for the insight!

  • We were also disappointed with how HIMSS handled this. Atos won’t exhibit next year and will send fewer people. The value in attending is really in the connections with clients and colleagues- we don’t need an exhibit to make that happen.

  • Thanks for sharing your insights. It will be interesting to see how HIMSS responds. Will they go back to old habits or will they take this as an opportunity to improve. I’m of course biased since I organize the EXPO.health conference, but I’ve always felt like we offer something much different than HIMSS.

  • HIMSS has handled this horribly. Hal Wolff should be forced out. In times of crisis the true character or an organization is revealed. This crisis has revealed a deep flaw in the character of HIMSS.

  • FD I sold the conference company I co-owned to HIMSS in 2017, but I had no role in the main HIMSS conference and like John was exhibiting too, so I’m out the $6k for the booth & some Freeman.
    Although I was sharing time in the booth with some clients & they’ve agreed to share the pain. The good news is that I bought a hotel room from Hotel Tonight & they & American Airlines gave me a credit for a year. Which I felt was fine.

    But I do see both sides. I’m not privy to HIMSS numbers but I assume that about 200 of their 400 employees and about half the revenue comes from the annual conference. They may or may not have any insurance (perhaps should tell us) but they for sure are taking a massive financial hit. If they have no insurance, then as an organization they are probably dead if they pay everyone back. They are also giving up revenue next year by letting people role over their tickets (prob 30-40% of revenue) and 15% of exhibits. So they may not have messaged artfully, but they’re hoping that exhibitors who are in most cases spending under 5% of their revenue and in many cases much much less, can take a little pain. After all if you faced the choice of legally keeping some of your customers’ money OR going out if business. What would you do?

    I’m not saying there are any winners here, but I am trying to help put HIMSS choice in perspective

  • Matthew,
    I’ve thought about this as well. If HIMSS had refunded everything from HIMSS20, I don’t think HIMSS21 would exist. So, I agree that if they’re facing going out of business or doing what they’ve done, there’s really not much choice. However, if that’s the case, it would have been appreciated to communicate more of that info.

    With lack of information, everyone’s minds can make up whatever reason they want and people’s imaginations are often worse than reality.

  • Does anyone know exactly what “Total” means in this sentence: “Exhibitors will be able to use 25% of their total spend from HIMSS20 for HIMSS21 and HIMSS22!”? In the email HIMSS sent out, they underlined total but didn’t define it. There’s a big difference between the spend we made directly with HIMSS for our booth space and the TOTAL spend we’re out for HIMSS20 – for booth build, Freeman, OCCC charges, travel, etc. We received very few refunds after a very large spend that was mostly lost. I have several emails asking for clarification to HIMSS at sales@himss.org and one direct employee with zero response so far. It’s also worth noting that we received an email the next day (last Thursday) asking for us to take a survey if we would be exhibiting at HIMSS21 and to sign up for booth selection by EOD Monday, April 13. If we go to HIMSS21 is hinging entirely on what TOTAL spend means yet here they are pressing us to commit without offering the details needed for an informed decision. I have loved HIMSS for many years and have empathy for the situation but I am unimpressed by how they’re handling this mess and their slow communication and response times.

  • Hi Kate,
    It’s a good question, but I think their answer will be pretty clearly just what you paid HIMSS and nothing to do with what you paid Freeman, OCCC, and Hotel. They probably kept it more general just because you could buy a booth, a meeting room, etc from HIMSS, but it’s only going to be HIMSS. I don’t think it will even be HIMSS media which is technically for-profit and not part of the HIMSS non-profit. Although, ironically I believe you can earn points by buying from HIMSS media, but you can’t get a credit from those purchases.

    Let me know if you hear otherwise, but I’ll be shocked if it’s anything but the money we paid to the HIMSS non-profit.

  • John, you are correct! I just received confirmation from HIMSS that it is HIMSS-only spend. For us, that’s the cost of booth space only – a small percentage of total spend contingent on committing to 2 more years. HIMSS said they are sending out another communication to clarify. We have some big decisions to make. Love your newsletters btw! Thank you for being so responsive.

  • Kate,
    I figured that was the case. They can’t credit money they haven’t received. The hard thing is that HIMSS is so tied to Freeman. You’d think they could use some of that connection on our behalf.

    Thanks for reading. The questions you’re asking are hard. Many in our HITMC marketing community are asking them.

  • HIMSS is doing a huge disfavor to an industry that is suffering.
    All other trade shows refunded us 100%. Including Freeman ….
    Why would Freeman refund us 100% for two other trade shows but not HIMSS? hmmm

  • I am a paying industry member of HIMSS.

    My medical device recruiting company was registered to attend (note exhibit, but attend) 30+ medical device conferences this year, 20 of which were out of our home state of Florida and 4 of were outside of the U.S. We were able to attend 9 before everything shut down. As of yesterday, we received a FULL REFUND from 100% of all conferences except HIMSS. Same for the hotels. Credit or refund from the airlines.

    The offer for attendees is for a credit ONLY – which is ONLY good for the person who originally registered. We pln out our conference travel a year in advance and I was not planning on attending HIMSS in 2021 (my daughter is getting married next year). So not only do I lose $2500 (I had paid for additional events) – I cannot send my business partner in my place.

    On my LinkedIn feed several weeks ago, I posted a very moderate and non-critical post suggesting at minimum, HIMSS should offer the ability to transfer the registration to someone else in the organization. This would give additional revenue to the hotels, airlines and restaurants in the venue area, especially given the the hotels and restaurants did the right thing by refunding everyone.

    Thank you John for this post and thread. I am cautiously optimistic that HIMSS will make a more strategic, long-view decision that positively reflects the fine organization I have known it to be decades and believe that a more flexible plan is already in the works for vendors and attendees in all classifications.

    I have a strong social media presence in the HIT and medical device space (over 400,000 via all channels, with multiple duplicates). I would never use my social media presence as a bully pulpit. Not my style. That said, I have logged screen shots of all the other medtech conferences who promptly refunded and would compose a factual and non-inflammatory article thanking the conferences who offered refunds. They all deserve gratitude for a good business decision and I will focus of the thankfulness aspect without disparaging HIMSS. Again, not my style.

    As a small business owner with 15 families counting on me for their livelihoods, I have paid full salaries with no lay-offs. I have paid – on time – each of my vendors and although many of our clients are unable to pay us for obvious reasons, I have proactively offered short-term discounts, extended terms and extended guarantees to companies for the candidates we place. It’s just the right thing to do to contribute back – but moreover, a good business decision because people WILL remember how entities and individuals acted during a crisis.

    This pandemic will be an odd collective memory at some point in the future. But business decisions made now could shape the future.

    Sorry for the long comment. I *may* have been quarantining up at home with a little extra time in the evenings.

    Best wishes to all – including HIMSS.

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