Whatever happened to plan B?

Organising events isn’t for the faint-hearted. For one thing, there are never enough hours in the day even if everything’s running smoothly. So when things go pear shaped, you’ve really got to pull out all the stops.

Years ago, we organised a Convention for ABTA and its thousand delegates in Gran Canaria. We organise overseas events all the time so we know the ropes as well as the possible pitfalls. The only thing about the Canary Isles that causes a mild headache is getting our equipment there. Things are slightly more difficult with the Canaries than mainland Europe – mainly because the road runs out in Cadiz and then there’s a lot of sea to be crossed! Our vehicle has to be ready two weeks prior to the event to make sure it makes the weekly direct ferry service in order to reach the venue at the right time.

This is OK for us, we’re used to it. But the event’s sponsors and exhibitors also take out a lot of materials and these are generally flown to the Canaries via a freight handler.

So yes, you’ve guessed it, on this occasion something went horribly wrong. Whereas in the past our air freight arrives at the venue at the same time as we do, this time, the entire consignment went ‘missing’.  This coincided with the weekend, which meant that whilst we should have been setting up the Convention, we spent countless hours on the phone trying to locate the materials…or rather, the company that had them who had shut up shop for the weekend.

It was only with the intervention of our local hosts and their bureaucratic wizardry, that finally the elusive freight was delivered to us at midnight on the first morning of the Convention. Phew! Just in the nick of time! We had to work well into the night to check that everything had arrived, but at least our sponsors would be happy and we would be ready. Except…

…except that not everything had arrived! One pallet was missing and it transpired that it didn’t make the connection between Madrid and Gran Canaria, so there was no way we were going to retrieve it in time. We were holding a football match that afternoon, but to our horror, we only had one team kit…so we were 20 pairs of identical shorts, tops and socks adrift! And that wasn’t all – we were also missing a thousand promotional postcards we’d promised to distribute to delegates hotel rooms for a major sponsor, so we needed to find a local firm that was able to do an urgent reprint. And if that wasn’t enough, we were also missing hundreds of branded turquoise balloons another sponsor needed for one of the events that evening.

I guess whizzing around the shops ‘Apprentice’ style to get all of the above in one morning would be OK if you were in a large city, but we were in a small tourist town on a holiday island in the Atlantic with a major Convention about to start! It really was a case of all hands – and credit cards – to the pumps. Thankfully our local hosts rose to the challenge with us, providing staff to interpret – whilst we phoned every sports, printing and party shop on the island to find what we needed – then dashing out far and wide to collect our hasty purchases.

And yes we made it! Granted, it was by the skin of our teeth, but as far as delegates were concerned, the events that day went like clockwork and both football teams were fully clothed! So maybe ‘Event Manager’ is the wrong job title, surely a better description would be ‘Event Swan’ – serene on top of the water, but paddling furiously underneath!