COVID-19 cancellation lands hotel at Walt Disney World in court

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Lingering fears exist heading into the New Year with COVID-19 cases rising.

A hotel on Disney World property is in litigation with a group that wants to cancel an upcoming conference without a $1 million penalty because of the pandemic.

The federal lawsuit filed Tuesday depicts some of the lingering fears that exist heading into the New Year with COVID-19 cases rising.

About 400 people from across the United States and Canada were expected to travel and stay at Walt Disney Swan Hotel for the International Union of Operating Engineers’ winter meetings from Jan. 27 through Feb. 5, according to the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court’s Orlando division.

IUOE said it inked the contract with the hotel in December 2018, back before the pandemic was ever a threat. Instantly recognizable with a pair of five-story statues, the Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort is in a prime location near Disney’s Hollywood Studios and Epcot although the hotel is not owned by The Walt Disney Co.

But as COVID-19 has remained a lingering concern heading into 2022 and IUOE cited a force majeure provision in the contract when the Washington-based organization notified the hotel Dec. 2 it was canceling the event because of the delta and omicron variants, the lawsuit said.

IUOE faces a nearly $1.05 million fee for canceling. The penalty is the same amount for how much the event was supposed to generate in revenue for hotel rooms, food and other expenses, according to court documents.

The hotel refused to cancel on the contract clause, casting the two sides in a stalemate, the lawsuit said.

“Against the backdrop of the Hotel’s tone-deaf insistence that IUOE send its conference attendees into a dangerous environment, COVID-19 cases and deaths in Florida continue to rise, and the CDC guidelines continue to advise against large gatherings and promote social distancing of at least 6 feet,” IUOE said in the lawsuit. “Travel to and from the event will place many attendees in situations where their exposure to COVID-19 and potential serious illness is a statistical certainty. IUOE believes the public health crisis and the threat to the health and the lives of its 400 attendees will render performance under the Contract illegal, impossible or impracticable.”

IUOE attorneys and media spokespeople for the Marriott International hotel did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Hotel spokesman Joel Kaiman said Wednesday the hotel doesn’t comment on pending litigation.

The Central Florida community has a reputation as one of the county’s most popular sites for meetings and conventions with plenty of hotels and conference spaces and the theme parks to draw business travelers in for some fun afterward. The crown jewel of spaces is the massive Orange County Convention Center with a footprint of 7-million-square-feet.

The omicron variant hasn’t forced any new cancellations at the government-run convention center and they are looking forward to 2022’s events, said OCCC spokeswoman Nadia Vanderhoof. Between January and March, the OCCC will host 30 events with about 400,000 attendees that Vanderhoof says will generate an estimated $864 million in economic impact.

“We are excited about the New Year and the conventions that will return back to the Center through the spring. In fact, the Surf Expo is in move-in mode right now. We have hosted more conventions, trade shows and events than any other convention center nationwide,” Vanderhoof said in an email Tuesday night.

Gabrielle Russon

Gabrielle Russon is a journalist who covers theme parks and Florida tourism. She previously worked at the Orlando Sentinel, the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, the Toledo Blade and the Kalamazoo Gazette. She graduated from Michigan State University.



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