Playing Nice

The seller's market may be returning, but some hoteliers are making sure they don't alienate clients by being too aggressive with contract terms, particularly attrition.

Last month, Hyatt announced a new program: Sign up for multiple meetings between now and 2010 and attrition damage requirements will be waived. Or, if you prefer, take a credit to your master account instead of the attrition waiver. And earlier this year Starwood introduced the Convention Collection, a network of 19 Sheratons and Westins for which it would accept multiple-meeting contracts. Unlike Hyatt's program, the Convention Collection doesn't go as far as waiving attrition, but it does promise lenient contract terms.

It may seem counterintuitive for suppliers to take a flexible approach to contract terms as meetings spending picks up and hotel revenue is on the rise. But according to some hotel sales executives, the days of suppliers automatically adopting a hard-line stance when they're flush with cash are over. "We want to take some responsibility [for room-block commitments] along with our customers, because we both have something at stake," explains Stephen D'Agostino, Hyatt's executive director of sales. "We don't want to make the mistake of a few years ago, which was turning our backs on customers," when the chain was more aggressive with attrition. Adds Fred Shea, vice president of sales, "We know customers will be with us for the long haul so this time, we want to be proactive. This [no-attrition policy] reinforces the partnership we have with meeting planners." Hyatt's no-attrition contracts will say that attrition has been waived in a special clause.

Not surprisingly, planners are pleased with the hotelier's flexible approach to contract terms. Karen Schneider, meeting services and travel coordinator at the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons in Rosemont, IL, gave Hyatt's program her vote of confidence: "I'm a frequent customer but this would make me consider Hyatt even more," she says. "This enables us to book meetings into hotels that we couldn't use otherwise, because of attrition concerns."

And besides building its relationship with planners, Hyatt's new no-attrition program also gives the chain a public-relations boost, admits Hyatt's vice president of sales Jack Horne.