While many hotel companies significantly loosened their cancellation and attrition policies after 9/11, it didn't take long to get back to business as usual. In some cases, that meant levying harsh penalties, even as early as October, for companies that were forced to cancel or that failed to deliver promised attendance.

“As of mid-November, I've seen hotel companies taking a relatively hard line with planners, especially those they have not heard from [regarding rescheduling canceled events],” says Robert T. Patterson, ISHC, president of Paradigm Hospitality, a hotel-consulting firm based in Los Angeles.

However, hotels appear to be more willing to negotiate catastrophe clauses. “They will have to be to do this to land a piece of business,” Patterson adds, “and planners must be firm in their resolve to ask for these contract clauses.”

Even though hotel companies create their policies on the corporate level, often those policies are interpreted at the property level. This can work in favor of the planner. But does the fact that a hotel is owned rather than managed allow it to be more flexible?

Patterson doesn't think so. “Marriott, for example, owns very few of its hotels, yet it tends to allow very little deviation from the company policies. The same is true for Starwood, which owns a higher percentage of its hotels than most other companies. With either owned or managed properties, the policies are usually the same. The difference is the extent to which they're allowed to be interpreted on the property level.”

David Brudney, ISHC, of David Brudney & Associates, Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif., has a slightly different take on the situation.

“What's most important for a meeting planner to investigate is how much group business a hotel does. That's not easy to find out, but if a hotel does 50 percent of its business in meetings, it's going to be a lot easier to deal with than a hotel that does 20 percent.”