Although overall occupancy rates for U.S. hotels will decrease slightly this year for the first time since 1991, the change will have little impact on the meeting business, says Dr. Bjorn Hanson, chairman of Coopers & Lybrand L.L.P.'s national hospitality consulting practice.

Coopers & Lybrand predicts an overall occupancy rate of 65.9 percent for 1997, a slight drop from the 66 percent it forecasted for 1996. Room starts in 1996 totaled 102,000, the highest since 1989. "The often-cited lack of hotel construction is history," says Hanson.

However, since most of the construction is in limited-service properties with little or no meeting space, it will have little effect on the meeting business. "Although occupancy will decline slightly, it will continue to increase in the full-service hotels used by the meetings and incentive market. For the foreseeable future, planners will be paying more for less in the full-service market."

Hanson says corporate executives need to be aggressive in dealing with hotels. "Meeting planners often don't appreciate how much influence they may have; even a small piece of business can be significant for a hotel."