TWO HOTEL COMPANIES have taken a radical step to spur bookings in an uncertain economy: Eliminate risk for their meeting clients. In early February, InterContinental Hotels & Resorts, Atlanta, announced thatsigned in February, March, and April for meetings that will take place before the end of the year in its U.S. and Canadian properties would not face any cancellation or fees. Two weeks later, Hong Kong-based Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts announced a similar policy: In the event of war, meeting planners will not be charged cancellation or attrition fees for meetings booked at any of its 39 properties, all located in Asia. There are no time constraints on Shangri-La's policy, and it is applies to any meetings that take place during a war period, regardless of when they were booked. However, the offer goes into effect only if war is officially declared.
Jeff Senior, InterContinental's brand vice president, North America, says there's no small print to his company's unusual offer. “We've done this in a responsive way in the past,” Senior says, noting the period after the September 11 terrorist attacks. “But what's different this time is that we're being proactive.”
Senior says the new policy came about because of meeting clients' anxiety. “There's a lot of trepidation around booking, with concerns over the economy and the conflict in the Middle East,” says Senior, who confirms that extremely short-term bookings are becoming increasingly common. “Significant meetings, say 150 rooms for three nights, are booking three weeks out. It's been happening.… It's not like anything I've ever seen in my [28-years'] experience.”
Jed Mandel, meeting industry lawyer with Neal, Gerber & Eisenberg in Chicago, reminds planners to get the offer in writing. “You want it in the. Indicate that you're waiving the cancellation and attrition clauses, don't just delete those clauses,” he says. “It's a smart move. They're getting out in front. It's almost like offering an insurance policy. They're willing to take the risk for the business.”
InterContinental's 16 properties in the United States and Canada are participating in the program. Senior says there are currently no plans to expand the offer to the Holiday Inn Crowne Plaza chain, another meeting brand owned by InterContinental parent company Six Continents Hotels Inc.