Planners have long warned suppliers to play nice because what goes around, comes around. Now that the market's turned, hotel chains are hearing that message loud and clear — and taking action to improve their planner relationships.

One effort from Chicago-based Hyatt Hotels and Resorts involves paring down its meeting contracts with simplified language to make them more user-friendly, says company spokesperson Rafal Karkis. The shorter, simpler contract is slated to debut in January.

Hyatt also is instituting what Bruce Small, director of sales information systems, calls “a totally new approach to group billing.” Small says the new system simplifies, organizes, and standardizes the master account billing process across the Hyatt brand. It includes a menu of different ways to sort the bill that planners can pre-select. It also was developed to self-reconcile. “We designed the software so the bill won't print unless every item has a back-up attached to it. It should save a tremendous amount of time trying to find the charge that goes with a particular line item,” Small says. Hyatt plans to develop an e-mailable PDF version for those who would rather receive the bill online and print it themselves. The offline version is scheduled to roll out in all the chain's major hotels by the end of the first quarter of 2002.

Washington, D.C.-based Marriott International is taking a different tack: It announced in late November that it would eliminate early-departure and toll-free phone call fees. Adam's Mark Hotels also stopped toll-free phone access charges last fall.

Dave Scypinski, senior vice president of industry relations with Starwood Hotels & Resorts, White Plains, N.Y., says Starwood leaves it to individual hotels to negotiate as they see fit. Of Hyatt's plan to introduce simplified contracts, Scypinski says: “Been there, done that. When Christie Hicks and I first came to Starwood a few years back, the first thing we did was take our 15-page contract down to six pages. We put it in easy-to-read language, and added the clauses that invariably show up on customer addenda.”

Like Starwood, Hilton Hotels Corp., Beverly Hills, Calif., isn't mandating any policy changes, according to Kathy Shepard, vice president, corporate communications. “There are lots of concessions being negotiated on a case-by-case basis at individual hotels. Times are tougher, and we're eager to work with planners.” She says Hilton is offering incentives, but they're customized to the needs of specific groups and hotels.

“This past fall was a wake-up call in so many ways,” says Scypinski. “We went from having our best year ever to our worst year ever in six months. It was a severe lesson, but good in the long run. We won't neglect our customers again.”