Hotels these days are contending with not just a recessionary economy and a wary public, but also some residual hard feelings from planners who long have warned the hospitality industry to play nice — because what goes around, comes around. Here's what some hotel chains are doing to heal the rifts.

Chicago-based Hyatt Hotels and Resorts is simplifying its meeting contracts to make them more user-friendly, says company spokesperson Rafal Karkis. “We're working to make it easier for the hotel and the planner to reach agreement, and to simplify the language.” The shorter, simpler contract was slated to debut in January.

Hyatt also is instituting a new approach to group billing. Bruce Small, director of sales information systems, says the new system simplifies, organizes, and standardizes the master account billing process across the Hyatt brand. The system includes a menu of different ways to sort the bill that the planner can preselect. It also was developed to self-reconcile: “The bill won't print unless every item has a back-up attached to it,” says Small. “It should save a tremendous amount of time trying to find the charge that goes with a particular line item.” The system is scheduled to roll out in all the chain's major hotels by the end of the first quarter of 2002.

Washington-based Marriott International is taking a different tack: It announced in late November that it would indefinitely eliminate early-departure and toll-free phone call fees.

Dave Scypinski, senior vice president of industry relations with Starwood Hotels & Resorts, White Plains, N.Y., says Starwood is going to leave it to each hotel to negotiate as it sees fit. “We have some cities that are doing well, some that are distressed, and others that are in between. To put a corporate-wide program into place that addresses every hotel we have in the portfolio…in some cases would make us our own worst enemy.”

Of Hyatt's simplified contracts plan, 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 making any corporate-mandated policy changes, according to Kathy Shepard, vice president, corporate communications. “There are lots of concessions that are being negotiated on a case-by-case basis at individual hotels.” She says Hilton is offering incentives, but they're customized to meeting the needs of specific groups and hotels.

“Whatever we can do to make it happen, we're doing — as long as we're not asked to give away the store,” says Shepard.

“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 a good one in the long run. We won't neglect our customers again.”