2001: A Year of Change? It seems like the U.S. hotel seller's market is never going to end. But, according to at least one hospitality industry forecaster, meeting organizers may gain some negotiating clout in the second half of 2001.

LodgingForecast.com (www.lodgingforecast.com), a Durham, N.H. - based firm that tracks the hotel industry, predicts an overall softening in occupancy rates from 74.32 percent in the first six months of 2000, to 74.29 percent in the first six months of 2001. That seems minuscule, "but even a small shift like this has impact. Think of what happens when the Federal Reserve raises interest rates even a small percentage," says LodgingForecast.com chief economist Evangelos Simos.

However, room rates - which should also be on a downward trend - have continued to remain stable or rise in most cities. "It's taking a while for the law of supply and demand to catch up with hoteliers," says Simos, "but when it does, they will have to lower prices to boost occupancy back up. We think the lodging industry's boom will flatten by the end of 2001."

Meanwhile, according to Atlanta-based hotel consulting firm PKF Consulting (www.pkf.com), 2001 will see double-digit room rate hikes in San Francisco (19.9 percent), New Orleans (14.2 percent), and Boston (11 percent). On the low end of the rate hike spectrum are Atlanta (3 percent), Honolulu (2.7 percent), and St. Louis (0 percent). And Rochester Wis. - based Runzheimer International (www.runzheimer.com) predicts an 8 percent increase in business travel hotel rates overall in 2001, but also forecasts that new properties will offer rate breaks.