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by Cheryl-Anne Sturken | November 8, 2011

The euro crisis is crippling the Continent, and the ongoing economic uncertainty here at home is driving political debate and civil unrest. The lodging industry, however, appears so far to be immune from any fallout. So for meeting planners wondering if these bad tidings might translate into bargains in 2012, the likelihood is they won't.

According to its October 2011 North American Hospitality Review report released this week by New York City-based TravelClick, which represents 30,000 hotels across the globe, as of the end of October the top 25 North American markets are showing a 4.8 percent increase in occupancy for the next 12 months compared to the same period last year, thanks largely to an increase in committed group business for the first quarter of 2012. In fact, says Shawn Flanagan, enterprise solutions manager for TravelClick, "group business is up 5.4 percent, year-over-year." And hand-in-hand with occupancy increases go improved daily rates. The overall average daily rate for the current quarter and the first three months of 2012 already is up 4 percent over the same period last year, with the ADR for group business enjoying an increase of 2 percent

In its recent 3Q earnings call to investors, Marriott International reported that revenue bookings for groups for 2012 is up by 7 percent over 2011, and bookings for 2013 are ahead by 13 percent over 2011. With group and corporate business travel showing no signs of hesitancy, Marriott says it has no plans to offer the types of booking incentives it did when the hotel industry bottomed out at the end of 2008. "In 2012, we will get  back into the business of providing space and dates that meet the customers' needs," said Randy Griffin, vice president, middle market corporate, government, affinity and entertainment sales for Marriott, in an interview with HotelNewsNow.com this week. And where Marriott goes, you can expect the other big league players -- including Starwood, Hilton and InterContinental -- to follow in lockstep. In a 3Q earnings call just days ago, Frits van Paasschen, Starwood's chief executive officer, told investors, "Overall, for 2012, group pace is up mid-single digits and corporate rate negotiations are only just beginning, but unlike last year, our customers expect higher rates as they see occupancy and virtually no new supply in key cities."

Meeting planners also will have to contend with the ranks of road warriors for available rooms, which will make any last-minute bookings hard to come by. According to the Global Business Travel Association, business travel spend, which jumped close to 7 percent this year, is forecast to increase another 4.3 percent next year. Markets showing the strongest occupancy gains for business on the books for 2012 are Indianapolis (up 37 percent), Detroit (up 26.3 percent) and Chicago (up 25.6 percent). Better to try your luck, coupled with some negotiating prowess, in those markets still struggling to regain their foothold, such as Dallas; Tampa, Fla.; and Denver, whose occupancies for 2012, according to the TravelCick report, still are reporting double-digit decreases in occupancy growth. Happy hunting.