With hotel occupancy at its highest levels in some cities since the dot-com bubble burst in 2000, travel managers are finding availability for travelers in some cities as important as price, if not more critical.

This quest is leading to an upswing in room allotments, in which buyers have a quota of rooms permanently assigned to them, but which can be released to the hotel either 24 or 48 hours in advance. In some cases, buyers are willing to pay for rooms up front. In even more extreme cases, they are leasing a hotel floor or an entire hotel.

Experts also recommended less drastic measures to ensure availability, including encouraging travelers to book earlier and increasing the number of preferred properties. Buyers, intermediaries and suppliers all stressed that corporate clients who have built long-term relationships with hotels are being treated more sympathetically now that the market has shifted towards the seller.

In high-demand U.S. cities, neither price increases nor availability problems will disappear soon, said Jan Freitag, director of client services at Smith Travel Research. "For at least two years, you won't see any new hotels coming online," he said. "What are buyers going to do about it? Very little. The only way of securing availability is to pay for it."

Buyers acknowledged that there are times when they have to find travelers a room first and then worry about the price later, but neither are they resigned to complete impotence. "Buyers don't ever lose sight of price, but they do shift their focus," said National Business Travel Association hotel committee chair and Deloitte travel buyer Brian Nichols.

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