Whether businesses are worried about being seen as big spenders in these lean times or they just don't have enough participants signed up to make an event worth holding, they are finding hotel officials increasingly willing to negotiate on room rates, catering bills and even cancellation penalties.

"Being in the service industry, it's in our nature to always find a win-win," said Cassy Scrima, the marketing director at Marcus Hotels and Resorts, which owns the elegant Pfister Hotel in downtown Milwaukee. "We understand the predicament people are in, and as a hotel you want that repeat business to come back to you."

In good times, hotel companies usually charge a hefty fee when a client wants to cancel an event, said C. Patrick Scholes, an analyst with Friedman, Billings, Ramsey & Co. in Arlington, Va., sometimes as much the event's full cost. But the tough economy is forcing them to reconsider.

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