August 13, 2008

Stevan Porter, president of the Americas region for InterContinental Hotels Group PLC, died last week, less than a month after leaving his job for medical reasons. Porter, who was in the hospitality industry for 32 years, joined IHG in 2001 and was appointed to the board in 2003. "Steve Porter was an outstanding executive and a passionate supporter of the company," said David Webster, chairman of IHG, in a statement. "Steve commanded the fullest respect and affection of everyone in our industry."

The Times-Picayune has reported that the New Orleans Morial Convention Center remains "largely unbooked" for 2010 and 2011. Tim Hemphill, the center's director of sales and marketing, told M&C that this is incorrect, but that 2010 and 2011 do look to be "a challenge" in terms of bookings. To meet that challenge, the convention facility and the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau have put together a package offering free use of the center plus other enticements (such as free Wi-Fi and some free F&B) to meeting planners who book more than 1,000 peak room nights during select months from 2008 through 2011. Planners booking more than 1,500 room nights in the city also will receive free shuttle service and some free housing. "We understand the economic and ROI pressures that association and corporate meeting professionals are facing," said J. Stephen Perry, president and CEO of the CVB, "so we want New Orleans to be the highest value proposition of any destination in the United States."

At the World Education Congress held this week in Las Vegas, Meeting Professionals International introduced its revamped awards program. Now called the MPI RISE (Recognizing Industry Success and Excellence) Awards, the program features seven annual honors in three categories: organizational, individual and community achievement. RISE will be phased in beginning with the organizational award, which will be presented at the WEC in Salt Lake City next summer. The full program will be presented in summer 2010 at the WEC in Vancouver, British Columbia. MPI also has created the Community of Honorees, composed of all past award winners, charter and life members, as well as past presidents and chairs of the board of directors. At the opening general session, MPI launched its redesigned member magazine, now known as One+. Almost 4,500 attendees -- a record number -- gathered at the WEC in Las Vegas.

The Fontainebleau Miami Beach has confirmed rumors that its grand opening has been delayed. A spokesperson said the new date will be in mid-November, when the 1,504-room property will host the Victoria's Secret fashion show. Groups with bookings at the hotel between Sept. 6 and Oct. 17 are being relocated. A preview opening will take place Oct. 18. The 22-acre property is completing a $1 billion renovation; when finished, the hotel will have 107,000 square feet of meeting space, a 40,000-square-foot spa, 11 restaurants, two nightclubs and multiple pools.

A new tax being levied in San Diego is giving local convention and visitor bureaus bigger budgets. Implemented on Jan. 1, the assessment raised the city's transient occupancy tax by 2 percentage points to 12.5 percent at hotels with 70 or more rooms. For the 2009 fiscal year, the San Diego Convention and Visitors Bureau has increased its public funding from $8.8 million during 2008 to approximately $15.5 million, bringing its total operating budget to $21.4 million. The budget of the San Diego North Convention & Visitors Bureau has more than tripled, from $1.1 million in 2008 to approximately $3.5 million for the 2009 fiscal year.

The 229-room W Minneapolis-The Foshay and the 155-room Aloft Minneapolis opened in the past week, two of several new Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide properties in the area. The W, in the financial district, has 6,700 square feet for meetings, and the Aloft, near the Metrodome, features 2,000 square feet of meeting space. Earlier this year, Starwood opened the 136-room Hotel Ivy in downtown Minneapolis, part of the company's luxury collection, and last month added the 150-room Sheraton St. Paul Woodbury. Before the Republican National Convention is held in the city in September, Starwood also plans to open the 225-room Westin Edina in a nearby suburb.

The American Wind Energy Association has decided to relocate Windpower, its annual convention that is scheduled for June 7-10, 2009, away from Minneapolis because the show has outgrown the city's convention center. An alternate city has not been announced. When the association booked the Minneapolis Convention Center in 2006, AWEA executives expected the show to grow at an annual rate of 20 to 40 percent, but attendance at this year's event, held in Houston in June, exceeded 13,000, nearly double that of 2007. In a statement released by AWEA, the group's leaders expressed regret that the show no longer will be held in Minnesota, "a state that is one of the outstanding leaders in wind power."

A site-selection committee in Cleveland has urged county officials to build a convention center and medical mart on a riverfront site behind Tower City instead of the site of the existing convention facility, because construction would be less expensive and the site would provide better accessibility and connectivity with mass transit. The project originally was expected to cost $490 million but isæestimated at $536 million. To make up the difference, the committee has recommended increasing the hotel tax by 2 percent, pushing the total tax on hotel rooms to 17.25 percent, among the highest in the country. The project still needs approval from the county.

Dozens of flights to Brussels Airport in Belgium have been canceled or delayed due toæa luggage-handlers' strike that began on Monday. On its website, the airport advised travelers to contact their airlines or call the emergency information number, and said passengers who had arrived at Brussels Airport during the strike but were unable to retrieve their bags should not to come to the airport until further notice. By the end of Tuesday, one of the two striking firms, Aviapartner, had rejected a new proposal by the management, while employees at the other, Flightcare, resumed work on the apron at about 5 p.m. According to the website, however, even if all striking handlers were to go back to work it still might take days before the airlines would be operating back on schedule and more than a week before the nearly 20,000 pieces of unhandled baggage can be returned to their owners.