July 16, 2008

The Seattle Convention and Visitors Bureau has named Tom Norwalk as its new president and CEO, filling a vacancy created by last month's resignation of Don Welsh, who will be leading the Indianapolis Convention & Visitors Association. Norwalk, currently the bureau's senior vice president of sales and marketing, will assume his new role on July 25.

ASAE & The Center for Association Leadership has made some alterations to its annual Springtime Expo, to be held next on April 16, 2009, at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington, D.C. In the past, companies or groups that offered a wide range of products or services for associations could exhibit at the show; next year, exhibitors will be restricted to the convention industry. The rates for small booths remain the same, but prices for some larger exhibits have increased, and the show is moving to larger exhibit halls in the center. One block of education sessions has been eliminated, and a new late-afternoon networking reception for young association and meeting professionals has been added. A spokesperson for ASAE said the association hopes the reception will attract people "who generally are not invited to events like the PCMA dinner," referring to the Professional Convention Management Association's Education Foundation Dinner.

Last week Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell approved a state law giving the Philadelphia City Council the go-ahead to raise the city's hotel tax by 1.5 percent. Currently, the city applies a 7 percent occupancy tax, a 6 percent sales tax and a 1 percent city tax to hotel rooms; the new law gives the council approval to raise the occupancy tax to 8.5 percent, for a total tax on hotel rooms of 15.5 percent. The council returns from summer recess in September, at which point it probably will pass official legislation on the increase. The extra tax would help fund the Pennsylvania Convention Center renovations, which are likely to exceed the original $700 million estimate, according to local media reports.

Orient-Express Hotels has signed a letter of intent with builder Related Group to develop hotels and residences in South Beach, Miami; Cartagena, Colombia; and Panama City, Panama. Officials at Orient-Express said the strategic partnership plans to develop and operate multiuse projects that will include hotel, branded-residential and commercial components. The initial projects are expected to open within three years and will include a hotel with 28 luxury residences in South Beach; an oceanfront hotel in Cartagena; and a hotel on Avenida Balboa in Panama City, part of a waterfront development. The three properties will be managed by Orient-Express Hotels.

Several state parks in the Big Sur, Calif., area still remain closed due to a 119,000-acre wildfire, including Soberanes State Park, Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, Andrew Molera State Park, Pfeiffer-Big Sur State Park and Limekiln State Park. However, a number of the hotels that were forced to close due to an evacuation order issued on July 2 have announced reopening dates. The 20-room Deetjen's Big Sur Inn will open July 18, and the 60-room Ventana Inn & Spa will open its restaurant, Cielo, on July 19 and the inn itself on Aug. 1. As of Monday, the fire was 61 percent contained, with full containment expected by July 30.

The 1,663-room Atlanta Marriott Marquis will complete its $138 million renovation next week. Upgrades include a complete overhaul of its 160,000 square feet of meeting space, a new 25,000-square-foot ballroom with floor-to-ceiling windows, and new meeting and breakout rooms. The pool deck was renovated and outfitted with private cabanas, a retractable roof and a deck that can hold up to 100 people for a reception. The 6,500-square-foot health club and spa were renovated as well.