by M&C Staff | September 10, 2008

Hot Topics
On Sunday, Hurricane Ike hit the southern Bahamanian islands of Inagua, Mayaguana, Acklins and Crooked; it also struck the Turks and Caicos. According to the Bahamian tourist board, “all international airports, with the exception of those in [the aforementioned islands], are open for business and most hotels are welcoming guests.” All international cruise ports also are open. For its part, the Turks and Caicos tourist board says damage was extensive on the islands of Grand Turk, Salt Cay and South Caicos, but the majority of the tourism infrastructure on the primary tourist island of Providenciales is intact, as no resorts, restaurants or other structures suffered significant damage.

A National Business Travel Association task force is developing the Strategic Meetings Management Certification, to be launched within a year. NBTA has been exploring the topic for years through its Groups & Meetings Committee, which began publishing a series of white papers in 2004 called Framework for Success: Strategic Meetings Management Programs (available to members at The call for the new certification came from a task force of 25 NBTA members who met in July at the NBTA International Convention and Exhibition in Los Angeles.

The Atlanta Convention and Visitors Bureau’s executive committee has nominated William Pate to take over as its new president and CEO. In December, Spurgeon Richardson, the current head of the organization, will retire after 17 years in the position. Pate has served as chief marketing officer for BellSouth and is a former chairman of the ACVB’s board, the Atlanta Sports Council and the Chick-fil-A Bowl. The bureau’s board will vote on the recommendation next Sept. 18, and, if approved, Pate will begin working with Richardson on Oct. 1 and take over on Jan. 1, 2009.

Fairmont Hotels & Resorts will open its first hotel in India in 2010 in the growing IT and biotechnology business district of Hyderabad. Construction is underway on the 350-room Fairmont Hyderabad, which will have a Willow Stream Spa. A spokesperson for the chain said the hotel will have a ballroom for up to 800 people, but other meeting-space details were not available. While no other properties in India have been announced, Fairmont actively is exploring other locations in the country as part of its push to expand the brand in southern and southeastern Asia, according to the spokesperson.

Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts opened its first property in French Polynesia last week. The Four Seasons Resort Bora Bora has 100 overwater bungalows and seven beachfront villas (the largest of which spans more than 5,300 square feet), plus four restaurants and a full-service spa. For events, the resort offers a 1,200-square-foot open-air pavilion with an adjacent private beach, as well as a 750-square-foot meeting room with a veranda overlooking the lagoon.

The 556-room InterContinental Chicago O’Hare opened Monday with 53,000 square feet of meeting space, including a 275-seat theater. Five minutes from the airport’s terminals, the property has three restaurants, including McCormick & Schmick’s and The Capital Grille; a flight center where guests can monitor the status of their planes and checkin online, and a 24-hour fitness center.

The 244-room W Scottsdale Hotel & Residences opened last week in Arizona. The property has 10,000 square feet of meeting/function space, a Bliss Spa, a fitness center, a business center, a Sushi Roku restaurant and two clubs. In other W news, two new properties will be built in the United Kingdom. In London's West End, the 194-room W London-Leicester Square will have 2,400 square feet of meeting space, as well as a signature spa and fitness facility. The 160-room W Manchester is coming to that city's Warehouse District; the Ian Simpson-designed hotel will have 7,000 square feet of meeting space, a signature spa and a fitness facility. Both properties will open in 2010.

Gaylord Entertainment will build an anchor resort/convention hotel at the Mesa Proving Grounds in Mesa, Ariz. In addition to the Gaylord property, the $1 billion, development will include retail outlets, a golf course designed by Tom Fazio, office space and residences. According to the Arizona Daily Star, the hotel will have 1,200 to 1,500 rooms, 400,000 square feet of meeting space and several restaurants. The 3,200-acre Mesa Proving Grounds, about 30 miles from downtown Phoenix and adjacent to Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport, was owned by General Motors until 2006. According to Gaylord, the deal is contingent on the future negotiation of entitlements and incentives, and final approval by Gaylord's board of directors.

Continental Airlines will begin charging $15 for most passengers’ first checked bag on flights within and between North America, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. EliteAccess customers and those with first- and business-class tickets will be exempt. The fee goes into effect Oct. 7, making Delta the last legacy air carrier not charging for the first checked bag.

Convention Centers
Preliminary returns are in for the Branson (Mo.) Convention Center’s inaugural year, which ended in late August, and exceeded expectations. The building, which has 47,000 square feet of exhibit space, handled 240 “event days” in its first year, a tally of the number of days each group spent in the building, roughly 35 percent higher than was projected. The meetings generated 35,000 hotel room nights, according to Bill Tirone, director of sales and marketing for the Branson Convention Center and Hiltons on Branson. The largest meeting, a Prayer Mountain religious conference, attracted 4,500 attendees. Religious meetings, along with state and corporate meetings, were the strongest market segments for the center, which already has 127 event days on the books for 2009 and which should exceed its mark of 240 event days in its second year.

The El Paso [Texas] City Council has approved a $7 million project to renovate the plaza outside the 131,000-square-foot Judson F. Williams Convention Center. The work will demolish the existing plaza to make way for a more visitor-friendly area capable of hosting outdoor events. An aluminum-and-steel structure will cover about 15,000 square feet of the plaza, and lighting will be installed for evening events. The construction is scheduled to finish next May.

Cruise Lines
Holland America Line will invest $200 million to refit to five of its ships: Statendam, Ryndam, Maasdam, Veendam and Rotterdam. Upgrades include new resort pool areas, stateroom renovations, and new entertainment and enrichment options. Each ship also will get 44 to 46 new staterooms, including several spa suites with special amenities. Upgrades to all ships will be completed in late 2010.

The city council of Atlantic City approved a zoning change last week that would allow a casino to be built on Route 30, about a mile away from the famed Boardwalk. Casino management and ownership group Penn National Gaming has expressed interest in developing the site, as well as other sites in the city, but has not revealed any concrete plans yet.

The 175-room St Regis, Washington, D.C., has opened Adour, its signature Alain Ducasse restaurant. The 3,000-square-foot restaurant, which seats 65, was designed by architect David Rockwell, who also was responsible for the hotel's 16-month, multimillion-dollar restoration that was completed last December.

Steven A. Rudnitsky has stepped down as president and CEO of Wyndham Hotel Group to pursue other interests. The company has begun a search is for his replacement.

The 74-room Parrot Key Resort in downtown Key West, Fla., opened last week. A Singh Resorts property, the hotel offers 1,500 square feet of event space; one-, two- and three-bedroom cottages with gourmet kitchens; a pool, and a tiki bar.  

A $1.5 million renovation of the 6,000-square-foot mountainside ballroom has been completed at the Lodge at Vail, a RockResort in Vail, Colo. The 165-room property also has opened a new 11,000-square-foot RockResorts Spa with 11 treatment rooms.

Hilton Hotels Corp. has appointed veteran Hawaii hotel executive Jerry Gibson as area vice president of Hawaii and managing director of Hilton Hawaiian Village Beach Resort & Spa, following the retirement of three top Hilton Hawaii executives earlier this year. Most recently, Gibson served as vice president and managing director of the 2,019-room Hyatt Regency Chicago but has spent the majority of his career in the islands. Gibson replaces Gerhard Seibert, who retired after 35 years with Hilton.

A multimillion-dollar renovation has been completed at the 145-room Waterfront Hotel in Oakland, Calif. A fitness center, a heated pool, propertywide wireless Internet, and 9,000-square-feet of meeting and event space are available, while guest rooms offer plasma TVs and iPod-docking stations. Additionally, the hotel restaurant, Miss Pearl’s Jam House, now serves New World and island cuisine, overseen by celebrity chef Joey Altman.

Kyo-ya Hotels & Resorts, owners of the historic Moana Surfrider hotel in Waikiki, Hawaii, plans to demolish a portion of the property and build a 24-story luxury hotel in its place, according to Travel Weekly, M&C’s sister publication. The new structure will feature 200 guest rooms, 25 condominiums and an upscale restaurant. Government approvals for the project are expected to take two years, while construction itself will take three years.

Las Vegas Sands Corp. and Starwood Hotels & Resorts agreed last week to brand the 398-unit luxury condos currently under construction as the St. Regis Residences at the Venetian Palazzo in Las Vegas. The units, on the Strip between the Venetian and Palazzo properties, are scheduled to open in March 2010. Addressing the current economic climate in a company press release, Las Vegas Sands chairman and CEO Sheldon Adelson said, “Quality and luxury sell in any type of financial environment.” The development will be the city’s first St. Regis property.

Starwood Hotels & Resorts has changed the name of its Sheraton Cable Beach Resort, in Nassau, the Bahamas, to the Sheraton Nassau Beach Resort. The 694-room property has 25,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor event space, including a 12,500-square-foot ballroom.

Nine miles east of Seattle, the Sheraton Bellevue Hotel has completed a $5.7 million renovation. The property’s restaurant, Sam’s, was remodeled, its fitness center was expanded by 800 square feet, and all 179 guest rooms were redesigned with a coastal theme. The hotel’s public spaces also were renovated. The property has nearly 13,000 square feet of space for meetings and events.