by The M&C Staff | September 17, 2008

Hurricane Ike, which hit the Texas coast as a category 2 storm on Saturday, has shut down Galveston, prompting the Houston Chronicle to call it a “ruined city.” According to the Galveston County Daily News, the southbound lanes of the causeway to the island are being assessed for structural damage, as large yachts, sailboats and other vessels slammed into the bridge during the storm. Among the area’s top properties, the 428-room Moody Gardens Hotel, Spa and Convention Center is scheduled to reopen Sept. 21. The 226-room Hotel Galvez and the 119-room Tremont House, both Wyndham Historic Hotels, are closed indefinitely. The 239-room Hilton Galveston Island Resort also is closed until further notice. The two cruise ships that sail from Galveston, Carnival’s Conquest and Ecstasy, canceled trips that were to leave Sept. 15; for the foreseeable future, the ships will sail from the Port of Houston. In nearby Houston, the damage was not as dramatic, but several events at the George R. Brown Convention Center have been rescheduled, including this weekend’s Theta Antiques Charity Show and Houston Antique Deals, while the facility is used as a temporary staging area for relief teams. Also, all events at the city’s Reliant Park facilities -- Reliant Stadium, Reliant Center, Reliant Arena and Reliant Astrodome -- have been canceled through Sept. 21; some wind damage was sustained at these venues, which also are being used as staging areas. The Houston Chronicle reported yesterday that about 2.2 million residents still were without power. George Bush Intercontinental Airport and William P. Hobby Airport once again are running at full capacity. One hotel, the Sheraton North Houston at George Bush Intercontinental, sustained water damage and is closed until Oct. 1.

Domestic hotel rates are projected to rise a modest 2.3 percent in 2009, according to a report released yesterday by PricewaterhouseCoopers, based on data from Smith Travel Research. This represents some relief from steeper year-over-year jumps of 7.5 percent in 2006 and another 6 percent in 2007. For 2008, PWC projects average daily rates will rise 3.8 percent overall vs. the prior year. "The convergence of increased gas prices, reduced airline capacities and declining consumer confidence are contributing to this expected slowdown in the U.S. lodging industry," said Scott D. Berman, principal and U.S. advisory leader for PWC's hospitality and leisure practice. "Should economic growth and consumer confidence return in 2009, so will lodging industry metrics, though certainly not at the levels seen between 2005 and 2007."

Hawaii Gov. Linda Lingle has called for the resignation of Hawaii Tourism Authority president and CEO Rex Johnson, after learning last week that he sent e-mails containing racist and sexist material using his government computer. In late August, the HTA board disciplined Johnson for exchanging adult-oriented e-mails by reducing his annual salary by $40,000 and his four-year contract to one year. Upon closer review of the content of the e-mails, however, auditors recently revealed racist and sexist comments in addition to pornographic material. According to the Honolulu Advertiser, the HTA board plans to convene as soon as possible and consider what action to take.

The Miami Beach City Commission has approved Global Spectrum as the new manager of the Miami Beach Convention Center. The decision goes against the advice of the commission’s selection committee, which recommended keeping the contract with SMG, which has managed the center for the past 17 years. Global Spectrum is aligned with Messe Schweiz, which owns one of Miami’s most popular shows, Art Basel. The latter is contracted to run at the center through 2011. The three-year contract with Global Spectrum will go into effect Oct. 1.

Convention Centers
The United Church of Christ has opted to relocate its 2011 convention from the Hawaii Convention Center to another destination, mostly because of the high cost of airlift to Hawaii. In an effort to woo back the group, which would bring in an estimated 3,000 attendees and guarantee 24,000 room nights, convention center officials and local hotel executives are considering offering incentive packages and are negotiating with airlines in order to guarantee rates that are acceptable to the group. 

The San Diego Convention Center Corp. has completed the 2008 fiscal year with record-breaking tax revenues and unprecedented regional economic impact. A total of $31.9 million in tax revenues were generated, with $1.8 billion in regional economic impact overall. Direct delegate spending also reached an all-time high at $751.8 million. The center’s 234 events also were responsible for $30.4 million in transit occupancy taxes, up nearly 28 percent from the 2007 fiscal year, marking the first time that TOT revenues have exceeded $30 million.

Marriott International is introducing two tools to help group travel intermediaries: a website allow them to monitor commission payments and future bookings, and an online training program. The website, which goes live in October, will offer online access to payments and future meetings on the books, and will feature news and promotions. This service will only be accessible by industry-accredited group intermediaries. The commission functionality initially will be offered only to intermediaries in North America who participate in Marriott's centralized group commission program, but will be expanded to other countries in the near future. In early 2009, Marriott will introduce Meetings Excellence, a self-paced, online training course for meetings professionals in the travel industry, focusing on what differentiates hotel segments, Marriott's brands and how to plan an effective meeting. Those who complete the online course will receive certification as a Marriott Meeting Profession, and will be eligible for Marriott's discounted Plan-Tastic rates at more than 2,000 hotels around the world. They will also receive special communications every two weeks with specials, offers, and news from Marriott.  

London's landmark Grosvenor House, A JW Marriott Hotel, has completed a four-year, head-to-toe renovation of its 494 guest rooms, public spaces and 33 meeting rooms, including the Grand Room ballroom, which seats 2,000. A new spa/fitness center will be completed in 2010.

The 330-room Radisson SAS Hotel Zurich Airport has opened in Switzerland. The property, designed by renowned Italian architectural firm Matteo Thun & Partners, has 23 meeting rooms and a PACE Fitness Club. It is adjacent to Zurich Airport's Terminal 1.

Fairmont Hotels & Resorts has announced a new property: the 190-room Fairmont Marrakech, Morocco. The resort, to open in 2011, will have 13,000 square feet of meeting space, including a 4,300-square-foot ballroom. The hotel also will have a 14,000-square-foot Willow Stream Spa (Fairmont's signature brand) and health club with 14 treatment rooms.

Accor, a global hotel company, has launched A|Club, a rewards program with no restrictions or blackout dates. Unlike hotel loyalty programs that allow members to earn free nightly stays, A|Club members get $40 hotel vouchers for every 2,000 points earned, which can be used toward their bills at participating hotels -- including Sofitel, Novotel and Ibis -- in 90 countries around the world. Points are based on total hotel bill, not just room rate, and can be transferred to participating airlines. More information can be found at

Taj Hotels Resorts and Palaces, a prominent luxury hotel group in India, unveiled plans last week for a new upscale brand called The Gateway Hotel. Pillars of the new brand are "flexibility, freedom and fitness," with round-the-clock guest services, healthful menus and yoga mats in every room. The company already has agreements for 26 properties in India, a mix of new-builds and conversions; that number is expected to grow to 50 in the near future.

The 1,203 Hilton Americas-Houston, the city’s headquarters hotel, is up for sale. Owned by the city through the Houston Convention Center Hotel Corp., the property recently has been running at more than 70 percent occupancy.

Rail Service
Eurostar train service between England, France and Belgium has been restored and will operate on a restricted timetable through Sunday, Sept. 30, following the fire that closed the Channel Tunnel last Thursday. Eurostar is advising passengers to check in at the time posted on their tickets, but to expect delays. Further updates will be posted at

Officials for Atlanta’s Center for Civil and Human Rights Partnership announced Monday that they will build a $125 million facility in downtown Atlanta, adjacent to the World of Coke. Ground will be broken on the 100,000-square-foot center in 2009, with opening slated for 2010. Plans call for 50,000 square feet of exhibition space, a meeting facility for up to 500 people, a 300-seat auditorium and a dining area. “The center will be a place for ongoing exhibition, discussion and meetings around contemporary human rights issues,” Doug Shipman, the executive director of the center, told M&C.