by M&C Staff | October 15, 2008

The world economic situation has hit Meeting Professionals International: The association has rescheduled its Asian Meetings and Events Conference, which was to be held Oct. 24-25 in Singapore. The event will be rescheduled sometime in 2009, but a new date has not been set. In an online statement, MPI said, "The escalating economic uncertainty in North America, Europe and Asia is impacting the expected international attendance and could prevent us from delivering an educational experience that would showcase MPI's value propositions to our local partners and stakeholders." In other MPI news, the organization has announced the dates and locations of upcoming World Education Congresses and MeetDifferent (formerly the Professional Education Conference). The WEC will travel to Orlando, July 23-26, 2011; St. Louis, July 28-31, 2012; and Las Vegas, July 20-23, 2013. MeetDifferent 2010 will take place in Cancún, Mexico, Feb. 20-23.

Rex Johnson, CEO of the Hawaiian Tourism Authority, resigned last Wednesday, following allegations he sent racist, sexist and pornographic e-mails on his government-owned computer. In August, Johnson was reprimanded by the HTA board for forwarding e-mails containing adult-oriented material and took a $40,000 dock in his $240,000 annual salary. His four-year contract also was cut to one year. However, upon closer review, the e-mails were found to contain sexist and racist comments as well, according to an article in the Honolulu Advertiser, prompting Hawaii Gov. Linda Lingle to call for his resignation. Lloyd I. Unebasami has been named interim president and CEO; a search committee is being formed to find Johnson's replacement.

The Los Angeles Times has reported that the Federal Aviation Administration is investigating whether Los Angeles World Airports, which manages L.A.-area airports including LAX, improperly provided $40 million in marketing funds over the past six years to LA Inc., the city's convention and visitors bureau. Funds from airports are allowed by law to be used to promote travel to that airport, but only if the marketing is limited to promoting the airport's own in-house attractions and benefits. "We haven't accused the agency of anything, nor have we reached any firm conclusions," A spokesperson for the FAA's Western-Pacific Region (which includes California) told M&C. "We're asking the agency to explain some of the money that it sent to LA Inc. Los Angeles World Airports has until Oct. 30 to respond to our request." Los Angeles World Airports is now gathering evidence to refute the government agency's position. If the FAA determines the funds were used improperly, LA Inc. could be ordered to pay back the $40 million to Los Angeles World Airports.

Smith Travel Research this week issued preliminary September 2008 figures for the U.S. lodging industry. The results, which were compared to September 2007 figures, showed average occupancy rates down 5 to 7 percent, and revenue per available room dipping 2 to 4 percent. Hardest hit was the midscale-with-F&B segment, which was predicted to show an occupancy drop of 6 to 8 percent and RevPAR falling 4 to 6 percent for the month. Also taking a big hit was the luxury segment, which showed occupancy falling 4 to 6 percent and RevPAR dropping 3 to 5 percent. The upper upscale segment, the tier directly below luxury, fared the best, with occupancy declining 3 to 6 percent and RevPAR dipping 1 to 3 percent.

The Massachusetts Pequot tribe, owners of Foxwoods Resort Casino, is reducing its work force by 6 percent because of the weak economy and declining operating profits. As a result, on Oct. 18, 700 employees will be laid off. CEO Patricia Irvin, a former Wall Street attorney and Pentagon official, already has been let go, as her official last day was Friday, Oct. 9; she had been at the helm of the company less than a year. The CEO position has been eliminated. Irvin's duties are being taken over by Barry Cregan, interim president, and Gillian Murphy, senior vice president and general manager of the MGM Grand at Foxwoods. Slot revenues at Foxwoods have fallen 7 percent in the last three fiscal years.

According to various news sources, beleaguered insurance giant American International Group Inc. canceled a second incentive program on Thursday, just days after the firm found itself in the headlines and in the hot seat when word got out that the it held an elaborate, $440,000 "executive retreat" (which was, in fact, an incentive program one of its subsidiaries held for its top-producing independent agents) just days after receiving an $85 billion bailout by the government. The canceled event was a similar incentive program sponsored by another of AIG's divisions and was slated to take place next month at the Ritz-Carlton Half Moon Bay, just south of San Francisco.

Airline Industry
U.S. Airways is increasing its flights to the Turks & Caicos beginning Jan. 1. Service to the capital city of Providenciales will be added from Boston, Philadelphia and Charlotte, N.C. A previously announced flight increase to the Turks & Caicos from Atlanta will take effect on Dec. 20.

The International Association of Conference Centers and the American Hotel & Lodging Educational Institute have formed a partnership to provide new educational and professional development resources to IACC's members. The AHLEI will help IACC develop conference-center-specific materials as well as online courses and, possibly, professional certification programs.

The winners of the Professional Convention Management Association's 2008 Achievement Awards include VRS Meetings & Events principal Valerie Summer, named PCMA's Distinguished Member of the Year, as well as Fairmont Hotels and Resorts, recipient of the 2008 Environment Leadership Award, PCMA's newest honor. The full slate of winners is online at The winners will be honored at PCMA's annual meeting, Jan. 11–14 in New Orleans.

Cruise Lines
Carnival Corp. is eliminating its $9 per guest, per day fuel surcharge on all 2010 sailings but will raise the overall price of sailings to compensate. The new policy will apply to all bookings on Carnival Cruise Line, Costa Cruises, Cunard Line, Holland America Line, Princess Cruises and The Yachts of Seabourn. Carnival also announced it will reimburse customers for fuel surcharges on 2008 and 2009 sailings if the price of oil drops below $70 a barrel.

A $9 million renovation was completed last week at the 143-room Hotel Durant, in Berkeley, Calif. The property now offers complimentary Wi-Fi and in-room Internet access, iPod-docking stations and 37-inch TVs in all guest rooms; refurbished conference facilities; the revamped Henry's "gastropub"; and a club-level floor with décor inspired by the Hollywood film classic, The Graduate. The hotel offers three meeting rooms accommodating up to 90 people.

Regent Hotels & Resorts has broken ground on the 150-room Regent Palmas del Mar Puerto Rico resort, 35 minutes southeast of San Juan. Among the accommodations are 52 suites, including the 5,500-square-foot presidential suite. The resort will have three swimming pools, a 16,000-square-foot spa and a ballroom (exact square footage is not yet available). The Regent Palmas del Mar is set to open in December 2011.

The Nines, a new 331-room Starwood Luxury Collection hotel that occupies the top nine floors of a former department store in downtown Portland, Ore., will open Thursday. Starwood spent $115 million to turn the 100-year-old building into a hotel. The Nines was designed to receive LEED Silver Certification. It has 14,000 square feet of meeting space, including a 7,200-square-foot ballroom.

The 1,047-room Boca Raton Resort & Club will join the Waldorf=Astoria Collection next year. The property is on the verge of finishing a $220 million renovation that includes the new Morimoto sushi bar and the first Serendipity ice cream café outside of New York City. The resort's 212-room Beach Club will reopen in December with a complete redesign of all 10,000 square feet of meeting space, public spaces and guest rooms, and a new pool area.

The 168-room Doubletree by Hilton Aberdeen City Center opened last week in Scotland. The property has 3,300 square feet of meeting space, a business center and fitness rooms.

Construction on The Chateau at Heavenly Village, a convention center and condo-hotel development in South Lake Tahoe, Nev., that stalled earlier this year, now is expected to resume construction in late spring 2009. According to the Tahoe Daily Tribune, the new construction plan  calls for 113 condominiums and the retail shops to be constructed in first, with the convention center following. Additional units would be added in subsequent phases. The Lake Tahoe Development Agency did not return a call seeking confirmation.

Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide announced that four new Aloft hotels are on target to open by 2010. Opening in 2009 is the 140-room Aloft Austin in Texas, to be followed in 2010 by the 104-room Aloft Birmingham-Grandview Parkway in Alabama and, in North Carolina, the 140-room Aloft Chapel Hill and the 150-room Aloft Raleigh-Durham.

The Italian government passed a law last week that establishes a national hotel-classification system, based on a scale of one to five stars. At properties with one to three stars, single rooms must be at least 97 square feet wide, and double rooms must be 150 square feet wide. Also required at the lower end of the scale: daily cleaning services; 12-hour reception; minimum 12-hour bell service, and staff that speaks at least one language in addition to Italian. Four- and five-star properties also must provide satellite TV, Internet access, safes, personal bathrobes, toiletries, hair dryers, daily linen change, 24-hour reception, a staff that speaks at least two foreign languages, a meeting area, room service and air conditioning.

Pathable, which provides a social-networking platform for conferences and events, announced its integration with online registration provider EventBrite. Attendees now will be able to register or buy tickets online through EventBrite, then choose to have their information used to create a Pathable profile so they can join the pre-event online community. See for details.