by By M&C Staff | November 19, 2008

Hot Topics

The latest industry forecast, released Monday by travel management company Egencia, predicts that both average airline ticket prices and average daily hotel rates in the top 20 domestic and international business markets will remain flat or decline slightly in 2009. Despite capacity cuts and extra fees charged by airlines, the average airfare could decline as much as 12 to 16 percent in Atlanta, 9 to 13 percent in Denver, 8 to 12 percent in New York City and 10 to 14 percent in Seattle. On the hotel side, Egencia expects the largest declines in average rates will be seen in Chicago (8 to 12 percent decline), New York City (6 to 10 percent), Phoenix (7 to 11 percent) and San Diego (6 to 10 percent). Nearly half of 500 business travelers surveyed two weeks ago by Egencia (47 percent) expect to travel less next year.

A petition signed by more than 60,000 people against the construction of a city-owned convention hotel in Dallas has been certified, meaning a referendum will be held in May 2009. Still, local officials have said no matter the outcome of such a vote, the city has the support it needs to go ahead with the project. "Despite the petition movement waged by a few and designed to delay or prevent a convention center hotel, the mayor and most members of the Dallas City Council, hotels, civic organizations and community leaders remain very committed to the project," said Phillip Jones, president and CEO of the Dallas Convention and Visitors Bureau. "On Nov. 17, we expect an operator to be recommended by the city to the economic development committee, and final approval of the project to be given in December by the full council." Matthews Holdings Southwest already has been chosen to develop the property, which will have 1,000 rooms and at least 100,000 square feet of meeting space.

A new $1.1 billion airport terminal opened in Indianapolis yesterday across the runway from the old terminal, which no longer will handle passengers. The new facility represents the first airport to open that was designed and built after Sept. 11, 2001, according to the Indianapolis Convention and Visitors Association. The terminal, approximately 15 to 20 minutes from downtown, has 40 gates, new parking facilities and a new access ramp to the highway. Multiple hotel projects are being planned.

The historic Fontainebleau Miami Beach reopens Friday after a $1 billion renovation. The Morris Lapidus-designed hotel, which originally opened in 1954 and was known for hosting famous guests such as Elvis Presley and Marlene Dietrich, now features 1,504 guest rooms, 107,000 square feet of indoor meeting space, a 40,000-square-foot spa, 11 restaurants, two nightclubs and six pools.

Opening on Monday will be the 297-room SLS Hotel at Beverly Hills (Calif.), the first entry from the new luxury brand SLS Hotels. Formerly Le Méridien Beverly Hills, the Starwood-managed property features a dining and retail area called the Bazaar, and Tres restaurant, both led by Spanish chef José Andrés. Additionally, a panoramic pool deck is the site of a second restaurant called Altitude. A total of 13 meeting rooms are available, the largest of which is a 4,374-square-foot ballroom.

Airline Industry

Last week, following the official merger of Delta Air Lines and Northwest Airlines, Delta changed a number of its fees and policies to bring them in line with Northwest's. The most notable change: Delta soon will charge $15 for a first checked bag and $25 for a second checked bag on coach-class domestic flights. (Passengers flying coach internationally and business-class domestically will be able to check two or three bags, respectively, without charge.) The new fees take effect Dec. 5.

On Nov. 1, Continental Airlines reduced its allowable carry-on luggage size from 51 linear inches (the total of a bag's length, width and height; typically 26 x 14 x 11 inches) to 45 linear inches (typically 22 x 14 x 9). US Airways is now the only major U.S. airline with a carry-on allowance of 51 linear inches; Northwest, Delta, United and American all allow a maximum of 45 linear inches. Continental's weight allowance for carry-on luggage (40 lbs) remained the same, and one "small personal article," such as a laptop, purse or briefcase, still is permitted.

Southwest Airlines is building a code-share partnership with Mexican airline Volaris, allowing the low-cost U.S. airline to operate flights to Mexico for the first time. Schedules and additional details for the arrangement will be announced by early 2010.

A study from the International Congress & Convention Association reveals the global economy is having a negative impact on members' future meetings industry expectations, but few are planning marketing or staff cuts in 2009. Nearly 30 percent of ICCA's 850 members participated in the online survey conducted last month. Nearly 80 percent of respondents expects the economy to have a negative impact on their business in 2009. However, almost 70 percent of those surveyed said they wouldn't be cutting their 2009 marketing budgets, and 78 percent said they planned no staff cuts. More than half of those polled expect that a significant negative global impact on the international meetings industry will last up to 18 months, while 11 percent expect the negative effect to last longer. 

Several hotels in Las Vegas have reduced rates for peak nights during International CES, the consumer electronics show to be held in January -- another sign of tough economic times for hotels and conventions. Usually hotel reservations can be difficult to get for CES dates; this year's event attracted more than 140,000 attendees. For the 2009 CES, one MGM Mirage resort, Excalibur, has reduced rates from $219 to $141, a 36 percent drop.

Results from the National Business Travel Association's 2009 Business Travel Overview and Cost Forecast predict increases in business travel costs and slower than usual travel-industry growth. The study shows travel managers expect business travel costs to rise 5 to 8 percent next year. Still, the number of business trips will continue to rise but at a slower pace than the growth seen in recent years. "Across the board, we can expect to see some changes in the way travel is managed to further maximize value," said NBTA president and CEO Kevin Maguire, CCTE. NBTA's research predicts travel managers will continue their cost-containment strategies through a number of measures, such as reducing nonessential travel, enforcing new travel policy mandates, and implementing spending and reporting tools.

Cruise Lines

Princess Cruises christened its newest vessel the Ruby Princess last week. The 3,080-passenger ship will sail from Port Everglades, Fla., on seven-day cruises to the western Caribbean for the rest of the winter. In the spring the ship, will move to Europe and sail 12-day itineraries throughout the Mediterranean and the Greek Islands.
Oceania and Regent Seven Seas cruise lines, both owned by Prestige Cruise Holdings, announced last week that the company has eliminated fuel surcharges for all 2010 sailings, effective last Monday. However, the $15 per guest, per day surcharges still will apply to all 2009 sailings unless the price of oil falls below $65 a barrel two weeks prior to the calendar quarter in which the cruise departs. Refunds will be given in the form of onboard credits.

As part of a three-year, $65 million refurbishment, the 207-room Four Seasons Resort The Biltmore Santa Barbara in southern California has reopened its 9,200-square-foot La Pacifica Ballroom and Terrace. Floor-to-ceiling windows, mirrored walls and a 5,000-square-foot terrace are the venue's most notable features. Additionally, an on-site banquet kitchen, new restrooms, improved vehicle access and wired and wireless Internet now are available. 

Renovations are under way at the 910-room Hyatt Regency St. Louis Riverfront, formerly an Adam's Mark hotel. The $63 million upgrade is expected to be complete next summer. The city's other Hyatt Regency, a 539-room property on Memorial Plaza by the city's train station, will be reflagged as the St. Louis Marriott Union Station on Dec. 17.

The Las Vegas Sands Corp. confirmed it will suspend construction of four hotel towers in Macau while it pursues financing from a "major Chinese bank," according to Bill Weidner, president and COO, who spoke on a conference call earlier this week. The development on Macau's Cotai Strip was to include St. Regis, Shangri-La, Sheraton and Traders hotels, totaling more than 6,400 hotel rooms with 500,000 square feet of meeting and exhibition space. Weidner said the project will resume when more capital becomes available. For now, the company is prioritizing the construction of its 2,700-room casino resort in Singapore, which Weidner called "the most important project for the company." Although the opening date for the Marina Bay Sands resort might be pushed back to 2010, no design modifications are planned at this time. The Singapore property will have 1.2 million square feet of exhibition space.

InterContinental Hotels Group announced yesterday it will open a 168-room Hotel Indigo in downtown Tampa, Fla., in 2010. The $29 million property will be within walking distance of the St. Pete Times Forum in the Channelside district. Amenities will include a pool, an outdoor deck available for receptions, nearly 3,000 square feet of meeting space, a fitness center and a casual restaurant. Also under the brand, the historic Heritage Hotel in downtown St. Petersburg, Fla., also will be converted into a Hotel Indigo in early 2009.

Canyon Ranch Miami Beach opens today with 150 guest rooms and a 70,000-square-foot spa with 54 treatment rooms. Formerly the Carillon Hotel, the Collins Avenue property also offers four pools, a two-story fitness center with a rock-climbing wall, beach access, and five restaurants and cafés.

The Dallas Morning News is reporting that a second Four Seasons property might be built in the area. The company already offers the Four Seasons Resort & Club in the Las Calinas area of Irving. Quoting a report from PKF Hospitality Research, the paper said the new hotel would be the 250-room Four Seasons NorthPark, to open by 2012 at the northeast corner of the mall property along Central Expressway.

Orient-Express Hotels has put the construction of a 150-room hotel in midtown Manhattan on hold for six months, in order to "improve cost efficiencies and conserve cash in this challenging period for the lodging industry," according to a spokesperson. The project is slated to include an extensive renovation of the Donnell branch of the New York Public Library, to be housed within the hotel itself, plus contemporary dining, a spa, and expanded banqueting and dining space for the company's existing ‘21' Club. Completion is expected in 2012.

The 1,635-room Peppermill Resort, Spa and Casino in Reno, Nev., will open the 30,000-square-foot Spa Toscana on Nov. 15, the latest phase of a makeover. Three floors of Tuscan-inspired architecture and 24 treatment rooms, as well as an indoor pool, a sundeck and a garden, will complement a full range of treatments in the facility, themed to ancient Rome.
The El Dorado Casitas Royale, a Karisma resort in Mexico's Riviera Maya, is opening the 20,000-square-foot Casitas Spa on Nov. 15. Features include a serenity pool, saunas, steam rooms, a fitness center, a boutique, event space, a full-service salon and, of course, spa treatments. The spa will be available to guests of the boutique El Dorado Casitas Royale as well as the full resort that encompasses it, the El Dorado Royale, which has a total of 639 guest rooms.