by By the M&C Staff | December 10, 2008

Hot Topics

EIBTM, The Global Meetings & Incentives Exhibition is experiencing record attendance at this year's conference, which concludes tomorrow (Thurs) in Barcelona, Spain. Paul Kennedy, group exhibition director for the show's organizer, Reed Travel Exhibitions, said he expects a total of 3,750 to 3,800 hosted buyers by the close of the show, and more than 6,000 industry personnel representing 3,300 exhibiting companies. The show floor has grown by about 9 percent, the third consecutive year of similar increases, said Kennedy. Citing the event's success as well as strong advance bookings for next year, "it appears that destination marketing budgets are holding," said Kennedy, although he does expect some slowing in corporate budgets for meetings and incentives. "It is sensible to be cautious," he added, "but I'm one of those people who believes we should not talk ourselves into a complete crisis in our industry."

The Internal Revenue Service last week announced it will drop the standard reimbursable mileage rate to 55 cents per mile as of Jan. 1. The rate had been 50.5 cents in the first half of 2008 and was raised to 58.5 cents in the second half due to the dramatic spike in fuel prices. The mileage rates for 2009 reflect generally higher transportation costs compared to a year ago but also factor in the recent reversal of rising gasoline prices, according to the agency.

According to a story published Monday in The Seattle Times, the Washington State Convention & Trade Center is pursuing a 210,000-square-foot, $500 million expansion. But this could conflict with Mayor Greg Nickels' desire for a $300 million expansion of KeyArena, with the intent of attracting a new NBA franchise. (The NBA's SuperSonics played in Seattle from 1967 to 2008; the team relocated to Oklahoma City this year and was renamed the Thunder.) Both the mayor and WSCTC president and general manager John Christison would like for their expansions to be funded by Seattle's 7 percent occupancy tax, which currently is used to market the WSCTC and pay down debt from its last expansion. Seattle's bed tax brought in $37 million in 2007, an amount Tom Norwalk, president and CEO of Seattle's Convention & Visitors Bureau, believes will shrink in 2009.

Last week, the 504-acre Resort at Pelican Hill opened in Newport Beach, Calif. Features include 204 bungalows and 128 villas; a 36-hole Tom Fazio-designed golf course; the Spa at Pelican Hill with 22 treatment rooms; the Coliseum Pool; five dining facilities, and 20,000 square feet of meeting space.

The 1,190-room Hilton San Diego Bayfront Hotel, the city's newest convention center property, opens today. Across the street from PETCO Park, home of the San Diego Padres, and adjacent to the convention center, the hotel offers a fitness center and spa, a waterfront restaurant, a Fox Sports Grill, a high-end retail complex, a 4.3-acre park featuring $2 million in public art, and 165,000 square feet of meeting space.

Walt Disney Parks and Resorts has broken ground on its $800 million resort at Ko Olina on Oahu, marking the company's first foray in the Hawaiian Islands. Spanning 21 acres, the property will feature 350 hotel rooms, 480 time-share Disney Vacation Club villas, a saltwater lagoon, an event lawn, an 18,000-square-foot spa, an open-air lobby and a stand-alone convention center. The project will open in 2011.

Airline Industry
Last Friday, German airline Lufthansa announced that it will launch an Italian spinoff, Lufthansa Italia, in February. The airline will fly from Lombardy and Milan in Italy to Barcelona in Spain, and Paris. Later, the carrier will add service to Brussels, Belgium; Bucharest, Romania; Budapest, Hungary; Lisbon, Portugal; London; and Madrid, Spain. Lufthansa Italia will start out with a fleet of six aircraft.

Irish airline Ryanair made a bid Monday to acquire rival Aer Lingus, according to a document filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission. Ryanair, which currently owns 30 percent of Aer Lingus, offered approximately US$1.80 a share to acquire the airline in full. Should the offer be accepted, Aer Lingus would continue to operate under its current name, as a separate company in the Ryanair portfolio.

In response to the increasing requests for Financial and Insurance Conference Planners to comment on recent economic events and their impact on the meetings industry, the association released the following statement yesterday: Financial and Insurance Conference Planners has followed with much interest the press coverage of excessive spending of certain financial institutions on meetings and events. We strongly believe in scrutinizing the ethical, moral and financial stability of all publicly held companies. FICP does not support irresponsible and excessive corporate spending, especially during times of economic distress. But we would also like to offer our perspective on the relevance and value of corporate meetings, conferences and incentive programs, many of which have been planned long in advance of any financial trouble, and many of which are vital to helping companies focus their human talent on the future. For the full FICP statement, click here. This is the latest statement by an industry association in the wake of the fall AIG bailout and subsequent media and goverment scrutiny of the insurer's meetings and incentive programs. Meeting Professionals International and the Society of Incentive & Travel Executives weighed in a few weeks ago; details appear in this month's Incentive Newsline.

Meeting Professionals International has hired Trey Feiler as its new COO, reporting to president and CEO Bruce MacMillan. Feiler will run MPI's Knowledge and Events, Marketing and Communications, and Member Care divisions. He comes to the association from his position as senior vice president of development for the Jamba Juice Co.; previously, he worked in real estate, finance and development with Brinker International and Yum! Brands.

The fifth annual China Expo for International Cooperation will be held Jan. 14-16 in Nanjing, China, introducing trade show organizers to key contacts and issues facing the Chinese exhibitions industry. The expo will focus on sustainable industry development in a "knowledge-based economy." In 2008, CEFCO attracted 600 attendees, including 100 from overseas. CEFCO is organized by the China Council for the Promotion of International Trade; UFI, the Global Association of the Exhibition Industry; the International Association for Exhibitions and Events, and the Society of Independent Show Organizers. Registration details are available at

Cruise Lines

Four cruise lines -- Royal Caribbean International, The Yachts of Seabourn, Oceania Cruises and Azamara Cruises -- are not making scheduled stops in Mumbai, India, because of the recent terrorist attacks suffered there. The Seabourn Spirit will stop at Mormugao and Kochi, India, instead. The Oceania Nautica, which was chased and fired on by pirates last Sunday (no one was hurt), will stop at Mormugao as well. The Azamara Quest will skip stopping in Mumbai on Sunday. Last week, Royal Caribbean's Legend of the Seas stayed in Dubai an extra day instead of stopping in Mumbai.

Ground is being broken today on the Westin at the Domain in Austin, Texas. Part of the second phase of a mixed-use development, the 340-room property will offer 14,000 square feet of meeting space. The first phase of the project opened in March 2007 with 10 restaurants and 90,000 square feet of retail space, including a Neiman Marcus and a Macy's.

Reopening tomorrow is the Sheraton Steamboat Resort in Steamboat Springs, Colo., following a $20 million renovation. The property has 213 guest rooms and 17 meeting rooms, including a 6,300-square-foot ballroom.

The 14,000-square-foot Executive Meeting Center at the Renaissance Denver Hotel has been certified by the International Association of Conference Centers as an auxiliary conference center. The property has 400 guest rooms.

The $18 million Casino Del Mar now is open at La Concha, A Renaissance Resort, in San Juan, Puerto Rico. The 15,000-square-foot casino represents a small portion of a $220 million renovation at the property, a 50-year-old tropical-modernist architectural icon. La Concha has 248 rooms, six restaurants and lounges, and 15,976 square feet of meeting space.

The 398-room Overland Park (Kan.) Marriott, about 15 miles south of Kansas City, has completed a $20 million renovation of all guest rooms, public spaces and the hotel's 14,000 square feet of meeting space. The meeting rooms have new audiovisual equipment, lighting, carpets and wall coverings.

The 335-room Mondrian Miami opened in Miami Beach on Monday. The property includes the 4,000-square-foot Agua spa, a rooftop garden and bar, the Asia de Cuba restaurant and three meeting rooms.

Golden Tulip Hospitality Group has launched a new brand, Royal Tulip -- "upper upscale hotels" in gateway city centers and business districts. Seven Royal Tulip properties are being built in Europe, the Middle East and China. The first, the 166-room Royal Tulip Almaty in Kazakhstan, will open in September 2009 with meeting facilities, a spa and two restaurants.

Hilton Hotels continued its Latin American expansion last week with the opening of the 169-room Hilton Garden Inn Liberia Airport in the province of Guanacaste, Costa Rica. The property, which offers a restaurant, a workout facility and complimentary Internet access, is two minutes from the airport on the country's northern Pacific coast.

The 664-room ClubHotel Riu Tequila, in Playa del Carmen, Mexico, reopened Friday following renovations that exceeded US$15 million. The resort, which had been closed since Aug. 20, unveiled a remodeled lobby and swimming pools; new linens, curtains and televisions in the guest rooms; and a new Asian restaurant. Playa del Carmen is just south of Cancún on Mexico's Caribbean coast.

Mexico City airport operator Grupo Aeroportuario del Centro Norte has entered into an agreement with NH Hotels to manage the hotel and retail space in the airport's new Terminal 2. Plans call for a five-star, 287-room NH Hotel plus retail space, covering 54,000 square feet in total. According to the airport operator, the hotel already is 60 percent complete and should open for business by the end of April. The retail establishments likely will begin operating in 2010.

International Travel
Venice, Italy, is expected to return to normal today following two days of heavy rains and high winds that caused the worst flooding there in 22 years. Yesterday, water levels dropped to 39 inches, down from a height of 61 inches Monday. At that time, St. Mark's Square -- the city's most-famous landmark -- and 95 percent of Venice's center were covered by two feet of water. According to media reports, transportation was returning to normal, although some canal ferries were forced to take alternative routes because they couldn't fit under the bridges.