by By the M&C Staff | January 07, 2009

Hot Topics

U.S. hotels have entered the initial stages of one of the deepest and longest recessions in the history of the domestic lodging industry, according to a report issued last week by PKF Hospitality Research. PKF expects a 7.8 percent drop in revenue per available room in 2009. The company also predicts U.S. hotels will not see a year-over-year quarterly increase in RevPAR until the second quarter of 2010. "We are forecasting 2.5 percent fewer occupied rooms in 2009, said Mark Woodworth, president of PKF. "This follows an estimated 1.0 percent decline in demand for year-end 2008." The expected 2.5 percent drop in demand, combined with a 2.9 percent increase in supply, will result in a 2009 year-end occupancy level of 57.6 percent, a 5.3 percent decline.

HelmsBriscoe, the site-selection firm, announced this week it has acquired Inn Fluent, the third-party firm founded less than two years ago by former longtime Marriott International executives Mike Beardsley and Joel Pyser. Under the terms of the agreement, Inn Fluent will operate under the HB brand and have access to its resources, including a database of 79,000 hotels worldwide.

The resilience of the trade show industry during economic downturns and the value of face-to-face marketing were the unofficial themes of Expo! Expo!, the annual meeting of the International Association of Exhibitions and Events, held last week in Miami Beach. Roughly 1,990 people attended, about 400 fewer than last year in Las Vegas, according to Steven Hacker, president of IAEE, who added, "We consider that to be an enormous victory in this economy." The association's biggest announcement was a 10-year partnership with National Trade Productions, the organizer of the exhibitor trade show TS2, to broaden the networking and educational opportunities for attendees of TS2 and Expo! Expo!. According to the agreement, IAEE will reintroduce and co-locate its midyear meeting at TS2, which will be held next July 20-23 in Chicago, and next year's Expo! Expo! will include an education track for exhibitors. The two groups also announced the formation of the International Center for Exhibitor and Event Marketing, which will conduct industry research and will be funded partially by a percentage of TS2 revenue. Hacker said the Center will be unveiled at the co-located meeting in July.

The Mayalsian Minister of Tourism this week announced the formation of the Malaysia Convention & Exhibition Bureau, the country's first national body to promote and book meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions. Designed to be a one-stop shop for meeting planners, the bureau will have an initial budget of US$1.4 million. In 2007, more than 1 million business travelers visited Malaysia for meetings, generating US$891 million.

The 1,225-room Sheraton Denver Downtown Hotel has begun a $70 million renovation with the donation of more than 2,000 "gently used" blankets and pillows to several local organizations. To be completed by mid-2009, the project will redo the property's guest rooms and lobby. Being added is the "Link@Sheraton experienced with Microsoft," a lobby lounge designed for social interaction both digital and face-to-face.

The 150-room Fairmont Battery Wharf Boston welcomes its first guests this week, with an official opening planned for early next year. The hotel, in Boston's North End, has 6,000 square feet of meeting space.

Last Thursday, St. Regis Hotels & Resorts broke ground on its newest Puerto Rican property, the 139-room St. Regis Resort and Residences Bahia Beach. When the $172 million resort opens in fall 2010, it will have a 10,000-square-foot Remède Spa, a 120-seat Asian–Puerto Rican fusion restaurant by Jean-Georges Vongerichten and 12,700 square feet of meeting space. An 18-hole golf course designed by Robert Trent Jones Jr. is open now.

Omni Hotels will begin operating the 216-room Bedford Springs Resort, in Pennsylvania's Cumberland Valley, on Jan. 1. The property, which underwent a $120 million restoration in 2007 after being closed for 20 years, will be known as the Omni Bedford Springs Resort. Modern additions to the historic resort include a 30,000-square-foot spa and 20,000-square-foot meetings facility.
Grupo Autofin Mexico, the parent company of the Mundo Imperial complex in Acapulco, yesterday announced that it would cease development of Mundo Imperial due to the "existing international economic crisis." More than US$300 million already has been invested in the project, and the company expects construction on the resort, the Sol Imperial spa, the Il Duomo convention center, and the Promenade retail and entertainment area to continue when market conditions improve. The Forum at Mundo Imperial, a 4,000-seat event center that opened in November, will continue operations under the management of OCESA, a subsidiary of a major concert and theatrical production company in Mexico.

As of yesterday, Gogo Inflight Internet service, supplied by Aircell, is available on six Delta aircraft. Eventually, the program will be expanded to 300 aircraft flying domestic routes. The first planes fitted with Wi-Fi are five Delta Shuttle aircraft, serving New York's LaGuardia, Boston's Logan and Washington, D.C.'s Reagan airports, as well as one 757 that will operate throughout Delta's domestic network. Internet access will be free through the end of the year; beginning in 2009, the service will cost $10 on flights of less than three hours, and $13 on flights longer than three hours.

Airline Industry
United Airlines rolled out its new Premier Line program last week, which for $25 each way offers passengers access to priority check-in, security screening and boarding lines. This upgrade can be purchased when buying a ticket, checking in online, through, or (eventually) at airport kiosks. Currently, 14 airports offer the program: United's hubs in Chicago, Denver, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Washington, D.C. (Dulles), plus nine other airports including New York's LaGuardia, Boston's Logan and Seattle's Sea-Tac.

Meeting Professionals International has launched its first Asian and South American chapters. The new group in Seoul, South Korea, has 62 members, and has plans to offer the new Global Certificate in Meetings Operations 1, which was first administered in Qatar in November. The Brazil chapter, based in Sao Paulo, debuts with 53 meeting professionals.

The Trade Show Exhibitors Association last week launched a new "Perfect Partnership" program, designed to expand the educational outreach of TSEA and drive membership for the association. Any show organizer who agrees to endorse TSEA and publicize TSEA events and webinars to his or her exhibitors will gain access to TSEA educational materials that can be distributed to exhibitors at the organizer's show. The articles and other digital educational materials cover the subject of how to become a better exhibitor. Enrollment in the program is free for show organizers.

Convention Centers
The Hawaii Convention Center anticipates 2009 to be its best year ever. A total of $445 million in spending is expected to be generated, a figure well above 2008's figure of $63 million. Total room nights for 2009 are expected at 771,361, an increase of more than 300,000 in comparison with 2008. The sizable increase in spending is due in large part to booking the American Dental Association's 150th Annual Session, which will draw approximately 40,000 attendees. The ADA last booked the convention center in 1999, with a total of 31,000 attendees.

Freeman, the exhibit and event services company, made several announcements of new products and services at IAEE last week. First, the company officially launched EventMatch, a web-based tool jointly developed by Freeman and BDMetrics that facilitates networking and helps attendees and exhibitors find each other and schedule appointments during conventions. The partnership between the two companies also will allow Freeman's smaller show clients to take advantage of BDMetrics products at more affordable prices. Additionally, Freeman announced the publication of "Tips for First-Time Exhibitors," the first in a series of white papers on face-to-face marketing. Finally, Freeman unveiled Concierge Elite, a new level of personalized service for exhibitors intended to reduce processing time of on-site requests and orders, and to shrink lines at the show's service center by employing "roaming concierges" with mobile devices to take exhibitor requests from the show floor.

The Bethesda North Marriott Hotel and Conference Center in Rockville, Md., unveiled a new 255-room wing this week, which brings the hotel's total to 450 guest rooms. The property also enlarged its fitness center and concierge lounge, and features 35,000 square feet of meeting space, including a 130-person amphitheater.

The Dallas City Council continues to push forward plans to build a city-owned convention center hotel. Last week, the council authorized city manager Mary Suhm to finalize the details of a development agreement with Matthews Southwest, the company that has been chosen to design and construct the 1,000-room property. At the end of November, Dallas' Economic Development Committee recommended that Omni Hotels be chosen as the operator for the hotel, which will have more than 100,000 square feet of meeting space.

The Houstonian Hotel, Club & Spa in Houston has completed a $7.1 million renovation of its 288 guest rooms. The work included the installation of an energy-management system for each room, which regulates the temperature when empty and brings it up to guests' preference when occupied. Also added were 42-inch LCD TVs and the LodgeNet Launch Pad, a multimedia panel that allows guests to connect their electronic devices to the entertainment and Internet systems. Verizon Wireless installed a cellular booster system to provide better signals throughout the property. The Houstonian has more than 32,000 square feet of meeting space and a 125,000-square-foot health and fitness facility called the Club.

Opening on Saturday is the Osprey at Beaver Creek, a ski-in/ski-out hotel at this resort just outside Vail, Colo. About $7 million was spent to transform the 45-room Inn at Beaver Creek into a boutique RockResort property. The Osprey has one meeting room, the 1,216-square-foot Peregrine Room with a balcony offering views of the mountain.

The Aloft Denver International Airport debuted last week. The hotel has 144 guest rooms and a 1,000-square-foot meeting room.

The 411-room Epic Hotel opened Monday on Biscayne Bay in Miami. The Kimpton property features 11,000 square feet of indoor meeting space, including eight meeting rooms and a 4,000-square-foot ballroom. The hotel also offers a 15,000-square-foot spa, a full-service restaurant and a 14,000-square-foot pool deck that turns into a nightclub in the evening and is available for events. An extra touch: The Epic has 13 guest rooms for taller guests, with extra-long beds and higher showerheads.

The 279-room Doubletree Palm Gardens in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., has been designated a Florida Green Lodging property by the state's Department of Environmental Protection. To meet the program's guidelines, the hotel installed CFL lighting, implemented a recycling program and now uses only eco-friendly cleaning. Since last January, Florida's agencies and departments have been required to hold their meetings only at state-designated green-lodging properties.

The 203-room Doubletree Guest Suites Fort Shelby in downtown Detroit opened on Monday after a $90 million restoration of the former Hotel Fort Shelby, which had fallen into disrepair. A few blocks from the Cobo Center, the hotel has 21,000 square feet of meeting space and a restaurant, Finn & Porter, serving seafood and steaks.

The Taj Mahal Palace and Tower in Mumbai will reopen Dec. 21. Taj Hotels Resorts & Palaces also announced this week the creation of the Taj Public Service Welfare Trust to provide relief to those who were injured and the families of those who were killed in the terrorist attacks at the hotel last month.

The Hyatt Regency Scottsdale Resort and Spa at Gainey Ranch has completed the final phase of a $50 million renovation. The property's 492 guest rooms and casitas and its 14,000-square-foot Vaquero Ballroom were upgraded; other enhancements included the addition of an executive boardroom and a solar hot-water system.

The 240-room Fairmont Corfu Resort & Spa will open in 2012 on the Greek island of Corfu. The property will have six food and beverage outlets, 19,500 square feet of meeting space and a Willow Stream Spa with 17 treatment rooms. The complex also will include 10 Fairmont-branded residential villas, a beach club, a tennis academy and a marina.

Ritz-Carlton Hotels & Resorts will manage the 431-room Nile Hilton beginning Jan. 1. The property initially will be rebranded as The Nile Hotel, Cairo; after the completion of a restoration and renovation (which is estimated to last between 18 and 24 months), it will be renamed The Ritz-Carlton, Cairo. The property has 10 meeting rooms.

A $7 million renovation has been completed at the Hotel Fifty, a 140-room boutique hotel in Portland, Ore. The project revamped the hotel's exterior, updated its amenities and overhauled all of the guest rooms, adding wood paneling, glass countertops, 42-inch HDTV plasma-screen TVs and more. A new restaurant, H50 bistro and bar, features a menu full of local and seasonal ingredients, an 800-bottle wine cellar and riverfront views. Hotel Fifty has two conference rooms, each of which can accommodate up to 65 people.

According to the Los Angeles Times, several major mixed-use projects in Los Angeles have been put on hold due to lack of financing. Developments in limbo include a $3 billion residential, retail and hotel project along downtown's Grand Avenue; a $400 million luxury hotel/condominium tower in Century City; and the $1 billion Park Fifth residential and hotel complex, also in the downtown area. On a more positive note, AEG's $2.5 billion LA LIVE entertainment and hotel complex adjacent to the Los Angeles Convention Center remains on track for a 2010 opening. The project will offer 1,001 hotel rooms, a 260,480-square-foot conference center and dozens of restaurants and entertainment options.

MGM Mirage has agreed to sell the 2,885-room Treasure Island Hotel & Casino to billionaire businessman Phil Ruffin, owner of Ruffin Acquisition LLC, for $775 million. MGM Mirage originally acquired the pirate-themed resort in 2000, as part of the merger between MGM Grand and Mirage Resorts. Both parties expect the deal to close by the end of the second quarter in 2009. MGM Mirage is scheduled to open the $8 billion CityCenter megadevelopment, a joint venture with Dubai World, on the Strip in late 2009.
MGM Mirage Hospitality, a subsidiary of MGM Mirage, has created a new division focusing on gaming expansion into international markets. MGM Mirage Global Gaming Development, to be led by president Lloyd Nathan, will investigate international opportunities such as the recently announced MGM Grand Ho Tram in Vietnam.