by By the M&C Staff | January 21, 2009

Hot Topics

On Monday in New Orleans, at the Professional Convention Management Association's annual meeting, PCMA president and CEO Deborah Sexton announced that a who's who of meetings industry groups will "develop a plan to make the new [presidential] administration aware of the value of the meetings industry." Joining PCMA in the effort are the Convention Industry Council, the American Society of Association Executives, Meeting Professionals International, the National Business Travel Association, Destination Marketing Association International, the Society of Incentive & Travel Executives, the Association of Corporate Travel Executives, the International Association of Exhibitions and Events, and incentive travel firm Maritz. Sexton said representatives of the organizations will meet in Washington, D.C., in two weeks to begin coordinating efforts and gathering research for this initiative. Although it will take a year to 18 months to complete the project, she added, "We will share results and research on a phase-by-phase basis." This research, which will be gathered from the various organizations' membership, will be presented to the U.S. Travel Association (formerly the Travel Industry Association), which will head up the effort to educate the Obama administration on the economic impact of meetings.

The North American International Auto Show opened to journalists on Sunday in Detroit, and those in attendance have been impressed with the restraint the auto companies have shown on the show floor, given their financial troubles. Chrysler's display was described in the Detroit Free Press as "spartan." Overall, the show has been more focused on business, with fewer distractions, according to Roland Jones of Jones reported that exhibitors have saved money by substituting carpet for wood flooring, aluminum for drywall and one-off displays for those that can be reused -- all of which has cut down drastically on show labor costs. They've also cut back on other frivolities, such as free alcohol for journalists. A Motor Trend blogger summed up the mood of the show this way: "It's the same, only 10 percent less so." Some car companies, noticeably Nissan and Porsche, skipped the event altogether, but organizers say the 77 exhibitors will debut a total of 58 vehicles, slightly more than the 55 unveiled last year. Attendance is expected to match last year's draw, around 700,000. The show opens to the public on Saturday and runs through Jan. 25.

The Massachusetts Convention Center Authority, which runs both of Boston's major convention centers as well as an arena in Springfield, Mass., reported a record year in its 2008 Annual Report. The MCCA generated more than 625,000 room nights, exceeded $520 million in estimated economic impact and attracted nearly 915,000 attendees -- the highest marks in all three categories since the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center opened in 2004. Boston's Hynes Convention Center, which will receive 20,000 square feet of new restaurant space as part of an $18 million renovation, generated $11.4 million in revenue, the best performance in the building's history, and MCCA's operating deficit shrank 13 percent, to $13.6 million. Future bookings were strong as well: The MCCA sales team secured 253 future events, which will account for 865,000 room nights and an estimated $655 million in economic impact.

The Walt Disney Co. wants to open a US$3.5 billion Disneyland theme park in Shanghai as early as 2014, its first in mainland China, according to several news reports in the U.S. and Asia. The project has not yet been approved by the Chinese government, according to the Business Times Singapore. A Disney spokesperson could not be reached for comment.

The Greenbrier resort in White Sulphur Springs, Va., is laying off 650 hourly and salaried employees because of the recent decline in business. The property typically lays off some people at this time of year, but steep reductions in occupancy have forced officials to furlough a larger percentage of its staff this year. "Occupancy levels at The Greenbrier do not support the staffing we have today," Michael Gordon, president and managing director of the famed hotel, said in a release. A spokesperson said occupancy at the 721-room luxury resort is running at below 100 rooms a night. The decline in business compounds problems for The Greenbrier, which last year lost significant meetings business to ongoing union negotiations. On Jan. 2, the resort's parent company, Jacksonville, Fla.-based CSX, said 2008 losses at the hotel amounted to about $35 million.

The 614-room Omni Fort Worth (Texas) Hotel, the city's new convention center property, welcomes its first guests this weekend. Across from the Fort Worth Convention Center, the property is the new catering partner for the larger facility. The hotel offers 68,000 square feet of meeting space of its own, including the 18,788-square-foot Texas Ballroom, plus a 20,000-square-foot rooftop garden. Refreshment options include Bob's Steak & Chop House, Cast Iron, the Wine Thief bar and Whisky & Rye. Also available are a full-service fitness center, Wi-Fi access throughout, the Kimbell Art Museum Shop and the Mokara Spa with six treatment rooms.

Atlantic City's gambling proceeds fell 7.6 percent to $4.5 billion in 2008, according to a report released by New Jersey state gaming regulators last Friday. This is the second year in a row the city's gaming revenues have declined (2007 figures were down 5.7 percent from the previous year). According to the Press of Atlantic City, Harrah's Resort was the only casino to bring in higher revenues in 2008, up 4.9 percent to $544.7 million. The two biggest declines were posted by casinos owned by Colony Capital -- the Atlantic City Hilton Casino Resort and Resorts Atlantic City, where gaming revenues were down 18.3 percent and 16.3 percent, respectively.

Two major Las Vegas projects have been put off in the past week. Last Wednesday, CityCenter partners MGM Mirage and Infinity World Development Corp. announced they would delay the opening of the 400-room Harmon Hotel and Spa until late 2010, one year after CityCenter is due to open. The developers also have canceled plans for the 200-unit condominium component of the Harmon. On Monday, Caesars Palace announced it would delay the opening of the new 665-room Octavius Tower, previously scheduled to open this coming summer, until room demand increases. Other aspects of the hotel's $1 billion expansion are set to open on schedule, including an additional 110,000 square feet of meeting space, three luxury villas and an expanded pool area.

Last week, a holding company requested permits to build the world's largest hotel in Las Vegas. The proposed 6,745-room property would be part of a hotel-casino-retail complex on a 60-acre site on Harmon Avenue. The site was previously slated for a W Hotel, a project that fell through in spring 2007. The holding company includes Israel-based developer AFI Group, which refers to the project on its website as Edge, a project slated to include several hotels, 1,000,000 square feet of retail space and a convention center.

New travel rules took effect Monday requiring all foreign visitors entering the U.S. without a visa to complete an online form prior to arriving at the airport, as part of the Visa Waiver Program. Electronic System Travel Authorization applications are free and can be submitted at any time. They are valid for up to two years and cover multiple entries to the U.S. Applications can be completed at

Convention and Visitor Bureaus

A 28 percent budget cut for Visit Florida, the state’s tourism marketing arm, is expected to be approved by the Florida Legislature this week. According to the Orlando Sentinel, the action follows the receipt of lower than expected rental-car-tax revenues and state budget cuts.

The 227-room Radisson Hill Country Resort & Spa in San Antonio, Texas, has been converted to the Hilton San Antonio Hill Country Hotel & Spa. About $6 million will be spent over the next year to upgrade the property, adding flat-screen TVs, new beds and better Internet access to the rooms. The resort offers more than 6,000 square feet of meeting space, three outdoor heated pools, the Hill Country Spa and two dining choices, SunSpot and The Hill Country Bar.

The European Hotel Consortium, a joint venture between PREM Group and Goodbody Stockbrokers, has purchased a landmark building in Brussels, Belgium, and will convert it into a 174-room boutique hotel. The property, which will be branded as a Leopold Hotel, will have an undetermined amount of meeting space. It will be completed in July 2010.

Hyatt Hotels Corp. has reformatted its 257-room Hyatt West Hollywood as the Andaz West Hollywood, the first of the new brand to open in the Americas. The property has a 2,780-square-foot rooftop ballroom, a heated pool, a fitness center, a restaurant serving local cuisine and complimentary wireless Internet access. In March, 5,500 square feet of additional meeting space, dubbed the Andaz Studios, will become available.

The 136-room Holiday Inn Long Island City - Manhattan View opened last week with an indoor swimming pool, a fitness center, wireless Internet access, the Swirl lounge and outdoor patio, and 1,000 square feet of meeting space.

The 108-room Hampton Suites by Hilton Mexico City/Centro Historico celebrated its grand opening last Thursday. In a historical landmark known as Casa San Agustín, the property features a six-story atrium and rooftop patio, as well as a fitness center and meeting space for small groups.
A $20 million renovation has been completed at the 347-room Dolce Valley Forge near the King of Prussia Mall, just outside of Philadelphia. All guest rooms were refurbished, meeting space and the grand ballroom were renovated, and a pool and patio were added. The hotel now offers 24,000 square feet of meeting space and there are plans to add a spa in the near future.

Tropicana Entertainment LLC filed disclosure statements Monday in federal bankruptcy court in Delaware, revealing some plans for reorganization. To reduce debt and establish a positive cash flow, the debt would be converted to ownership in two entities spun off from Tropicana’s gaming and hospitality holdings: OpCo would consist of 10 properties, including those in Atlantic City and Evansville, Ind., while LandCo would consist of just the Las Vegas property. If approved, the restructuring would increase Tropicana’s financial viability, according to a press release, and give the company greater control over its New Jersey and Indiana properties.

Dan Benjoseph has been named director of the Tourist Office for Flanders, Belgium, in North America. Benjoseph, a travel industry veteran, recently served as the business development manager for Costa Cruises. Acting director Liliane Opsmer has been named deputy director for the organization.

Trade Shows
Next year’s AsiaPacific Incentive & Meetings Expo is being moved from February to April to avoid overlapping with the Chinese New Year, which will fall in mid-February, according to organizer Reed Travel Exhibitions. AIME 2010 has been scheduled for April 27-28 in Melbourne, Australia. This year’s AIME will be held in Melbourne Feb. 17-18, and exhibitors from more than 50 countries are expected to attend.