by By the M&C Staff | January 28, 2009

Hot Topics

Three former Starwood resorts in Tahiti have been rebranded as Hilton properties and will be operated by South Pacific Management, which currently runs a portfolio of 10 resorts in French Polynesia. The new properties are the 120-villa Hilton Bora Bora Nui Resort & Spa, the 106-room Hilton Moorea Lagoon Resort & Spa and the 189-room Hilton Hotel Tahiti.

The 200-room Mount Washington Resort in Bretton Woods, N.H., unveiled a new wing with a 20,000-square-foot conference center last week, bringing the resort's total meeting space to approximately 30,000 square feet. The conference center includes a 3,600-square-foot ballroom, divisible by three, as well as two other meeting rooms and a 1,000-square-foot boardroom. Part of a $50 million renovation, the new wing also includes a 25,000-square-foot spa with 13 treatment rooms, which opens this week.

This past Saturday in Jackson, Miss., the new, $65 million Jackson Convention Complex celebrated its grand opening. The center has 128,000 square feet of meeting space, including a 60,000-square-foot exhibit hall, a 25,000-square-foot ballroom, two boardrooms and 10 meeting rooms. The entire center has Wi-Fi capability. According to the Jackson Clarion Ledger, approximately 20,000 people attended the Jackson Convention Complex's grand opening.

Last Wednesday, United Airlines announced that it would begin providing in-flight Wi-Fi Internet access on flights between New York City's JFK International Airport and the Los Angeles and San Francisco international airports. Access will be offered on 13 of United's 757 airplanes in the latter half of this year. The service, called Gogo Inflight Internet, will be provided by Aircell and will be available to all passengers for $12.95. United joins three other airlines -- American Airlines, Delta and Virgin America -- now offering inflight Internet provided by Aircell.

Short's Travel Management, an agency specializing in the corporate and sports markets, has acquired Groople, an online group-travel booking platform. Groople's technology, which provides real-time rates and availability when booking, was integrated into Short's services as of the end of December. The platform's basic functionality currently is available to all customers. Groople's Meeting Management product will be launched to one major customer in April, according to Short's Travel president David LeCompte, and available to all customers in June.

Las Vegas Sands Corp. is seeking a license extension from the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board for its Sands Casino Resort Bethlehem, Pa. The company has delayed construction on the hotel and retail portions of the development, slated to include 3,000 slot machines, 400 hotel rooms, 40 retail stores, eight restaurants and four night clubs. While Sands claims a large portion of the casino will be open for business by June, the gambling license was issued based on the inclusion of hotel rooms and retail space. On Jan. 9, the PGCB denied Sands' extension request based on insufficient information. The developers filed an eight-page response on Jan. 15, seeking "to delay completion of the portions of the project that were suspended until economic conditions change and make completions a viable economic endeavor."

The 529-room Royal Hawaiian, A Luxury Collection Resort, reopened yesterday in Waikiki, Hawaii, following a six-month renovation. Additions to the 1927 hotel include two new dining facilities, Azure and Surf Lanai, both of which serve contemporary Hawaiian cuisine. Also, guest rooms were completely redesigned, new beachfront cabanas were added to the pool area, and the Abhasa Waikiki Spa was renovated.

Destination Marketing Association International has introduced a new hosted-buyer program for its Destinations Showcase Conference & Expos, which will take place Feb. 26 in Washington, D.C., and June 24 in Chicago. DMAI will provide complimentary travel, two nights' lodging and show admission to selected planners of international and large-scale domestic events. To apply for the program, go to Either event is complimentary to any qualified meeting planner who preregisters at, regardless of being accepted into the hosted-buyer program.

A free webinar on the value of event audits in today's economy will be held on Jan. 27, presented by the International Association of Exhibitions and Events and BPA Worldwide, an auditing company. Steven Hacker, IAEE president; Glenn Hansen, president and CEO of BPA Worldwide; and Gary Shapiro, president and CEO of the Consumer Electronics Association, will lead the session. The webinar will be archived for those who cannot listen in at the scheduled time; however, only those who register in advance will be able to access the archived session. For more information, visit

Convention and Visitor Bureaus
According to the Honolulu, Hawaii-based Star Bulletin, a state audit released last week faulted the Hawaii Tourism Authority for mismanaging contracts and creating ineffective tourism programs, among other problems. The audit also criticized the Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau, Hawaii Tourism Japan, and SMG, the company that markets and manages the Hawaii Convention Center, for the misuse of state funds. Examples given by the audit, according to the paper, include the overpayment of bonuses to HVCB employees by $8,440; the Hawaii Tourism Japan's use of public funds to pay for commuting costs and employee gifts; and several extravagant purchases made by SMG management. According to the Bulletin, HTA chairman Kevin Bloom was pleased with the auditor's acknowledgement of the organization's significant improvements and plans to address the criticisms outlined in the report. Last October, the HTA's former president and chief executive Rex Johnson resigned after being accused of using his state computer to forward racist and pornographic emails. A permanent replacement has not yet been named.

In Denver, a new bike-sharing program has been launched that will put 500 free bikes on the streets for visitors to borrow from 30-40 stations throughout the city. The metro area has 850 miles of off-road, paved bike trails. The program, to be fully up and running by this summer, has been funded by a $1 million grant from the Denver 2008 Convention Host Committee. A similar bike-sharing program was quite successful during the Democratic National Convention last year.

Cruise Lines

According to a recent report from Alaska's Glacier Bay National Park, the Disney Cruise Line has withdrawn an application for a permit to sail in Glacier. Disney officials said the company won't confirm future itineraries beyond 2010. Disney Cruise Line currently sails to the Bahamas, the Caribbean, Mexico, northern Europe and the Mediterranean.

A survey of more than 3,000 past and current delegates of the Americas Lodging Investment Summit revealed predictions for an economic upswing in 2009 are split.  More than half of respondents, 53 percent, feel the economic situation for the hotel industry will turn around in 2009, with the majority anticipating this turn in the 3rd or 4th quarter. Forty-seven percent of the respondents believe the hotel industry will continue to struggle until at least 2010. Those surveyed were more unified in terms of identifying abundant investment opportunities. More than 77 percent predict money will flow into the acquisitions market before stimulating development and 65 percent said the federal government needs to pass more economic stimulus measures to jumpstart the economy. ALIS conference delegates are hotel executives, investors, lenders, developers and members of the professional advisory community in the hotel and tourism industry.

The 1,082-room St. Louis Renaissance Grand & Suites Hotel will remain open and operating indefinitely as a Marriott property, despite the fact that the property is headed for foreclosure, according to Dan Boyer, director of sales and marketing. While the hotel operates with a net positive cash flow, Boyer said its owners were unable to make interest payments on the property's original debt, sparking the foreclosure process. He added that any new owner would be bound to uphold Marriott's contract to manage the hotel through 2036. He called the foreclosure sale a "formality," adding: "In our industry, change of ownership is nothing new."
The 500-room Hyatt Regency Hill Country just outside San Antonio has added the 10,000-square-foot Rogers-Wiseman Pavilion to its event offerings. The new space brings the resort's total meeting space to 43,000 square feet. The property also features 27 holes of golf, a full-service spa and five restaurants.

Hilton Hotels Corp. plans to open 40 to 50 Homewood Suites by Hilton, its extended-stay brand, this year. Founded in 1989, the brand grew to 250 properties by year-end 2008 and has 130 development projects in its pipeline.

The 64-room Hotel Indigo London Paddington opened yesterday, becoming InterContinental Hotel Group's first Hotel Indigo property outside North America. IHG has announced it will open three more London properties by 2012: the 38-room Hotel Indigo Cann Street, the 43-room Hotel Indigo Philpot Lane and the 51-room Hotel Indigo Kensington Church Street.

The Dorchester Collection luxury brand will open a 69-room hotel in Surrey, England. The 200 acre-property, to open in 2010, will have six meeting rooms, an equestrian center, two polo fields, a spa and two restaurants.

Walt Disney World has finalized a contract to outsource the management of its business centers to Ikon Office Solutions. The company will manage centers at Disney's conference properties, including Disney's Contemporary Resort, Disney's Grand Floridian Resort & Spa, Disney's Yacht and Beach Club Resorts, Disney's BoardWalk Inn and Disney's Coronado Springs Resort. The centers will handle shipping and receiving, copy services as well as equipment rentals, said a report in the Orlando Sentinel.