by By the M&C Staff | February 11, 2009

Hot Topics

Eight associations serving the hospitality, business travel and meetings industries jointly have developed guidelines that define accepted meetings practices for companies that have received emergency funds from the U.S. government. The guidelines demand companies exercise “adequate controls” to make sure the meetings “serve legitimate business purposes and are cost justified.” Among the recommendations: written justifications must be provided for meetings or events that cost more than $75,000; the total annual meeting, event and incentive budget should not exceed 15 percent of the company’s total sales and marketing spend; at least 90 percent of incentive program attendees must not be senior executives, and the amount spent on incentive programs should not exceed 2 percent of the total compensation for all eligible participants or 10 percent of all participants’ compensation. The full guidelines are available at The sponsoring associations include: the American Hotel and Lodging Association, Destination Marketing Association International, the International Association of Exhibitions and Events, Meeting Professionals International, the National Business Travel Association, Professional Convention Management Association, the Society of Incentive Travel Executives and the U.S. Travel Association.

The United States Department of the Treasury issued a new set of guidelines yesterday on executive pay for financial institutions that are receiving government assistance to address our current financial crisis. The guidelines include a section on meetings and travel at firms receiving federal bailout money: "The boards of directors of companies receiving exceptional assistance from the government must adopt a company-wide policy on any expenditures related to aviation services, office and facility renovations, entertainment and holiday parties, and conferences and events. This policy is not intended to cover reasonable expenditures for sales conferences, staff development, reasonable performance incentives and other measures tied to a company's normal business operations. These new rules go beyond current guidelines, and would require certification by chief executive officers for expenditures that could be viewed as excessive or luxury items. Companies should also now post the text of the expenditures policy on their web sites." Susan Gurley, executive director of the Association of Corporate Travel Executives in Alexandria, Va., is watching these developments carefully, and welcomed the overall guidelines as a "vast improvement over the ‘honor system' that has been in place since the Troubled Asset Relief Program funds were initially dispersed last year." With respect to meetings and travel, Gurley questioned the use of the word "reasonable" in the business operations that wouldn't be restricted, and compared these guidelines to pending Senate Bill S. 133, which flat-out prohibits use of the funds for certain travel-related expenditures. "Both would benefit from clearly stated provisions that spell out prudent and effective travel procedures," wrote Gurley in a statement to M&C. "Most companies have effective travel policies in place that do not provide their executives with a blank check." ACTE has offered both the Treasury Secretary and Senator Dianne Feinstein and the co-signers of Senate Bill S. 133 assistance in developing these provisions.

Three major financial firms, all beneficiaries of federal bailouts, canceled programs this week, after coming under fire from Congress. Wells Fargo & Co. pulled the plug Tuesday on a four-day meeting and recognition event slated to begin Friday at sister properties Wynn Las Vegas and Encore Las Vegas. In a statement released Tuesday, Wells Fargo officials said, "Through all economic cycles, our recognition events have been an important part of our company’s culture. Late last year, we canceled recognition events for 2009 except those where the financial commitment was so great that no meaningful savings would occur by canceling these events. We had scaled back the mortgage event, but in light of the current environment, we have now decided to cancel this event as well. We do not plan to have any other recognition events this year." According to the Associated Press, Morgan Stanley pulled the plug on two spring events for top-producing brokers this week; one was scheduled to take place in Monte Carlo, the other in the Bahamas. Morgan Stanley told M&C that all recognition trips for financial advisors have been canceled for 2009. And today, Goldman Sachs called off its annual hedge-fund conference scheduled for March 2-4 at the Fairmont Turnberry Isle Resort & Club in Miami. "In light of the current environment, Goldman decided to reschedule the hedge-fund managers' conference. We plan to hold the conference in the next few months in New York," Goldman spokesperson Ed Canaday told M&C today.

Omni Hotels is launching a “zero attrition initiative” that will allow planners to book meetings without worrying about missing room block guarantees or food-and-beverage minimums. “In talking with meeting planners, we found they were reluctant to make a commitment because they were concerned about pickup,” says Tom Faust, vice president of sales for Omni. The attrition clause will be waived for planners who sign contracts before June 30 for meetings that will be held in 2009. Only meetings of up to 150 rooms on peak will automatically qualify for the deal, but Caryn Kboudi, vice president of corporate communications for Omni, said that sales directors would be authorized to extend the offer to larger groups on a case-by-case basis.

Florida Gov. Charlie Crist vetoed a $9.9 million cut to Visit Florida, the state's tourism marketing arm, last week. The cut previously had been approved by the Florida legislature. "This restored funding will ensure the continuation of successful advertising and marketing programs that bring visitors, and their money, to our state," said Richard Goldman, the agency's chairman of the board, in a statement. According to the agency, "Every $1 that Visit Florida spends in tourism marketing returns $3 in tourism-related taxes to state coffers."

Marriott International has launched Meetings Excellence, a new online training program for third-party meeting planners, which allows them to earn certification as a Marriott Meeting Professional. The course is part of the Marriott Group Partners website, which was started last fall as part of Marriott's move to centralize commission payments to intermediaries. The site allows third-party planners to monitor payments due, as well as their future bookings. Planners who complete the online course earn continuing education credits toward the Convention Industry Council's certified meeting professional (CMP) designation and can take advantage of Marriott's discounted Plan-Tastic familiarization rates. The course includes an introduction to the meetings industry, meeting planning strategies, and information on Marriott's group programs, services and brands. Launched in English only, the program is expected soon to be available in multiple languages.

ASAE & The Center for Association Leadership is launching a new Healthcare Association Conference to discuss trends and issues affecting the health-care profession for CEOs and senior-level executives from associations in the industry. Approximately 300 people are expected to attend the inaugural meeting, to be held March 30-31 at the Baltimore Marriott Inner Harbor at Camden Yards. "With a fourth of our members running health-care associations, it was a natural decision for ASAE & The Center to launch an event focused solely on the health-care sector," said John H. Graham IV, president and CEO of ASAE & The Center, in a statement. While the conference is expected to be an annual event, no dates or venues for a 2010 conference have been selected yet.

Last Friday, the smart new Hyatt at Olive 8 hotel opened in Seattle. The eco-friendly hotel will be the city's first LEED-certified property; it has a "green" roof, seeded with native and imported plants. The property will use 32 percent less water and 20 percent less power than similar buildings. Its Elaia spa, with 12 treatment suites, will open later this month, as will the Urbane restaurant and bar. Features include a 2,400-square-foot Stay Fit@Hyatt Fitness Center, plus a sauna, a steam room, a 65-foot saline lap pool and a Jacuzzi. Yoga classes also will be offered. The hotel offers 11,000 square feet of meeting space, including a 7,000-square-foot ballroom.

On March 10, Mesa, Ariz., residents will decide whether Gaylord Entertainment will get to keep the bed taxes its proposed resort and convention center project will generate, rather than passing them on to the Mesa Convention & Visitors Bureau. Proposition 300 would give the 3 percent bed taxes generated by Gaylord's property to the company to promote tourism in Mesa. The ballot measure is part of the deal the Mesa City Council negotiated with Gaylord to entice it to build on 100 acres at the Mesa Proving Grounds, about 30 miles from downtown Phoenix. Officials at the CVB say they are in favor of the proposal, feeling it will help them attract new customers to the city.

Destination Marketing Association International says more exhibitors are attending Destinations Showcase Washington, the organization's trade show taking place at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center on Feb. 26, than attended last year. A total of 210 organizations will exhibit, with 230 booths. During the 2008 event, 200 exhibitors participated in the show.

According to Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide's fourth-quarter 2008 earnings report, company profits fell 46 percent, compared with the same period in 2007. For all of 2008, profit declined 36 percent. Revenue per available room worldwide fell 12.1 percent, while RevPAR for North American properties dropped 13.3 percent. (At the end of its third-quarter report, Starwood had forecast RevPAR to slip 4 to 6 percent.) The company said it anticipates capital investments for 2009 to be around $150 million, compared with $817 million in 2008.

Last Tuesday, the San Jose (Calif.) City Council approved the contract for Team San Jose, the organization that manages the San Jose McEnery Convention Center, the California Theatre, the Montgomery Theater, the Civic Auditorium and the Center for the Performing Arts. The contract has been extended an additional five years, with two three-year renewal options. According to the San Jose Convention & Visitors Bureau, which works with Team San Jose to attract visitors to the city, Team San Jose has increased revenues by 83.4 percent since taking over the management of the convention center in 2004.

Airline Industry
JetBlue has begun flights to Bogota, Colombia, its first South American destination. The carrier will expand its service further this year, to Jamaica in May and Los Angeles in June.

Air Tahiti Nui will not reinstate twice-weekly flights this summer from New York to Papeete, the capital city of French Polynesia, as originally planned. The airline will continue to run at least 13 weekly flights to Papeete from Los Angeles International Airport during the peak summer season. Air Tahiti Nui has special agreements with Delta Air Lines and American Airlines for U.S. passengers to make connections to the LAX flights.

Destination Marketing Association International will address four fundamental topics during the 2009 year, in order to better serve its members. The organization has altered basic DMO membership to include as many professional staff members as is desired by the member DMO; opened up, the organization's social networking tool, to staff at all member organizations; will refrain from increasing rates for 2009 educational events, and will provide tips for DMOs throughout the year via online resources, publications and newsletters.

Convention and Visitor Bureaus

The Orlando/Orange County Convention & Visitors Bureau announced last week that George Aguel, senior vice president for Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, will serve as chairman of the organization's board of directors for 2009 and 2010. Aguel will replace Mark McHugh, Gatorland president and CEO, who served as chairman from 2006-2008.

Last week, the U.S. Virgin Islands Department of Tourism launched its redesigned website, The site is more user-friendly, with an interactive map and allowing visitors to move more easily between pages for St. Croix, St. John and St. Thomas. Its meeting planner section has a robust list of hotels, group venues and destination management companies. Soon, a list of group promotions and an online RFP function will be added.

The 367-room Lexington (Ky.) Downtown Hotel & Conference Center will undergo a $13 million renovation to convert it to a Hilton hotel by the end of the year. All guest rooms, 16,000 square feet of meeting space and public areas will be updated.

Cheyenne Mountain Resort in Colorado Springs is spending $13 million on upgrades. About $3 million already has been paid out to renovate the lobby, the Will Rogers Lounge, the Mountain View Restaurant, some prefunction space and the Centennial Ballroom. The 316 guest rooms will be refurbished by the end of 2010, and much of the 40,000 square feet of meeting space will get new décor. For meeting guests' comfort, the old ergonomic chairs and banquet chairs are being replaced with upgrades.

Revel Entertainment, which is building a $2 billion casino-hotel project in Atlantic City, laid off 400 construction workers last Wednesday and stopped work on the interior of the project. In a statement released last week, the company said it "has developed a plan that we expect will carry the project through the next 12-15 months, well into 2010, subject of course to market and financing conditions." Construction is continuing on the core, shell structure and enclosure. The project includes two 1,900-room towers; a 150,000-square-foot casino and a 5,500-seat theater.

Hilton Hotels Corp. will open the 242-room Waldorf=Astoria in Berlin in 2011. The property is Hilton's first new-build Waldorf=Astoria in Europe.

The 119-room Excelsior Palace Hotel in Palermo, Sicily, is now the Excelsior Hilton Palermo. The property, which has two meeting rooms and a spa, has been completely renovated.

The 253-room Reading Crowne Hotel in Reading, Pa., is transitioning from a Sheraton to a Crowne Plaza flag -- a change that will become official in June. Meanwhile, the property is in the midst of a $10 million renovation to guest rooms, meeting spaces, public spaces and the building's exterior. The conversion will include the addition of a 24-hour business center and a fitness center.

The 780-room Grand Wailea Resort Hotel & Spa on Maui has completed a $50 million renovation. The project included its guest rooms, Spa Grande and fitness center, Wailea Canyon Activity Pool, and its six restaurants and lounges. A total of 22 meeting and banquet rooms are available, including the 28,000-square-foot Haleakala Ballroom.

Jeff Balagna has been named president and CEO of Carlson Marketing Worldwide. Balagna has served in the job on an interim basis for the past eight months and prior to that, spent three years as executive vice president. He is a member of the Carlson executive committee and a board member of Carlson Wagonlit Travel, Carlson Restaurants, and Carlson Marketing Worldwide. Also, Fay Beauchine and Andy Wright have been named presidents of the company's two divisions: Beauchine is now president, engagement and events, and Wright is president, brand loyalty, both moving up from positions as executive vice presidents of their respective business units.

Trade Shows
After a few years experimenting with alternative formats and restricted attendance, E3 Expo, the annual convention of the Entertainment Software Association, is returning to its roots as a business event disguised as an inclusive, oversize party. The expo, scheduled for June 2-4 at the Los Angeles Convention Center, will include "increased booth sizes, increased qualified audiences, and an intensified focus on reinforcing the high-octane growth, innovation, and captivating entertainment that are driving the computer and video game industry," according a statement by the ESA. The changes have resonated with at least one major exhibitor, Activision Blizzard, which is back on the roster after dropping its ESA membership last year and not exhibiting at last year's show. E3 is produced by IDG World Expo.
The Atlantic City Express Service will begin weekend train runs between New York's Penn Station and the gaming mecca on Friday. The service is a joint venture of Caesars Atlantic City, Harrah's Resort Atlantic City, and Borgata Hotel Casino and Spa. Through a management contract with ACES, NJ Transit will operate the trains and Amtrak will provide the ticketing and reservations system. Prices begin at $50 for a one-way coach seat and $75 for a one-way first-class seat.

Hertz Global Holdings, the parent company of Hertz Rent a Car, is laying off more than 4,000 employees. By the end of the first quarter, the company's work force will be just two-thirds the size of what it was in August 2006. In a statement, the company cited reduced rental demand as a factor contributing to the layoffs, which will be concentrated in "non-customer facing" positions.
Travel Management Companies

Travel management provider Travel 15 Ltd., based in Roseland, N.J., and incentive company Hogan Events, in Scotch Plains, N.J., are pooling their resources. The two companies, which specialize in corporate travel and event management for clients in the New Jersey and New York area, will remain independently owned. Travel 15 is a member of the Tzell Travel Group.