by By the M&C Staff | February 18, 2009

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 come in response to last week's announcement by the U.S. Treasury Department that companies receiving emergency aid will have to develop and publish policies governing, among other things, business travel and meeting and events, and have CEOs sign off on any expenditure that could be construed as a luxury purchase. Also last week a bill was introduced in the Senate that similarly would require companies to draft policies regarding meetings. The new travel industry association guidelines suggest how companies could write their policies to ensure that meetings "serve legitimate business purposes and are cost justified." Among the proposed guidelines: 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.

Ambassadors International announced yesterday it would sell all its assets -- which include its meeting and incentive business -- keeping only its cruise division, which owns and operates Windstar Cruises.  In a statement released to the press, Joe Ueberroth, Ambassadors' CEO, said, "The board and management are confident in the strategy to focus all of our capital and efforts on Windstar Cruises and the small ship luxury segment. Further, we believe that Windstar has the most potential upside for our shareholders and a successful sale of our other businesses provides the company stability in a difficult economy." Stephens Inc. will sell the company's principal non-Windstar assets, including its marine division and travel/events businesses, as well as evaluate corporate capital and debt opportunities available to the firm. Art Rodney, a 30-year cruise veteran, will replace Joe Ueberroth as the chairman of the board, and corporate headquarters will move from Newport Beach, Calif., to Seattle. 

Primerica Financial Services, part of Citigroup Inc., announced Friday that the company has canceled its June meeting in Atlanta, a convention that has been held biennially in the city for 16 years. Approximately 50,000 people were expected to attend, and the meeting was worth an estimated $55 million to the local economy. "Citi continues to strive to reduce expenses, which includes eliminating certain meetings and events," a spokesperson for the company said. William Pate, the president of the Atlanta Convention and Visitors Bureau, responded that companies should consider the negative effects cancellations have. "We have to be careful about demonizing corporate meetings," he said. "We touch so many people. We have 230,000 people employed in the hospitality industry. That's a lot of votes. If you want to drive more jobs, it won't make sense for people to take the gasoline out of the engine that runs that."
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," said 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 sales directors are authorized to extend the offer to larger groups on a case-by-case basis.
Keep America Meeting, a grassroots initiative created to demonstrate the economic impact of meetings and events to politicians, business leaders and mainstream media, has been launched. Via its website,, the movement hopes to generate one million electronic signatures from professionals in the meetings and events industry. According to an announcement on the site, "It is up to the meeting professionals and the industries that support and enhance this critical business to make sure that fair and balanced information reaches the ears of our legislators, the public at large, and the media. By electronically signing this petition you will lend your support and help send a message to our legislators nationwide that we need them to take the proactive step of publicly supporting the meeting & events industry in order to hasten the U.S. [economic] recovery." So far the effort has been endorsed by the U.S. Travel Association, the Society of Incentive & Travel Executives, the Society of Independent Show Organizers, the Event Marketing Institute and several media partners, including M&C.

An Orange County, Fla., commissioner wants the Orlando Convention & Visitors Bureau to become a public agency, instead of a tax-subsidized nonprofit, in order to become more accountable for its expenditures. Last week, commissioner Linda Stewart proposed creating a task force to study whether the CVB should make the transition. The CVB has been criticized in recent months by the local media for splurging on expensive business travel for its current president, Gary Sain, and spending more than $1 million combined on extra pay and benefits, a retirement package and a farewell party for its past president, Bill Peeper. An audit released last month recommended changes to the CVB's operations, including a requirement that the CVB's board approve all "significant actions taken by the executive committee or CEO, such as organizational changes, compensation plans, and operational policies and procedures." George Aguel, senior vice president of Walt Disney World Resorts and chairman of the CVB, said in a statement: "We respect and agree that there needs to be a balance between transparency and competitiveness. Our goal is to ensure that Orlando keeps its competitive edge in the meetings and leisure market that contributes nearly $30 billion dollars to our local economy. We began meeting with commissioners to advance ongoing conversations about how we can address their needs and also protect the important competitive advantage that comes from operating -- as 85 percent of CVBs do -- as a trade association able to protect sensitive marketing information."
Last week, Washington state senator Ed Murray, a Democrat representing Seattle, introduced a bill to expand downtown Seattle's Washington State Convention & Trade Center at a cost of $766 million. The expansion would double the center's exhibit space, which currently stands at 205,700 square feet. According to The Seattle Times, Sen. Murray seeks to pay for the new expansion using Seattle's already established 7 percent hotel tax.

Delta Air Lines has reduced one-way fares to and from Cincinnati as much as 80 percent compared with two weeks ago. A Delta statement said the new fares represent a "new pricing structure…not a sale." "Delta's announcement of a price restructuring for Cincinnati is welcome news for our tens of thousands of visitors to Cincinnati USA," said Dan Lincoln, president and CEO of the Cincinnati USA Convention & Visitors Bureau in a statement. "Pricing has been cited by potential customers as a challenge, and these lower fares allow us to compete for new convention business that previously we could not."
According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, national airline on-time performance improved last year. In 2008, the 19 airlines that report on-time performance data to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics posted an average on-time arrival rate of 76 percent, up from 73.4 percent in 2007. The airlines also managed to reduce their mishandled baggage claims to 5.26 mishandled baggage reports for every 1,000 passengers, from 7.05 reports per 1,000 passengers in 2007.


Enterprise Rent-A-Car announced it will designate nearly 80 of its U.S. rental locations as "hybrid branches," where customers can reserve gas/electric hybrids online or by phone. Additionally, Enterprise is adding 5,000 hybrids to its fleet, more than doubling the number of such vehicles. Among the hybrid branches: Atlanta; Boston; Dallas; Denver; Los Angeles; New York City; Orlando; Philadelphia; San Francisco; Seattle, and Washington, D.C.
Some green business travel initiatives are beginning to suffer in the recession, according to a newly released poll by the Association of Corporate Travel Executives and KDS. The survey of 329 travel managers and business travelers from around the world found that 61 percent of organizations now have a corporate social responsibility charter (vs. 53 percent in 2008). However, companies see cost-cutting as the top business travel concern (rated a high priority by 79 percent), while environmentally sustainable travel is a high priority for only 17 percent. Susan Gurley, ACTE's executive director, said the survey "puts to rest the myth that good CSR practices automatically include greener travel choices. Under present economic conditions, green travel choices may frequently conflict with the greater urge to cut costs."

Plans for a $300 million upgrade and expansion of the San Jose (Calif.) McEnery Convention Center are moving forward. Last week the San Jose City Council voted unanimously to hold a public hearing on March 10 to consider establishing a convention center facilities district, wherein the city would impose a 4 percent occupancy tax on all downtown hotels. The tax would generate approximately half of the funds needed for the project; the city's redevelopment funds would make up the difference.

The St. Charles (Mo.) Convention Center, managed by Global Spectrum, turned a small profit in 2008, outperforming projections of a $375,000 loss. The 3-year-old building, about 23 miles northwest of downtown St. Louis, made approximately $10,000 after hosting 428 events that attracted more than 211,000 people. "Not only is it difficult to achieve what the St. Charles Convention Center has done, but the short span of time in which it was done is extremely admirable," said Dexter King, president of the International Association of Assembly Managers, in a statement released by the convention center. "It is a testament to the leadership that the building has."

Destination Marketing Association International has appointed Kristina T'Seyen as managing director of the association's European office, based in Brussels, Belgium. T'Seyen joined DMAI Europe in early 2008 as the team's deputy director. In her new role, she is responsible for the development of DMAI's operations and activities in Europe.
Freeman, a meeting and event services company, has acquired AVT Event Technologies, a provider of audiovisual, lighting, staging and production services to hotels. "AVT has demonstrated they are the technology and creative leader in their space," said Joe Popolo, chief executive officer of Freeman, in a statement. "With the addition of AVT to Freeman's resources, we are positioning Freeman for additional growth in an important segment of the face-to-face industry."
Wyndham Hotel Group has announced the appointment of Jeff Wagoner, a 25-year lodging industry veteran, as president of Wyndham Hotels and Resorts. Wagoner will succeed Peter Strebel, who is stepping down after nearly four years with the brand and eight years with the company to spend more time with his family and pursue other interests. Wagoner will begin work on Feb. 23 and will relocate from Houston to Wyndham's offices in Parsippany, N.J.

A fire sparked by firecrackers engulfed the construction site for the Mandarin Oriental, Beijing, on Monday, killing one fireman who responded to the blaze. The hotel had been scheduled to open in the second half of 2009. Mandarin Oriental released a statement saying the extent of the damage had yet to be assessed, and the company was not yet prepared to announce any delays of the hotel's opening.

The 286-room Dallas/Fort Worth Marriott Hotel and Golf Club at Champions Circle in Fort Worth has completed a multimillion-dollar renovation. All rooms received new carpets, beds, bedding and plasma TVs. The fitness center also has new cardio machines, and the 22,000 square feet of meeting space got a facelift as well. The clubhouse grill and pro shop that service the Jay Morrish golf course also were renovated.

The Capella Telluride, with 89 rooms and 11 suites, opens in the Colorado ski destination tomorrow. The ski-in, ski-out property has 9,000 square feet of meeting space, including a 3,300-square-foot ballroom. Among the amenities are the Onyx Restaurant, the Suede Bar, the Gray Jay Café and the Nordic Lounge. The spa and the indoor pool open March 15.

The Four Seasons Resort Seychelles has opened in the Seychelles islands, on the main island of Mahé. The property, which has 62 treehouse villas, five suites and 28 private residences, has a single function room that accommodates 150.
The bushfires raging in Australia have not affected the operations of Melbourne's airport, and the Asia-Pacific Incentive & Meetings Expo, scheduled for Feb. 17-18 in Melbourne, will proceed as planned, according to a statement issued by AIME's organizers. Most of the fires affecting Victoria are more than an hour from the central business district of Melbourne, the statement said. "The safety of hosted buyers, media and exhibitors is paramount," said Sandra Chipchase, CEO of the Melbourne Convention & Visitors Bureau. "At this stage all pre-tours will go ahead as planned. Should anything change, we will make alternative arrangements."