by By the M&C Staff | March 04, 2009

Top Stories
The top executives at 10 major hotel companies fired off a letter bearing all their signatures to Congress today, urging the Senate and the House of Representatives to support the adoption of the prudent guidelines for meetings oversight drawn up by the U.S. Travel Association, "instead of legislating rules that may unintentionally hinder economic recovery." Click here to read the full letter signed by Jay Witzel, president and CEO of Carlson Hotels Worldwide; Jay Rasulo, chairman of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts; Thomas W. Storey, president of Fairmont Hotels and Resorts; Christopher Nassetta, president and CEO of Hilton Hotels Corp.; Mark S. Hoplamazian, president and CEO of the Global Hyatt Corp.; James R. Abrahamson, president, the Americas, of the InterContinental Hotels Group; Jonathan Tisch, chairman and CEO of Loews Hotels; J.W. Marriott Jr., chairman and CEO of Marriott International; Frits van Paasschen, president and CEO of Starwood Hotels and Resorts Worldwide; and Stephen P. Holmes, chairman and CEO of Wyndham Worldwide.

Senator John Kerry (D-Mass.), a senior member of the Finance Committee, today announced plans to introduce legislation to curb certain spending practices by U.S. banks that received taxpayer dollars from the Troubled Asset Relief Program. The TARP Taxpayer Protection and Corporate Responsibility Act, sponsored by Kerry, would prevent any recipient of TARP funds from hosting, sponsoring or paying for conferences, holiday parties or entertainment events. Any TARP recipient that misused the funds would be fined and would be required to reimburse the government. Kerry's announcement, available here, follows reports that Northern Trust Bank, which received $1.6 billion in bailout assistance, hosted hundreds of employees and clients at expensive hotels in Beverly Hills and threw a series of parties in Hollywood last week that consisted of private dinners, cocktail parties and performances by Chicago and Sheryl Crow. The bank recently laid off almost 450 workers. To read a statement from Northern Trust, click here. Roger Dow of the US Travel Association, calling the outcry against such events a "witch hunt," also issued this statement on behalf of the industry. Reuters has reported Morgan Stanley today canceled client and executive events surrounding a professional golf tournament it is sponsoring in June.

The Asia-Pacific Incentives & Meetings Expo, held last week in Melbourne, Australia, set records for number of exhibitors (868) and number of visitors (3,584, excluding exhibitors), according to the show's organizers. Attendance was nearly 10 percent higher than at last year's show. More than half the exhibiting companies were from Australia and New Zealand, and 32 percent were from Asia. "When you consider the current economic situation and the devastating local bushfires, these results are really incredible and reflect the resilience of the meetings and incentive industry," said Paul Kennedy, group exhibition director for Reed Travel Exhibitions, in a statement.

The Orlando/Orange County Convention and Visitors Bureau's board of directors meet today to discuss and possibly vote on changes to how the agency is run. On Tuesday, Orange County commissioners and Mayor Rich Crotty said the bureau should start posting minutes online of the bureau's private board meetings, add an elected official to its executive committee, and make salary and benefit amounts public, according to a report in the Orlando Sentinel. "We believe that the requests by the mayor and county commission can provide a greater level of transparency needed in this current business climate while allowing the destination to remain competitive," said OOCCVB chairman and Walt Disney Parks & Resorts executive George Augel in a letter to CVB members. "Meetings will occur with Orange County to finalize implementation of recommendations." The CVB has been criticized in recent months by the local media business travel costs  associated with 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.

ASAE & The Center for Association Leadership last week released results of a new study that shows uncertainty about attendance at future association meetings but optimism for the growth of online education revenue. Approximately 8,500 professionals who belong to associations participated in the survey, conducted in December and January. Of those who attended a face-to-face association meeting such as an annual conference last year, 58 percent report a "high probability" of attending an in-person meeting this year, and about a third estimate a "low probability" of attending such an event. Of those who did not attend any in-person meetings last year, 18 percent report a "high probability" of doing so this year. John Graham, president and CEO of ASAE & The Center, said those numbers should not be alarming. "That validates what we've been seeing" over the past few years, he said. Still, association executives are bracing for decreased revenue from meetings this year: 80 percent expect revenue from trade shows and conferences to decrease in 2009, while 40 percent expect revenue from online education to increase. Graham said ASAE will repeat the study in six months.

Expedia, Orbitz, Priceline, Travelocity and other online travel companies have filed an appeal following the Feb. 9 ruling by an administrative court that awarded the city of Anaheim, Calif., $21.3 million in transit occupancy taxes, interest and penalties from the companies. Back in May 2007, the city accused the companies of providing only occupancy taxes on the wholesale price paid by the companies themselves, instead of the tax on the retail price, which online customers had been paying. The $21.3 million represents the 15 percent TOT on the difference between the wholesale and retail prices from tickets purchased between 2000-2008. In the appeal, the travel companies are claiming they are not liable to pay the extra taxes, because the higher price includes the companies' Internet service fee. Brian Ek, a vice president for, said, "The [recent] decision is contrary to court rulings already handed down in other jurisdictions, including a ruling just last month by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit [in North Carolina], which found that the online travel companies are not 'operators' of hotels and, therefore, are not subject to a similar tax." The new appeal will be considered sometime in late March.

The Pennsylvania Convention Center Authority voted unanimously last week to borrow $122 million from wealthy foreign investors through the Philadelphia Welcome Fund loan program to help foot the bill for the $786 million convention center expansion. According to The Philadelphia Inquirer, the Welcome Fund is part of a federal program that offers wealthy foreign investors permanent residency in exchange for low-interest loans that support regional development. The loan has a five-year term and a 1.5 percent interest rate.

A Smith Travel Research report on U.S. hotel performance for January revealed a significant decline from last year's numbers, particularly in occupancy and revenue per available room. Occupancy levels fell 10.7 percent, to 45.9 percent across the country, while RevPAR dipped by 15.3 percent, to $46.24. The average daily rate fell by 5.2 percent, to $100.66. Among the top 25 markets, only Washington, D.C., reported an increase in all three metrics, thanks to the presidential inauguration.

Amtrak is lowering fares by as much as 25 percent on Acela Express trains in the Northeast corridor. Beginning March 3, one-way fares between Boston and New York will drop to $79 from $93, and fares between New York and Washington, D.C., will decrease to $99 from $133. The lower fares will be offered through June 26.

Airline Industry
US Airways no longer will be charging for nonalcoholic beverages on domestic flights as of March 1. The carrier began charging for soft drinks last summer when most U.S. airlines began to implement fees for items and services that had previously been free.

Organizers of TS2, the exhibition industry convention, have teamed up with the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, Division of Educational Outreach to offer continuing education units to professionals pursuing the Certified Manager of Exhibits designation, a credential created by the Trade Show Exhibitors Association. TS2 is owned and produced by National Trade Productions and will be held July 20-23 at McCormick Place in Chicago, co-located with a new midyear meeting of the International Association of Exhibitions and Events.

ASAE & The Center for Association Leadership will begin working with executive search firms within the next 30 to 45 days to offer free career counseling for unemployed association executives, according to John Graham, president and CEO of ASAE & The Center. The measure is partly in response to new data collected by ASAE that revealed association members don't count on associations to help them through economic downturns.

The U.S. Travel Association has created a meetings, events and incentives toolkit to help those in the industry respond to recent criticism from the government and the mass media. The information is available at and includes educational documents and resources.

The Hospitality Sales and Marketing Association International also has released a Meetings Mean Business communications toolkit exclusively to its members. Developed by the organization's Resort Marketing Special Interest Group Advisory Board, the kit includes talking-point memos and sample letters emphasizing the value of meetings. The toolkit is available to its members at

Convention Centers
The Ocean Center in Daytona Beach, Fla., debuted its $76 million expansion on Sunday. The center grew by 133,000 square feet, doubling its original size. The new space includes an 11,715-square-foot ballroom and a 95,000-square-foot exhibit hall.

Last week, the Durham (N.C.) Civic Center officially was renamed the Durham Convention Center. As part of a $3.3 million renovation effort associated with the name change, three of the facility's exhibit halls have been converted into ballrooms, featuring new lighting, walls and carpeting. The center's rest rooms and prefunction space also have been upgraded. The center has 120,000 square feet of meeting and event space.

Cruise Lines

Royal Caribbean International's Mariner of the Seas moved to Los Angeles last week to begin sailing year-round, seven-night cruises to Mexico. The ship is the largest cruise vessel to sail from the West Coast. Ports of call include Cabo San Lucas, Puerto Vallarta and Mazatlán, Mexico.

Fairmont Hotels & Resorts unveiled plans last week for the 248-room Fairmont Jaipur, in Rajasthan, in northwest India, slated to open next year. The hotel will include a 48,500-square-foot convention center plus outdoor event space for up to 1,000 people, a 10,000-square-foot Willow Stream Spa and a 5,000-square-foot health club. Fairmont also is developing the 350-room Fairmont Hyderabad, to open in 2010. That property, announced last September, will have meeting space for up to 800 people.

The 126-room Hilton Garden Inn Indianapolis Airport opened last week near the city's new airport terminal. The hotel, about 11 miles from downtown Indianapolis, offers 3,580 square feet of meeting space, including a 2,880-square-foot ballroom.

Now open is the Meliá Madeira Mare, on the Portuguese island of Madeira southwest of the mainland. The 220-room property offers 8,000 square feet of meeting space in six rooms, plus three restaurants, three bars, three pools and a spa.

The 157-room Resort at the Mountain in Welches, Ore., near Mt. Hood, has completed renovations to its meeting facilities, part of a wider $17 million renovation effort. The project has touched all guest rooms and will culminate this spring with the addition of a spa with nine treatment rooms. The resort has 20 meeting rooms totaling 18,000 square feet of space.

The 685-room Hotel Del Coronado filed a lawsuit Feb. 11 in San Diego Superior Court claiming the global law firm Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP owes the property approximately $386,000 for canceling reservations for 877 rooms nights and banquet fees for its 2009 partner retreat, scheduled for this year. The hotel says the law firm canceled the event on Dec. 24, 2008. Efforts to reach the hotel and the law firm for comment were unsuccessful.

This weekend, the 739-room Arizona Biltmore Resort and Spa in Phoenix will unveil Ocatilla at Arizona Biltmore. The 120-room section formerly was known as the Arizona Wing; following a renovation, Ocatilla now features 500-square-foot Club and Club Deluxe guest rooms with Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired design, flat-screen HD TVs, Bose music systems with iPod docks, and work areas. The wing also has a private pool and an executive lounge.

The 557-room Andel's Hotel Berlin will open this weekend in Germany. The property has 41,000 square feet of meeting space.

The 364-room Wyndham Princeton (N.J.) Forrestal hotel has completed a $7 million renovation of its 64 meeting rooms, guest rooms and public areas. Conference rooms now are equipped with enhanced video teleconferencing, rear-screen projection and a closed-circuit video network. A professional projection booth and keypad response system has been added to the 360-seat auditorium.

Boyd Gaming Corp. -- the company responsible for the indefinitely stalled Echelon project on the Las Vegas Strip -- wants to buy Station Casinos Inc., which owns and operates 13 casino hotels in the Las Vegas area and has a stake in four more. Boyd has made a cash offer of $950 million for the majority of Station Casino's assets.

The Center for Exhibition Industry Research has released a new study saying that identifying and meeting with potential customers is more cost-effective when using trade shows than other methods. To make an initial, face-to-face visit with potential customers, the report said companies spend an average of $215 per lead at trade shows and $1,039 per lead using other techniques. Similarly, the cost of identifying potential customers is $215 per lead at trade shows and $443 using other means. More than 200 sales and marketing managers participated in the survey, all from firms with annual sales of $50 million or more. The survey found the average annual cost of exhibiting (based on an average of 6.8 shows per year) to be $153,763.

Hawaii Superferry, an interisland ferry service between the Hawaiian islands of Oahu and Maui, resumed service on Feb. 18 after completing an annual maintenance inspection and recertification process administered by the U.S. Coast Guard.