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

Top Stories

M&C survey confirms non-TARP companies are canceling meetings
Amidst mass-media reports portraying meetings as lavish, superfluous expenditures, events are being canceled. And the trend isn't limited to companies receiving federal bailout funds, according to the results of an M&C survey conducted from Feb. 23-25, 2009. While only 9 percent of 135 respondents work with or for companies receiving federal bailout money, more than one-fifth (21 percent) report their companies have canceled events as a direct result of the public backlash. An additional 15 percent say there have been cancellations, but it was unclear whether concerns about perception motivated them. More than half (52 percent) claim the backlash has been extremely or moderately influential on their companies' decisions to hold events. For the full survey results, click here.


Obama's ethics rules could affect meetings
ASAE has received clarification from Norman Eisen, special counsel to President Obama, about new ethics rules that restrict top administration officials from attending, for free, large gatherings, including some conventions and events sponsored by associations. The lobbyist gift-ban policy stipulates that administration appointees can only accept free registration only if they are speaking or presenting information in an official capacity. The Office of Government Ethics issued a memo last month stating that administration appointees also can attend press dinners and events sponsored by charities and other 501(c)(3) organizations without violating the ethics policy. Eisen told ASAE that the OGE has agreed to create limited exceptions to the gift ban but was not certain if those exceptions would extend to meetings and events. The matter still is under consideration, Eisen said.

Shangri-La abandons Chicago hotel project

A U.S. subsidiary of Shangri-La Asia has backed out of its agreement to operate the Shangri-La Hotel, Chicago. Construction of the hotel and residence tower has been suspended indefinitely. Multiple calls to the hotel's developer were not returned.

Orlando CVB mulls changes; county commissioner impatient
The Orlando/Orange County Convention and Visitors Bureau's board of directors met last Wednesday to discuss how the agency is run, but no changes were voted on. "The outcome of the meeting was that the CVB and the mayor's team agreed to work together over the next few weeks to develop a plan that allows for more transparency of CVB expenses while taking into account competitive needs and issues," said an OOCCVB spokesperson. According to the Orlando Sentinel, county commissioner Mildred Fernandez sent a memo the day after the meeting to Orange County Mayor Rich Crotty, saying the CVB isn't moving fast enough on reforms she has proposed, including making the agency public. The CVB has been criticized in recent months by the local media for some spending practices.

Plans for Ritz-Carlton Vancouver project scrapped
Plans for a $500 million, 180-room Ritz-Carlton hotel and condominium project in downtown Vancouver were canceled last week. The project's developer, the Holborn Group, pulled the plug on the property after selling less than half of its 123 condo units. The development would have been the second tallest building in the city and was scheduled to debut in 2011.

New arena planned for Sacramento
Last week, the National Basketball Association announced a $1.9 billion development plan for a new arena for the Sacramento (Calif.) Kings, in addition to between 250,000 and 300,000 square feet of exhibit space, a mall, offices and residences. The arena and exhibit space, which could open by 2013 once funding is secured, will be built on the existing grounds of the Cal Expo, a massive mixed-use fairgrounds and events center in Sacramento. The remainder of the project, referred to as a 350-acre living village, will take shape over the next 25 years.

Airline Industry
Obama budget calls for security fee hike
President Obama's proposed federal budget, released last week to lawmakers and the general public, contains a provision to increase the Aviation Passenger Security Fee by an undetermined amount in 2012. According to the budget document, the fee, which currently stands at $2.50 per flight portion (for a maximum of $5), only covers 36 percent of the money required by the Transportation Security Administration to provide screening for all U.S. airports. The TSA was created in November 2001, and the Aviation Passenger Security Fee was initiated the following year.

Associations
Newspaper association cancels Chicago convention
The American Society of Newspaper Editors has canceled its 2009 convention, scheduled for April 26-29 at the Fairmont Chicago. Concerns about low attendance contributed to the decision. The association plans to have members vote electronically on new board appointees and a proposal to drop the word "paper" from its name. ASNE's 2010 convention, to be held in Washington, D.C., will proceed as planned, according to a spokesperson.

Convention and Visitor Bureaus
Visit Milwaukee CEO to resign at year's end
Doug Neilson, president and CEO of Visit Milwaukee, the city's convention and visitors bureau, will leave his post when his contract expires at the end of the year. Prior to joining the CVB in 2001, Neilson was an executive for the San Francisco Convention & Visitors Bureau, and he plans to return to San Francisco "to pursue new opportunities." A search committee to find Neilson's successor will be formed soon.

Brussels Convention Bureau hires North American rep
The Brussels Convention Bureau has named Bob Dallmeyer as its North American sales representative. In his new position, Dallmeyer also will work with the New York office of VisitBelgium.

Convention Centers

Ocean City (Md.) City Council votes to expand convention center
Last week, The Dispatch in Ocean City, Md., reported the Ocean City Council had voted to expand the Roland E. Powell Convention Center. The $10.4 million project would double the facility's exhibit space, currently at 45,000 square feet, and add a 1,200-seat performing arts center. The Dispatch noted that a primary reason the expansion was approved by the council was that the Maryland Stadium Authority voted to pay for $4.1 million of the cost. The rest will be funded by an existing food and beverage tax, which is being lowered to 0.5 percent.

Hotels
Wynn reports drop in occupancy, revenues
Business levels at Wynn's Las Vegas resorts are "punky and weak," according to chairman and CEO Steve Wynn. In the company's fourth quarter earnings call, the transcript of which can be found at seekingalpha.com, Wynn noted the company made "rather dramatic changes in our operating expenses and our staffing levels" as of the first week in February, after keeping staffing levels high through December and January. (Wynn opened the Encore on Dec. 19.) The company reported losses of $159.6 million in the fourth quarter, down from a $65.5 million profit in 2007. Occupancy at the Las Vegas properties dropped to 86.8 percent in the quarter, down from 92.4 percent the previous year.

Hilton might be preparing for layoffs
The Memphis Business Journal reported last week that Hilton Hotels Corp. is preparing for "numerous" layoffs, including some in its Memphis, Tenn.-based IT department. The paper attributed the information only to "industry sources." As of press time no further information was available. According to a Hilton spokesperson, "As previously stated, Hilton Hotels Corp. is undergoing a corporate transformation. Any changes within the organization will be communicated directly to our team members at the appropriate time." The hotel chain announced in January its plans to relocate its corporate headquarters from Beverly Hills, Calif., to Washington, D.C.

Developers of St. Petersburg, Fla., hotel ask for extension
According to the St. Petersburg Times, the Grand Bohemian Hotel, planned for downtown St. Petersburg, Fla., might be delayed because of financing problems. The developer, The Kessler Enterprise Inc., is asking city officials to push back the construction start date from April 30, 2009, to September 2012. If built, the hotel will have between 200 and 275 hotel rooms, a restaurant, a spa, and about 23,000 square feet of meeting space.

Palm Beach County will not seek federal aid for convention hotel
A proposed hotel for the Palm Beach County convention center in West Palm Beach, Fla., will receive no aid from federal economic stimulus funds, county commissioners decided last week. Plans for the hotel have been plagued by legal and financial problems. Last September, the commission voted to end a deal with Ocean Properties to build a 400-room convention center hotel because developers could not find financial backers. The county still is pursuing the project, although it is back to square one.

Opposition group in Dallas drops suit
Now that the Dallas City Council has approved operating agreements for a new convention center hotel with developer Matthews Southwest and hotel operator Omni Hotels, a local group opposing the project, Citizens Against the Taxpayer-Owned Hotel, has dropped a lawsuit against the city. According to the Dallas Morning News, the group was trying to stop the council from passing the agreement before it could be reviewed by the CATOH. Once the contracts were approved, the court action was moot. The city hopes a groundbreaking on the 1,000-room hotel will take place in late spring or early summer.

RockResorts rolls out green program
RockResorts, a collection of nine luxury resorts, has launched a more formal green program for planners. In addition to offering electronic brochures, paperless check-in and organic cuisine, the resorts are introducing an online carbon calculator that helps estimate the environmental impact of an event, including the transportation, lodging and other specifics. Each event must conform to a set of green standards put in place by the resorts, including recycling and waste-reduction programs; the use of organic, local or other sustainable food and beverages; and adherence to water and energy conservation guidelines. The catering and event staff can recommend sustainable event props and décor, transportation and reusable signage, as well as donation possibilities for flowers and leftover food. Planners also have the option to support local conservation projects through activities in partnership with local nonprofits.

International Meetings
Singapore government earmarks funding for meetings
The Singapore government has allocated US$60 million in additional funding for the Singapore Tourism Board, some of which will be used for direct financial assistance to individual meetings and events. The STB plans to use the money in a variety of ways to support groups, including defraying common meeting costs, supporting overseas marketing efforts and subsidizing expenses to bring in influential speakers from around the world.