by By the M&C Staff | March 19, 2009

The Greenbrier Hotel Corp., owner of the 721-room Greenbrier resort in White Sulphur Springs, W.V., has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. The corporation also has signed an agreement allowing Marriott Hotel Services to purchase the property, subject to a number of conditions. The GHC is a wholly owned subsidiary of The Greenbrier Resort and Management Corp., which is wholly owned by CSX Corp.; the GHC has asked CSX to provide financing to allow the resort to operate for the time being. In the agreement with Marriott, CSX would provide Marriott with $50 million to operate and renovate the property, and Marriott would be pay CSX $60-$130 million within seven years, depending on the resort's financial performance. In order for the deal to go through, the property and its unions would need to negotiate labor contracts that are satisfactory to Marriott. The purchase could be completed by later this year.  

Medical Meeting Sponsorships Can Continue in Massachusetts
Pharmaceutical companies and medical device manufacturers still will be allowed to sponsor various medical association meeting activities in Massachusetts, according to revised regulations released last week by the state's Public Health Council. An initial draft of the regulations included vague language that could have been interpreted to ban meeting sponsorships, and one medical association decided not to hold a meeting in Boston as a result, said Pat Moscaritolo, president and CEO of the Greater Boston Convention & Visitors Bureau. But Moscaritolo urged the council to clarify the rules, making explicit the acceptability of meeting sponsorships. "We got 99 percent of what we were looking for," Moscaritolo told M&C about the final regulations, which will take effect on July 1. He added that the CVB will publish a "Frequently Asked Questions" page at sometime this week to explain how the new rules affect planners, and the CVB is working with a Boston attorney to develop more robust guidelines for planners and convention salespeople. Planners also can send questions to Beth Stehley, vice president of sales and convention services at the GBCVB, at

San Diego CVB Head Resigns
David Peckinpaugh, president and CEO of the San Diego Convention & Visitors Bureau, will not seek renewal of his three-year contract when it expires on June 30. Joe Terzi, senior vice president of operations for Starwood Hotels & Resorts and also executive board member for the SDCVB, will serve as the bureau's interim president pending confirmation by the board on Thursday. Peckinpaugh has relinquished his post for personal reasons. "In analyzing what I want to do next, I felt that this was not the right role for me moving forward," he told M&C. "I am anxious to start networking and figuring out what I want to do next."

Bahamas' Baha Mar Resorts Gets Funding From China

Last Wednesday, Baha Mar Resorts announced it had signed an agreement with a Chinese construction company to build the $2 billion Baha Mar Resort on 1,000 acres of Cable Beach on Nassau, the Bahamas. The company also announced an agreement with a Chinese bank regarding financing for the project. Plans for the multiproperty, 3,000-room resort complex include W, St. Regis and Westin hotels. Two properties, the 559-room Wyndham Nassau Resort & Crystal Palace Casino and the 694-room Sheraton Nassau Beach Resort, already are open. Phase one of the development is scheduled to open in early 2011. When finished, the development will have a total of 200,000 square feet of meeting space.

Increase Travel Spending, Say Business Execs
Nearly three quarters (72 percent) of business executives believe that increasing corporate travel while others are cutting back provides opportunities to build market share and new customer relationships, according to a survey commissioned by the U.S. Travel Association. The survey of 401 executives at companies with more than $50 million in sales, conducted by APCO Insight, also found that more than half of respondents (53 percent) felt reducing travel would give an advantage to competitors who maintain current travel levels. Eighty-one percent of those surveyed said more client contact is necessary in a slow economy, and 59 percent strongly agree that in-person contact grows their business. The survey was conducted in February.

Hotel Pipeline Drops, Midscale Construction Strong

The U.S. hotel development pipeline as of the end of February, which includes 5,390 hotels with 575,202 rooms, represents an 11.4 percent drop from a year ago, according to the February STR/TWR/Dodge Construction Pipeline Report. The survey includes projects that are under construction or in the "final planning" or "planning" stages. Construction of midscale properties without on-site food and beverage is strong, however, up 10.1 percent from February 2008. The upper-upscale segment revealed the biggest drop of properties under construction, down 40.5 percent from a year ago.

Gap Closes Between Group and Transient Room Rates

The difference between transient and group rates in the luxury and upper-upscale segments dwindled in 2008, Smith Travel Research vice president Jan Freitag said during a presentation Monday at the Hunter Hotel Investment Conference in Atlanta. According to STR numbers, transient business in these segments dropped far more sharply than group business; as a result, transient rates steadily declined, with significant drops beginning in late summer. Group rates held in 2008 and are beginning to slow in 2009, according to Freitag. The smaller the rate differential, the more problems planners might have filling room blocks.

MGM Mirage Reports Heavy Losses
On Tuesday, MGM Mirage reported a fourth-quarter loss of $1.15 billion, or $4.15 per share -- down from a profit of $872 million, or $2.85 per share, a year earlier. Because the casino company is in danger of defaulting on current debt, it secured from its lending banks a waiver on compliance to financial terms until May 15. In exchange MGM Mirage repaid $300 million of its outstanding debt and agreed to a higher interest rate. "We got exactly what we were looking for in this waiver and amendment," said chairman and CEO Jim Murren in a conference call on Tuesday. During the extension period, said Murren, the company will work with financial consultants Evercore Partners and the banks to determine the best course of action to avoid default -- including the possibility of acquiring additional debt, modifying the terms of the company's long-term debt and/or disposing of assets. "We can offer no assurance we will be successful," added Murren. The company still intends to open the $8.7 billion CityCenter development on schedule, beginning in October 2009 with the 1,495-suite Vdara and culminating with the grand opening of the 4,004-room flagship property, Aria, on Dec. 16. The only part of the development that has been pushed back is the 400-room Harmon, which is now slated to open in late 2010.

Airline Industry
New Branson Airport Adds Service to Minneapolis, Dallas-Ft. Worth
Executives at Branson Airport in Missouri, scheduled to open on May 11, announced Sun Country Airlines as the airport's second commercial carrier last week. SCA will fly nonstop from Branson to Minneapolis-St. Paul, as well as to Dallas-Fort Worth, three days a week. AirTran Airways previously announced daily nonstop service to Branson from Atlanta and Milwaukee.

Convention Centers
LVCVA Suspends Convention Center Work
The board of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority voted last week to suspend work on the $890 million Las Vegas Convention Center Master Plan Enhancement Program. The authority will review the economy and commercial paper markets in the second quarter of 2010, according to a spokesperson, to determine whether to continue the renovations at that time. Projects already under construction -- which include the relocation of utility lines, new restrooms, a new data center and the nearby Clark County Fire Station 33, among others -- will be completed before work is stopped.

Corporate Travel
Johnson Controls Seeks Airline Sustainability Commitment
Technology systems company Johnson Controls, together with Tri-Pen Management Corp., issued an airline request for proposal on Tuesday that seeks an environmental sustainability commitment from the carriers. The two companies believe the RFP, which lays out a specific set of goals for the airlines, is the first of its kind and can serve to further raise environmental awareness. Michael Hall, the manager of global travel services for Johnson Controls, who has been recognized for his corporate social responsibility initiatives by the Association of Corporate Travel Executives, expects the company's restructured air program also will be more cost effective.

Cruise Lines
New Cruise Ship Safety Legislation Introduced
The Cruise Vessel Security and Safety Act of 2009 was introduced to Congress last week by Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Rep. Doris Matsui (D-Calif.). The act would enhance security zones to prevent pirate attacks, make 54-inch guard rails mandatory on cruise ships and maintain transparency in the reporting of deaths, violence or missing persons on ships. If the bill is passed, a licensed medical practitioner who can conduct medical examinations and issue anti-retroviral medications will be mandatory on every ship in order to treat victims of assault or rape. Other safety measures would require cruise lines to train certain crew members in conducting crime scene investigations, as well as establish "fair and equal remedies for persons injured in boating disasters."

Casino Complex Opens in Indiana
Indiana Live Casino, an entertainment complex in Shelbyville, Ind., about 30 minutes southeast of downtown Indianapolis, opened its permanent facility last week after operating from a temporary pavilion since last June. The development has 1,900 slot machines; electronic table games; three nightlife venues; and multiple restaurants, including the 200-seat Maker's Mark Bourbon House & Lounge, which has private dining and meeting spaces.

Plans Scrapped for Casino in Queens
Buffalo, N.Y.-based developer Delaware North has scrapped plans to build a casino and conference center at the Aqueduct racetrack in Queens, N.Y., due to financing difficulties. The development, which was to begin construction this year, included a 184,000-square-foot casino floor, 4,500 video gambling terminals, a hotel, several restaurants and a 60,000-square-foot conference center. According to an article in the New York Times, New York state remains committed to the project and will reopen the bidding process for a new casino operator.

Weidner Out at Sands
Las Vegas Sands announced last week that current board member Michael A. Leven will become president and COO as of April 1. Leven replaces William P. Weidner, who is no longer with the organization.
New Denver Hotel Gets Funding From European Bank
According to the Denver Post, the 242-room Hotel Gold Crown, to be built two blocks from the Colorado Convention Center, will get $42.5 million in financing from a Belgian bank. The property, which will include meeting space, is expected to be completed in 18 months.

Resort Company Cuts Compensation Instead of Jobs

Vail Resorts -- which owns five ski resorts in Colorado and Lake Tahoe and 10 hotels under the RockResorts brand, and owns or operates 68 other properties -- is using a wage-reduction plan to cut labor costs while saving as many jobs as possible. All affected employees are having their salaries cut from 2.5 percent for seasonal workers to 10 percent for executives. Full-time, year-round employees are receiving stock as compensation, increasing the number of people who own shares in the company from about 260 to more than 2,500. The company's CEO, Rob Katz, will not take any salary for a year, after which his salary will be reduced by 15 percent. "We have chosen to address this [economic] situation by making the preservation of jobs and protecting the guest experience our highest priorities," Katz said in a statement.

Denver Hotel Completing Renovation
Work is finishing up this month on the renovation of the lobby of the 219-room Warwick Denver Hotel, the final piece of a $25 million project. All guest rooms have new carpeting and furniture, including leather-mahogany desk chairs, 32-inch flat-screen TVs and Serta Eurotop mattresses. The property offers 10,000 square feet of meeting space.

Element Hotel Opens in Houston
The 123-room Element Houston Vintage Park has opened, becoming the first of Starwood's "green" brand to debut in the state. The property has one small meeting room.

Puerto Rico Hotel & Casino Rebranded as a Conrad Hotel
Last Thursday, Hilton Hotels Corp. rebranded the Condado Plaza Hotel & Casino in San Juan, Puerto Rico, as the Conrad San Juan Condado Plaza, following $70 million in renovations that were completed last year. The 570-room property, in San Juan's beachfront Condado district, is home to Puerto Rico's largest casino and has 40,000 square feet of meeting space.

Lexington Convention Hotel Begins Renovation
The Lexington Downtown Hotel & Conference Center in Lexington, Ky., has begun a $13 million renovation. All 367 guest rooms, the main lobby, other public spaces and all 16,000 square feet of meeting space will be updated by the end of this year. The hotel's signature restaurant, Café on the Park, will be moved closer to the main entrance and refurbished, and a new 3,000-square-foot event space will be added.

New Hilton in Fort Lauderdale
The Fort Lauderdale Grande is now the Hilton Fort Lauderdale Marina. The 589-room property completed a $70 million renovation late last year that encompassed the guest rooms and the 21,000 square feet of meeting space, and added a new China Grill restaurant and a 33-slip marina.

InterContinental to Open in Edinburgh in 2013
InterContinental Hotels Group and Tiger Developments are building the 17-story, 192-room InterContinental Hotel in Edinburgh, Scotland. Due to open in 2013, the hotel will be the first of the brand in the country. The new property will be the part of Tiger Developments' Haymarket project, which will include stores, restaurants and office space.

Steigenberger to Open Leipzig Property in 2011
Steigenberger Hotel Group will open the 177-room Steigenberger Grandhotel in Leipzig in 2011. The property will have four meeting rooms.

International Travel
Kenya Cuts Visa Fees by 50 Percent
Kenya will reduce the price of tourist visas from $50 to $25, from April 1 through the end of 2010. According to the Telegraph (U.K.), the move is an attempt to boost tourism to the country following a decline in visitors from both the United Kingdom and the United States in reaction to the violence that erupted around the country's elections in December 2007.
Trade Shows
TSEA Survey: Exhibitors Pulling Back, Cutting Budgets
Budgets for exhibiting and the number of trade shows that exhibitors plan to attend in 2009 are expected to decline by an average of 17 percent compared with last year, according to a new Trade Show Exhibitors Association survey. Corporate private event spending this year is expected to drop 30 percent from last year, and budgets for exhibits will decrease from an average of $460,000 in 2008 to $380,000 this year. Still, trade show spending will account for an average of one-third of an organization's marketing budget. Two other key details in the 2009 Exhibit Management Survey, which polled 300 exhibitors last December and January: Spending on events in the medical, health-care and pharmaceutical industries will increase about 5 percent this year compared with last; and men in the exhibition industry earn an average of 25 percent more than women.

Reed Exhibitions Taps ETOA to Manage ‘City Break'
Reed Travel Exhibitions and the European Tour Operators Association will partner to produce this year's City Break, a travel trade event scheduled for June 15-16 in Gothenburg, Sweden. Reed will continue to own and license the event, now in its fourth year, but ETOA will manage and operate the show "because of its access to buyers and its proven track record in running travel trade workshops using an appointment-based system," according to the announcement.

Hawaii Superferry Temporarily Ceases Operations
The Hawaii Superferry, which offers service between Oahu and Maui, will halt service to appeal a recent state supreme court ruling that the company should not have operated without conducting an environmental impact study. Superferry has until July to conduct such a survey, but officials are opting to appeal, instead. The ferry began service in August 2007, but was immediately plagued with protests and legal battles led by environmental groups.

Disney Halts Expansion Plans for Hong Kong Disneyland
Walt Disney Co. has dissolved the 30-person team designing the expansion of Hong Kong Disneyland after two years of negotiations with the Hong Kong government had not yielded an agreement about the plans. A spokesperson for the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Government said the government was surprised by the announcement, that discussions with Disney were ongoing and "no decision" about suspending the project was final. A spokesperson for Walt Disney Parks & Resorts said the company decided to "suspend all creative and design work on the project," but that it "remains confident and committed to the long-term success of Hong Kong Disneyland." Meanwhile, Disney continues to invest heavily in its Hawaiian resort, slated to open in 2011; its billion-dollar expansion of Disney's California Adventure at Disneyland Resort, which will open in phases through 2012; and two new cruise ships that will launch by 2012.