A faction of Unite Here, the union representing hotel and textile workers, has voted to secede and join ranks with the Service Employees International Union. The group held a convention in Philadelphia last week to found a new union, Workers United, which announced its affiliation with SEIU on Monday. Workers United claims it represents 150,000 of Unite Here’s 400,000 members, including 40,000 hotel and restaurant workers. A rift within Unite Here -- which formed in 2004 when Unite, a textile workers union, merged with Here, a hotel and restaurant employees union -- has been widening for some time, and John W. Wilhelm, president of Unite Here, has condemned previous efforts by the union’s general president Bruce Raynor, to divide the membership. A spokesperson for Workers United said Bruce Raynor had no involvement in the formation of Workers United, which is headed by Edgar Romney, who served as executive vice president of Unite Here and the New York Metropolitan Area Joint Board of Unite. A spokesperson for Unite Here said Raynor continues to negotiate a separate agreement to divide up the membership of Unite Here.
Several Florida Cities Raise Hotel Taxes
The Monroe County Commission in the Florida Keys voted last week to increase taxes on hotel rooms from 4 percent to 5 percent a night. The increase will go into effect sometime this summer, and the extra revenue will be used to promote tourism to the Keys. Some other cities in Florida also have voted to raise hotel taxes: In Tallahassee, taxes on hotel rooms will increase from 4 percent to 5 percent starting in May, and Panama City Beach’s lodging tax will jump from 4 percent to 5 percent in April.
Alliance Acquires nTAG
Alliance Tech, providers of RFID-based meeting and event services, acquired the technology and assets of nTag, which declared bankruptcy and shuttered its business early this year. The nTag technology consists of interactive name badges that facilitate networking, as well as real-time dashboard monitoring of session evaluation and attendee networking.
Dubai World Files Suit against MGM Mirage
On Monday, Dubai World subsidiary Infinity World filed a lawsuit against MGM Mirage, its joint-venture partner in the development of the Las Vegas mega-development CityCenter. The suit alleges a breach of contract by MGM Mirage, based on the casino operator’s SEC filing last week, in which auditors raised substantial doubt about the company’s ability to continue operations. The suit alleges that such admissions put CityCenter at risk and requests declaratory relief for Infinity World from its obligations in the joint-venture agreement. “The lawsuit filed yesterday by a subsidiary of Dubai World is completely without merit,” Alan Feldman, MGM Mirage senior vice president of public affairs, said in a statement. “Dubai World is well aware of our written commitment to meet our funding obligations and that MGM Mirage has available cash to satisfy those obligations. MGM Mirage is ready, willing and able to fund its share of the costs to complete CityCenter, including a required payment this week.”
W Hoboken opens Friday
The 225-room W Hoboken (N.J.) will open Friday. The property has six meeting rooms, a gym and a Bliss spa. Also in the news, the 509-room W New York-Times Square has completed a $35 million redesign of all guest rooms. The new look, developed by San Francisco-based interior design firm Yabu Pushelberg, features modern lounge furniture; large, rotating flat-screen TVs; Tivoli clock radios; iPod docking stations; W Hotels’ signature “Munchie Box,” and new metal and glass surfaces throughout. The Sweat Fitness Center also has been redesigned and outfitted with state-of-the-art Techno Gym equipment.
SNAP Scraps Redundant Annual Conference
The Society of National Association Publications announced that it will cease to produce its national annual conference in Chicago because it is an unnecessary duplication of the Association Media and Publishing Conference that the group organizes each June in Washington, D.C. The move will help the group focus its programming efforts and save money. Emily Hicks, member services coordinator for SNAP, estimated the Chicago event attracted half as many attendees as the Washington meeting, which last year drew fewer than 400 people. SNAP will maintain its presence there by organizing “several new, targeted half-day education programs” throughout the year. The first, on social media, is scheduled for this Friday.
FICP Debuts Upgraded Website
FICP has launched its enhanced website, ficpnet.com, improving the navigation and upgrading content. The association also plans to add two new member resources to the site by June: a planner’s profile exchange, with searchable profiles on past, present and future meetings; and a resource library for documents, presentations, resources and relevant links.
Convention and Visitor Bureaus
Maryland Bill Would Triple Funding for Annapolis CVB
A bill under consideration in the Maryland state legislature would set the Anne Arundel County hotel tax at 7 percent and distribute an increasing amount of that revenue, up to 25 percent, to the Annapolis & Anne Arundel County Conference & Visitors Bureau. At the moment, the bureau receives 7 percent of the hotel tax revenue. If the bill is passed, funding increases to the bureau will be phased in over the next four years, with 15 percent of the tax going to the bureau in 2011, 20 percent in 2012 and 25 percent in 2013 and thereafter. According to a story in the Annapolis newspaper The Capital, county officials are opposed to the bill, as it would reduce their budget by about $2.5 million a year. The bureau’s budget would more than triple, to $3.56 million.
Houston CVB Opens D.C. Office
The Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau has opened an office in Washington, D.C. The move gives the bureau access to the association market in the nation’s capital, which has contributed more than $118 million to Houston’s economy in the past three years through convention business. The office, at 700 12th St., NW, employs six people.
Puerto Vallarta to Open Long-Awaited Convention Center
The Puerto Vallarta International Convention Center celebrates its grand opening this week with the Gala Vallarta event, organized by the tourist commissions of Puerto Vallarta and Riviera. The 161,000-square-foot convention center, funded by the state of Jalisco, sits on 42 acres alongside a protected estuary. It can accommodate up to 7,000 attendees.
Destination Milan Launched
Conference center operator Fiera Milano Congressi and 18 city hotels with conference facilities have joined forces to launch a website to market the Italian fashion capital to meeting groups. For more information, visit destinationmilan.it.
Report Says Gaming Deal Will ‘Cannibalize’ Convention Business
A report released last week by the Florida Legislature’s Office of Economic and Demographic Research says the gambling deal negotiated by Gov. Charlie Crist, giving the state’s Seminole Indian Tribe exclusive rights to class III slots and table gaming, could draw as much as $100 million in tourism business away from other Florida hotels and resorts, including $60 million from meeting and convention business. The legality of the gambling deal currently is being debated by state lawmakers, but the Seminole tribe already has begun offering Las Vegas-style gambling, including slots and blackjack, at some of its five Florida casinos and resorts. The tribe is planning to spend $3 billion to expand its five properties if the pact is ratified.
Mississippi Tourism Incentives to Include Casinos
Last Tuesday, Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour signed a bill that modifies a previous law by extending eligibility to casinos for a 30 percent sales tax rebate when developing nongaming venues such as golf courses, hotels, retail space, meeting facilities and more. When the original tourism incentive bill was passed in 2007, it excluded casinos from receiving the rebate. To qualify for the sales tax rebate, casinos must invest a minimum of $10 million on a nonhotel development or $40 million on a hotel.
Station Casinos Eyes Bankruptcy
Cash-strapped Station Casinos continues to negotiate with bondholders to reach agreeable terms before the April 10 expiration of its forbearance agreement. The Las Vegas-based casino operator will likely either seek an extension or reach an agreement regarding a prepackaged bankruptcy, according to Station’s director of communications, Lori Nelson. The latter would indicate an agreement with the company’s debtors and offer a potentially faster and less expensive reorganization period than Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Station issued an open letter to Boyd Gaming as part of its SEC filing three weeks ago, in which the former declined Boyd’s offer to acquire many of Station’s casinos.
Denver Venues Go “Green”
Ten Denver venues have created the Rocky Mountain Green Partnership for Sustainable Communities. The charter members are the Colorado Convention Center, which just completed a 30,000-square-foot rooftop solar-power system; Red Rocks Amphitheatre; the Denver Performing Arts Complex; the Denver Coliseum; the Denver Zoo; the Pepsi Center; Dick’s Sporting Goods Park; Invesco Field at Mile High; Coors Field, and Folsom Field at the University of Colorado. They all have pledged to follow environmental practices in nine areas: energy conservation and efficiency; water conservation and efficiency; responsible materials use and waste management; transportation and air quality; green buildings; local food and agriculture; environmentally preferable purchasing; green economy, and community connections.
Ruffin and MGM Close Treasure Island Deal
MGM Mirage closed the $775 million sale of the 2,885-room Treasure Island Hotel & Casino on the Las Vegas Strip to businessman Phil Ruffin last Friday. Ruffin paid $600 million in cash assets and the remaining $175 million in a secure note; if he prepays that remainder by April 30, he’ll receive a $20 million discount. Ruffin took control of the property immediately upon closing. As a result of the sale, MGM Mirage expects to post a substantial gain in the first quarter.
PKF Revises Hotel Forecast
PKF Hospitality Research announced last week that the U.S. lodging industry decline will be deeper and last longer than the company previously predicted, and issued a revised forecast. PKF now expects revenue per available room to drop 13.7 percent in 2009, as opposed to the 9.8 percent drop forecast earlier this year. The company doesn’t expect to see a quarter-over-quarter sales increase until the first quarter of 2011. The revisions are based on Smith Travel Research’s hotel performance reports and forecasts for 2009, as well as Moody’s Economy.com’s February 2009 economic forecast. The 6.4 percent decrease in average daily rate that PKF predicts for this year is the most significant decline the company has called for since it began compiling data in 1932. According to the forecast, hotel performance is expected to be at its worst this quarter, bottoming out by midyear.
Hilton Sued for Use of Prestige Name
Prestige Resorts & Destinations Ltd. filed suit against Hilton Hotels Corp. last week, alleging trademark infringement for Hilton’s “Hilton Prestige Portfolio” luxury branding program. The suit claims Hilton’s use of the Prestige name will cause confusion in the marketplace. "Hilton intends to vigorously defend its right to label its luxury and lifestyle collection of hotels the Hilton Prestige Portfolio and has filed an answer denying the allegations of the complaint filed by Prestige Resorts & Destinations," wrote Robert Allegrini, vice president of communications for the Americas, Hilton Hotels Corp., in a prepared statement.
Two Hotels Coming to New York City
Mexico- and New York City-based architecture and design firm Ten Arquitectos is developing two hotels in New York City. The Cassa Hotel, to be built in midtown Manhattan near Bryant Park, will feature 166 suites, a restaurant and a bar, conference facilities, a business center, a gym and 57 luxury condominiums. The project is scheduled to finish in 2010. The other property is the Habita Hotel Chelsea, which will be built in the Chelsea neighborhood, with a rooftop deck with a pool, a bar and a garden terrace.
Ritz Cancún Opens Beach Club
The 365-room Ritz-Carlton, Cancún, opened the 17,000-square-foot La Playita Beach Club last week, a flexible, seaside space for groups. La Playita offers room for 700 with a bar and dining area, as well as 17 palapas (thatched-roof huts) and 10 private cabanas. The new club complements the hotel’s 27,000 square feet of existing meeting space.
AIME 2010 Rescheduled
Next year’s Asia-Pacific Incentives & Meetings Expo, originally scheduled for April 27-28, 2010, has been rebooked for March 2-3, 2010, in Melbourne, Australia. According to Reed Travel Exhibitions, which organizes the event, feedback from industry sources indicated a preference for holding the event earlier in the year. Reed also cited “new availability” at the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Center and the designation of April 26 as a public holiday in Victoria as other reasons for the change.
Maritz Partners With Accor Services
Maritz has entered into a strategic partnership agreement with global reward/incentive firm Accor Services, allowing Maritz to provide its multinational clients with motivation, learning, loyalty, recognition, events and rewards programs, services and solutions in Europe through Accor Services' Accentiv’ network of incentive marketing companies in the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Spain and Portugal. Likewise, Maritz will be able to help out Accentiv' clients with programs in the United States and Canada.
Concur Rolls Out Mobile Solution
Concur, a provider of travel and expense-management technology, rolled out enhanced functionality for its platform on Tuesday, allowing mobile Concur Travel and Expense customers to book travel and file or approve expense reports from their mobile devices. The upgrade is available to Concur customers at no extra charge, and is currently compatible with BlackBerry and Windows Mobile devices, with an iPhone version in the works. Travelers can book flights, and book or amend hotel, ground transportation and dining reservations on the road through the service, so all travel data is booked according to corporate policy and it is captured for reporting purposes. Travelers with camera-equipped mobile devices can photograph receipts and upload the images with their expense reports; managers can approve expense reports as well.