According to U.S. Rep. Barney Frank (D- Mass.), legitimate meetings and events, including performance-based incentive travel (where "by selling a certain number of things you earn a trip"), will be allowed for TARP fund recipients. Congressman Frank, chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, made the statement during a formal colloquy with Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-Nev.) on the floor of the House of Representatives Wednesday, prior to the vote on the Grayson-Himes Pay for Performance Act. The bill, which seeks to limit bonuses for TARP recipients, was passed by the House on Wednesday. After describing how meetings, events and incentives have suffered in the past few months, Rep. Berkley said, "I would like to clarify with the chairman (Frank) that nothing in the bill or amendments to be offered today would discourage or limit the use of meetings, events or incentive travel organized by a company to serve legitimate business purposes." View a clip of the exchange between Frank and Berkley here.
MGM Keeps CityCenter Alive With $200 Million Payment
MGM Mirage made a $200 million payment on Friday to CityCenter, satisfying the monthly contribution required to keep the project going. The cash-strapped casino company needed a special waiver from its senior lenders to make the payment, $100 million of which was to have been funded by joint-venture partner Dubai World. Dubai World subsidiary Infinity World filed suit against MGM Mirage last Monday, seeking relief from its financial obligations to the project. Infinity World is alleging a breach of contract by MGM Mirage, claiming that doubts about the company's ability to continue operations put CityCenter at risk. MGM Mirage officials, who called the lawsuit "without merit," claim they will work with Dubai World and lenders to find a long-term solution for financing the project.
Modified Javits Center Proposal Approved
A $463 million renovation and expansion of New York City's Jacob K. Javits Convention Center has been approved by the Empire State Development Corp.'s board of directors. Modest in comparison to previous proposals that called for billions in funding, the new plan seeks to add 100,000 square feet of space, including 40,000 square feet of exhibition space. Renovations include a complete replacement of the facility's roof and exterior curtain wall, the installation of energy-efficient technology and the repair of various building systems. The convention center will remain operational during the work; following the plan's final approval by the state's Public Authority Control Board, construction could begin immediately. The expansion of the center is slated for a 2010 completion, while the renovation should finish in 2013.
Orlando CVB Proposes Changes
The Orlando/Orange County Convention & Visitors Bureau and Orange County Mayor Richard Crotty are working together on a list of reforms to make spending at the agency more transparent. In a letter sent to the mayor last week, George Aguel, chairman of the CVB's board and senior vice president of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, listed numerous changes the CVB is willing to adopt, including allowing an internal audit of travel expenses, getting board approval for all executive severance packages, disclosing all executive salaries and posting board meeting minutes on the Internet. The CVB's audit committee will be recast as the audit and oversight committee, charged with annually reviewing the CVB's T&E, procurement, management compensation and other policies. In a report published this week by the Orlando Sentinel, three county commissioners calling for the reforms said the efforts are not enough and that the OOCCVB should consider other steps such as opening private board meetings to the public and adding an elected county commissioner to the board. The county commission will discuss and possibly vote on the reforms when it meets on April 28.
Walt Disney World Resort Lets Go Hundreds of Workers
The Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando laid off an unconfirmed number of employees last week. "We are in the midst of a domestic reorganization to consolidate our U.S. operations and streamline our backstage processes and procedures," said a company spokesperson. "These changes are essential to maintaining our leadership position in family tourism and reflect today's economic realities. As acknowledged previously, these actions will unfortunately result in the elimination of positions." According to Central Florida News 13, the number is rumored to be between 400 and 800 people. Earlier this month, Disney also announced that 50 executives working in the theme park division had accepted buyouts. In other news, the resort has introduced a new online check-in service that allows guests staying at Walt Disney World hotels to check in up to 10 days before their arrival. Guests staying at the resort for a convention can preregister for their rooms and note their arrival time and room preferences, and they can register other guests staying in the same room.
U.S. RevPAR Drops in February
Smith Travel Research revealed declines in three key performance metrics among U.S. hotels in February, with revenue per available room taking the sharpest dive in a year-over-year comparison. RevPAR fell 17.1 percent, to $53.42, while occupancy dipped to 53.2 percent (a 10.1 percent drop), and average daily rate fell 7.8 percent to $100.41. The luxury segment was hardest hit, posting a 28.6 percent drop in RevPAR (to $153.94), while the economy segment fared best, with a 12.4 percent decrease in RevPAR (to $23.90). Of the top 25 markets, Phoenix was the hardest hit, with a 19.6 percent decrease in average daily rate (to $138.88) and a 34.9 percent drop in RevPAR, down to $87.79.
Vancouver Convention & Exhibition Centre Unveils Expansion
Additions to the Vancouver Convention & Exhibition Centre will debut Friday. The project more than tripled the facility's exhibit space, for a total of 314,000 square feet; the new section, called the West Facility, will serve as the international broadcast center for the 2010 Winter Olympic games.
Sofitel Resort Opens in Shanghai
The 368-room Sofitel Sheshan Huanghe Resort Shanghai has opened 35 minutes from downtown Shanghai. The resort has 22,600 square feet of meeting space, including a 12,900-square-foot ballroom, a spa with 15 treatment rooms, a number of of outdoor pools, a driving range, a fitness center and several restaurants.
USTA Launches Search for Travel Spokespeople
Last Thursday, the U.S. Travel Association launched the latest aspect of its Meetings Mean Business campaign, called "Faces of Travel." The organizations is looking for spokespeople to represent the "vitality and importance of travel in America." In a statement, U.S. Travel Association president and CEO Roger Dow said, "When business travel decreases, the unintended victims are the American workers and the communities that rely on travel for jobs and tax revenue. It is time to give those workers a face in our skewed national discussion." Interested travel industry employees can submit short videos explaining why travel is important to them, their company and their community. After the contest closes at noon on Friday, April 24, the USTA will choose one or more winners for the overall Meetings Mean Business campaign. The videos must be from 45 to 60 seconds long, and can be uploaded at meetingsmeanbusiness.com/facesoftravel. They will be screened by the USTA and uploaded to YouTube for public viewing.
Global Airline Group Predicts Huge Losses for 2009
In a report issued last week, the International Air Transport Association, a trade group that speaks for 230 world airlines representing 93 percent of scheduled international air traffic, predicted the global airline industry would lose US$4.7 billion in 2009. This nearly doubles IATA's most recent loss forecast, of $2.5 billion, issued in December 2008. The group also predicts airline industry revenues in 2009 will drop by 12 percent, or $62 billion, to $467 billion. "The state of the airline industry today is grim," IATA director general and CEO Giovanni Bisignani said in a statement. "Demand has deteriorated much more rapidly with the economic slowdown than could have been anticipated even a few months ago." However, North American airlines are expected to fare better than their international counterparts; IATA predicts these carriers will make it through 2009 with a combined profit of $100 million, mostly because they have committed to cutting capacity to match demand and fuel prices have fallen.
NBTA Plans Study to Prove Value of Business Travel
The National Business Travel Association, in conjunction with consulting firm IHS Global Insight, is conducting a wide-ranging study to determine the value of business travel and professional travel management. The project will examine, through various sources of research, the cost-savings achieved by negotiated deals vs. retail travel prices; productivity gains realized by traveling employees; and the bottom-line business performance of companies that use professional travel managers vs. those that do not. The results will be released in phases this summer.
Newspaper Association Replaces Convention with Webcasts
Last week, the American Society of Newspaper Editors announced it will hold a series of hour-long webcasts in place of its canceled annual convention, which had been scheduled in Chicago later this month. "This won't lead us away from having a convention again," said Scott Bosley, executive director of ASNE. "We're planning to have a convention next year." The switch to virtual was made in anticipation of low turnout in Chicago, and Bosley said the move will cost the association, because the convention was a significant source of revenue for ASNE, and the webcasts will be complimentary for ASNE members. The association also is discussing how to facilitate networking among members in the absence of a convention. He said ASNE might encourage small groups of members to gather for "peer conversations," but ASNE will not plan or fund the gatherings.
Survey Shows Caterers, Event Planners Hurt by Mass-Media Criticism of Meetings
According to a National Association of Catering Executives survey, U.S. caterers and event planners say criticism of companies that host conferences and travel-related meetings is hurting the industry and the overall economy. Eighty-seven percent of the 250 respondents agreed that the sagging public perception of conferences and conventions is having a negative effect on the economy, and more than 90 percent said their revenues have been hurt as a result. According to Greg Casella, CPCE, president of NACE, "While I understand that in these times it is important to spend carefully, the bashing of the catering, events, meetings and travel business is not only unfair and prejudicial to our industry, it is counterproductive to economic recovery." The survey was conducted March 7-23.
IACC Looks at Realigning Chapters
The International Association of Conference Centers is reexamining its structure. The first step, announced at the organization's annual meeting, which was held in Georgia this week, will be to assess its global and chapter makeup. The IACC Global Board of Directors is considering consolidating the chapters, possibly aligning the current membership into three or four chapters. Membership is down to about 290 centers from a high of 350 worldwide a few years ago, but leadership has a new goal to reach 1,000 member properties by 2020.
Convention and Visitor Bureaus
Staff Cutbacks at Scottsdale CVB
Last week, the Scottsdale Convention & Visitors Bureau laid off six employees. According to CVB vice president Brent DeRaad, the 20 percent reduction in staff "was based on a substantial budget cut we're projecting for our next fiscal year, which begins in July. While we regret having to make and implement this difficult decision, we are committed to keeping our convention sales staff in place."
Destination Management Firms
French DMC in Financial Trouble
Last month, LSO International, a destination management firm with four offices in France and Monaco, was placed under legal redressment by the Antibes (France) Commercial Court. The measure, the equivalent of filing for Chapter 11 in the United States, was announced in a release. According to a document, Menno Meyer, who was named president of LSO International last November, uncovered "serious cash-flow problems" in his first three months at the helm, due to "very disappointing annual operating results for 2008 and management errors inherited from the previous team of directors."
Bill to Allow Gaming at the Greenbrier Under Consideration
According to the Charleston Daily Mail, the West Virginia legislature is considering a plan to allow the historic Greenbrier resort to have a casino, including slot machines and table games. The governor has expressed his support for the bill, and the Democratic state senate majority leader said he expects it to pass. The Greenbrier filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection two weeks ago and is being sold to Marriott.
Bid Comes in for Tropicana Casino
A group of investors spearheaded by billionaire financier Carl Icahn has offered to buy Atlantic City's Tropicana Casino and Resort for $200 million. Since losing its casino license in December 2007, the property has been operating under a state-appointed conservator. According to the New Jersey Casino Control Commission, Icahn's offer sets the minimum price -- called the "stalking horse bid" -- for the Tropicana in a bankruptcy court auction expected to be authorized by state casino regulators within two weeks. A year ago, the casino was expected to sell for around $1 billion.
Mauna Kea Beach Hotel Reopens on Big Island
The 258-room Mauna Kea Beach Hotel on Hawaii's Big Island reopened last weekend, following an extensive multimillion-dollar makeover of its guest rooms and Mauna Kea Golf Club. A new fine-dining restaurant serving American French cuisine was added, as were a new spa and a new golf clubhouse. The hotel had been closed since December 2006 to repair structural damages caused by an earthquake in October of that year.
Capella Singapore Opens, Brand's First in Asia
The 111-room Capella Singapore opened this week with more than 7,300 square feet of meeting space, including a 3,650-square-foot ballroom. The luxury hotel also has a 12,000-square-foot Auriga Spa, a business center and several dining options. The property, on the island of Sentosa, is the first Capella hotel in Asia.
Millennium Bostonian Wraps $25M Renovation
A $25 million renovation at the 201-room Millennium Bostonian Hotel was completed when the hotel's new restaurant, North 26 Restaurant and Bar, opened last month. The hotel's previous restaurant, Seasons, was transformed into a 3,000-square-foot ballroom last fall. The guest room renovations were completed last September. The hotel now has 7,000 square feet of meeting space.
Marriott to Open First Property in Libya
Marriott International will open a 370-room, 36-story JW Marriott hotel in Tripoli, Libya, in 2011. It will be Marriott's first hotel in the country. The property will have 12,300 square feet of meeting space, a spa and three restaurants.
Hampton Inn Opens in Providence
The 110-room Hampton Inn & Suites Providence (R.I.) Downtown opened last week in the financial district, following the $20 million transformation of the former Old Colony Bank building. Less than half a mile from the Rhode Island Convention Center, the new property has three meeting rooms totaling 1,200 square feet, a fitness center and a business center. The Hampton brings the total number of guest rooms in downtown Providence to 2,250. An official opening ceremony for the hotel is scheduled for April 15.
Cvent Integrates Webconferencing
Cvent, a provider of online meetings management services, has completed integration into the Cisco WebEx Meeting Center, adding web conferencing to its list of offerings. Cvent customers now are able to collect fees online for webinars, synchronize Cvent and WebEx contact data, customize registration paths, and use invitation and survey capabilities.
CEIR Index Confirms Exhibitions Declined in 2008
In 2008, the exhibition industry posted its first annual decline in six years, contracting 3.1 percent compared with 2007, according to the newly released Center for Exhibition Industry Research Index, a composite measure of industry health. All key industry metrics showed decline: attendance (down 4 percent), exhibitors (down 2.6 percent), net square feet (down 2 percent) and revenue (down 3.5 percent). Despite the drop, the exhibition industry has grown at a compound annual rate of 1.8 percent since the CEIR Index was first published in 2000. Four industry sectors did grow in 2008: information technology, raw materials, medical/health care and industrial. The hardest hit sectors were building and construction, consumer goods, transportation and professional business services.
New Museum Opens in Albuquerque
The National Museum of Nuclear Science & History will open in Albuquerque, N.M., this weekend. The facility spans 30,000 square feet plus 12 acres of exterior space. Among its collection are historic aircraft and nuclear missiles, such as a B52-B bomber and casings used for the Fat Man and Little Boy atomic bombs of in World War II.