by By the M&C Staff | April 08, 2009

The Salt Lake County Council's members met yesterday to debate creating an exploratory committee as the next step in bringing a 1,000-room convention center hotel to the city. Proponents want a large property with about 90,000 square feet of meeting space within walking distance of the Salt Palace Convention Center, which offers 515,000 square feet of exhibition space and 66 meeting rooms. Currently, the closest hotel is the 381-room Radisson Hotel Salt Lake City Downtown; the largest is the 850-room Little America Hotel, which is four blocks from the center. The Salt Lake County Council also is considering whether public funds should be used to build the property. "We lose a considerable amount of business each year as a result of the lack of a convention center hotel," said Scott Beck, president and CEO of the Salt Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau. "We think the time is right to get serious about this."

$1 Billion Mixed-Use Project Planned For Downtown L.A.
Korean Air and Los Angeles-based real estate company Thomas Properties Group Inc. plan to develop a $1 billion hotel and office building complex in the heart of Los Angeles' financial district, on the three-acre site currently occupied by the Willshire Grand Hotel, which will be demolished. The proposal includes two high-rise towers with a combined 1,750,000 square feet. One tower will feature 40 stories of approximately 700 luxury hotel rooms topped by several floors of condominiums. The other structure will be a 60-story, 1 million-square-foot office building. The project will need to secure financing as well as city approval before construction begins. According to a spokesperson from Thomas Properties Group, the company hopes to break ground in 2011 and finish in 2014.

Firms Will Pay More to Avoid Resort Meetings, ACTE Survey Reveals
Companies are avoiding meeting in resort destinations, even if a less-luxurious location is more expensive, confirmed a survey released Monday by the Association of Corporate Travel Executives. Sixty percent of the 110 U.S. travel managers surveyed by ACTE said they would "avoid a perceived resort location (like Las Vegas) for a corporate conference or meeting in favor of a less leisure-oriented location -- even if rates were better in the resort city -- to avoid any external negative perceptions." As ACTE president Doug Weeks noted, "Millions of dollars could be lost due to perception being used as a site-selection parameter." Furthermore, 75 percent of survey respondents said their firms had restricted employee participation in professional conferences. The inability to attend such events could lead to an "intellectual depression," said Weeks, who also is director of global sourcing and travel for Booz & Co. In addressing attendees at ACTE's global education conference, which concluded last night in Washington, D.C., Weeks said several travel managers had paid their own way to attend this year. Of about 900 registrants, approximately one-third were buyers, according to preliminary estimates. Last year's conference, also in Washington, D.C., had 1,200 attendees.

Hawaii Governor: 132 Meetings and Events Canceled in 2009

In a letter written last week by Hawaii Gov. Linda Lingle to President Barack Obama, urging him not to support measures that would oppose legitimate business travel, the governor revealed that 132 meetings and incentive trips have been canceled this year as a result of the economy and the backlash against company-sponsored meetings and events. The cancellations have amounted to a loss of 87,003 room nights and $58.8 million in direct revenue for the state. The total economic impact is estimated at $97.6 million, and the loss of 694 full- and part-time jobs within the tourism industry in Hawaii.

Amex Offers New Online Tools
American Express Business Travel has launched two new online products for its clients: Small Meetings eXpert, a marketplace for booking meetings of fewer than 50 attendees, and eXplore, a customizable portal that provides direct access to a variety of travel tools. Small Meetings eXpert is powered by Worktopia and offers real-time access to inventory and rates, as well as the ability to book meeting space, guest rooms, catering and A/V equipment. U.S. clients will begin using the tool this spring. The eXplore portal is based on user-customizable "portlets," small windows that provide content from a variety of locations. Through the portlets, clients can book travel, access itineraries and invoices, obtain destination information, convert currency and more. Amex plans to integrate charge card and international payment functionality in the future. The new portal is being rolled out in the United States, Canada, Australia, Germany, France, Norway, Sweden and Denmark; later this year Amex will offer it in Mexico, South America and other European markets.

Resort Tax Collections Plummet in Central Florida
Orange County (Fla.) resort tax collections in February dropped 29 percent compared with last year, according to a report released by county officials last week. Resort taxes are charged on hotels, motels and short-term rentals; they fund the Orange County Convention Center and other tourist development projects, such as the city's plans for a new arts center and a renovated football stadium. City officials told M&C that the planned $425 million Dr. P. Phillips Orlando Performing Arts Center, originally expected to break ground this year and open in 2012, now does not have an exact opening date because of the drop in tax collections. Plans for updating the downtown Citrus Bowl football stadium have been put on hold as well; $175 million was earmarked for renovating the lower seating decks, revamping the pedestrian area around the stadium and adding 40,000 square feet of banquet space.

MGM Mirage Rumored to be Shopping Some Assets
According to a report in the Wall Street Journal, MGM Mirage has hired Morgan Stanley to help sell off its casinos in Michigan and Mississippi. The gaming company, which is looking for ways to pay off more than $13 billon in debt and still finance the CityCenter megadevelopment in Las Vegas, denies any of its resorts are on the market, however. According to the Journal, which quotes unnamed sources familiar with the matter, Morgan Stanley currently is in discussion with prospective buyers of the 400-room MGM Grand Detroit and the 1,740-room Beau Rivage in Biloxi, Miss. A spokesperson for MGM Mirage, who said much of the talk about the company is fueled by rumor and speculation, added, "Our chairman, Jim Murren, has previously indicated that asset sales may be a part of that solution, but that the company is more focused on the sale of noncore assets [i.e., aircraft, art, land] than we are on the sale of core assets. None of our resorts has been placed on the market. We are seeking a global solution to our situation."

Middle Eastern Meetings Show Welcomes Record Attendance

At Reed Travel Exhibitions' third annual Gulf Incentive, Business Travel & Meetings Exhibition, held last week in Abu Dhabi, UAE, pre-audited visitor numbers show an attendance of 1,904, including 236 hosted buyers, 15 percent more than in 2008. Exhibitors at GIBTM increased to 768. The third annual Middle East Meetings Industry Research Report also was released at the show. Results indicate that the Gulf region has the top growth potential of all global markets, beating out even China and India, which came in second and third place in the report. Next year's GIBTM will be held in the same location March 29-31. For more on the show, visit

Airline Industry
TSA Begins Watch-List Prescreening
Last week, the Transportation Security Administration began its new Secure Flight program, which takes over from the individual airlines the task of matching passengers to a pre-flight "watch list." The program is being rolled out gradually, with four small airlines. Carriers will now collect passengers' full name, date of birth and gender when reservations are made, and that information will be transmitted to the TSA to be checked against the government's "Selectee" and "No Fly" lists. The TSA said collecting a passenger's date of birth and gender, which were not required previously, will help prevent false matches. The program currently only checks domestic flights, but international checking will begin later this year. The TSA expects to be responsible for watch-list matching for 100 percent of domestic commercial flights by early 2010, and 100 percent of all international commercial flights by the end of 2010. For more on Secure Flight, read "Feds to Run Prescreening," (M&C, December 2008).

Southwest to Fly Out of LaGuardia
Southwest Airlines will begin service out of New York City's LaGuardia Airport on June 28. The carrier's schedule will offer eight daily departures: five nonstops to Chicago Midway and three nonstops to Baltimore/Washington International. At the moment, Southwest is offering $89 one-way fares to and from Chicago and $49 one-way for Baltimore/Washington. The airline also will begin service May 26 between Denver and Minneapolis/St. Paul. Fares for the three daily nonstops begin at $89. For more information, visit

Politicians Supportive of Meetings, Association Execs Say
Association leaders who met with elected officials in Washington, D.C., last week as part of ASAE's 2009 Legislative Fly-In indicated politicians are getting the message about the importance of the meetings industry. "Many members [of Congress] expressed support for association meetings and understood their importance to our community," Jakub Konysz, a spokesperson for ASAE & The Center for Association Leadership, wrote in an e-mail. "Overall, the Hill visits were successful and helped members of Congress and their staff understand the educational and economic value of association meetings."

Corporate Travel
More U.S. Companies Cut Travel Volume, While European Firms Shave Costs
A study released Monday by AirPlus shows U.S.-based companies are more likely to have cut travel volume as a cost-saving measure, while European firms have first directed travelers to lower-cost flights and hotels. Based on interviews with 1,500 travel managers, researchers found that only 2 percent of all companies in Europe had halted travel activities, vs. 19 percent of U.S.-based firms. 

Destination Management Firms
LSO Shutters Offices in France
Destination management firm LSO International closed its four offices in France last week; at press time, the company's Monaco office still was operating. As M&C reported last week, the company was placed under legal redressment (the equivalent of filing for Chapter 11 in the United States) by the Antibes (France) Commercial Court. According to Menno Meyer, who was named president of LSO International last November, the company's troubles were due to cash-flow problems, disappointing annual operating results for 2008 and management errors incurred by the previous team of directors.

Exhibition Services
Bob Moore to Oversee Freeman's Restructured Sales Team
Freeman, the exhibition services company, has promoted executive vice president Bob Moore to chief sales officer, just one of several promotions the company announced last week as it restructures its sales team. "Although we have previously seen exposition, exhibitor and corporate clients as being different in their needs and resource requirements, they are more interdependent now than ever before," Joe Popolo, CEO, said in a statement explaining the reorganization. "As our industry continues to evolve, we need to provide all our customers with greater access to the strategic, creative and logistics resources across Freeman's enterprise." Dan Hoffend now will be in charge of all corporate accounts sales groups as a senior vice president, and Martin Moggré will oversee exposition services sales teams.


Atlantic City Casino Profits Drop Nearly 25 Percent in 2008
Atlantic City's 11 casino hotels reported a 24.6 percent decline in gross operating profits in 2008, including a 45.8 percent decline in the fourth quarter alone, according to the New Jersey Casino Control Commission. The Borgata had the highest gross operating profits ($201.1 million) in 2008, a decrease of 17.9 percent over 2007, followed by Harrah's Atlantic City, which reported gross operating profits of $164.1 million, a 1.1 percent drop over the prior year. Taking the biggest hits were Resorts, which earned $2.8 million in 2008, a decline of 88 percent compared with 2007, and the Atlantic City Hilton, which earned $3.5 million for the year, a decline of 89 percent. In a statement released last week, Casino Control Commission chair Linda M. Kassekert said, "The decline in revenues and gross operating profits reflect the decline in the overall economy as well as the continued increase in competition from gaming operations in neighboring states."


New Crowne Plaza Opens in Paris
The 328-room Crowne Plaza Paris République opened Thursday in the French capital. The property, in a historic building built in 1865, has 18 meeting rooms, a bar and a restaurant.

San Francisco Marriott Union Square Opens
Last week, the 400-room San Francisco Marriott Union Square opened within walking distance of Moscone Convention Center. The 30-story hotel features a fitness center, a restaurant, a concierge lounge and 10,000 square feet of function space, including 10 meeting rooms. 

Hotel Companies Unveil Expansion Plans in India
Multiple hotel companies made announcements about future expansion plans in India last week. InterContinental Hotels Group plans to open 31 hotels with a combined 7,600 rooms over the next few years in the country, nearly quadrupling the size of the company's current portfolio there. The Press Trust of India also reported that Accor plans to open 45 new hotels totaling 9,000 rooms by 2012, and Leela Hotels, Palaces and Resorts will invest US$500 million in five new luxury properties over the same time period.

Westin Galleria Dallas Completes Renovations
A reopening ceremony was held Thursday at the 447-room Westin Galleria Dallas to celebrate the end of a two-year redesign and expansion. All the rooms were redone, the lobby was redesigned and new amenities were added, including an executive lounge, a new pool, a 6,000-square-foot ballroom, and the Second Floor Bistro and Bar. The property now offers about 40,000 square feet of meeting space.

Castlemartyr Reopens Under New Management

The 103-room Capella Castlemartyr in Ireland's Cork County reopened last week under new management. The 18-month-old luxury property, now called Castlemartyr Golf Course, Spa and Fitness Centre, had been managed by West Paces Hotel Group and was shuttered last November. The property now is run by the same team that manages Dromoland Castle, a landmark luxury resort in County Clare.

St. Regis Opens in Atlanta

The St. Regis Atlanta opens next Tuesday in the city's Buckhead neighborhood. The 151-room property offers 16,800 square feet of meeting space, four restaurants and lounges, and an outdoor pool.

Rosewood Sand Hill Hotel Opens Near San Francisco

Last Thursday, the 123-room Rosewood Sand Hill hotel opened 35 miles south of San Francisco. Amenities include private balconies or terraces with all guest rooms; the 17,000-square-foot Sense, A Rosewood Spa, with 13 treatment rooms, a fitness center and a spa café; the Madera restaurant, featuring American cuisine of the Bay Area; and 13,000 square feet of meeting space, including a 2,800-square-foot ballroom, three boardrooms and an outdoor lawn area accommodating up to 500 guests.

Charlotte Marriott Completes $10 Million Renovation
The Charlotte (N.C.) Marriott City Center has completed a $10 million renovation, including a complete makeover of all 438 guest rooms and hallways. Each room at the Marriott, which is close to the Charlotte Convention Center, now has a 37-inch flat-screen TV; iHome radios with iPod docking stations, and high-speed Internet, both wired and Wi-Fi. The property has 20,000 square feet of meeting and event space.

Rochester Radisson Unveils Renovations
The Radisson Hotel Rochester (N.Y.) Riverside, formerly the Clarion Riverside Hotel, has completed a $6.5 million renovation. Enhancements include the new Legends Bar & Grille; the revamped, acoustically improved 8,122-square-foot Grand Ballroom; and upgrades to all guest rooms, such as new mattresses, bed linens, high-definition TVs and wireless Internet access.

Distrito Capital Boutique Hotel Opens in Mexico City
Mexican hotelier Grupo Habita debuted the 30-room Distrito Capital hotel in the business district of Santa Fe, in Mexico City. The boutique property features 13 suites, several meeting rooms for small groups, a restaurant, a lounge, a fitness center and an outdoor pool.

IMA, SITE Release White Papers
Two associations representing the incentive industry have released white papers on the power of employee recognition and engagement in a down economy. "The Time for Employee Recognition and Rewards Programs Is Now," from the Incentive Marketing Association's Recognition Council, examines current research and demonstrates why employers should keep programs that recognize workers despite strained budgets. It argues, among other points, that companies with incentive programs outperform their competition; recognition and reward programs provide demonstrable return on investment; and engaged employees increased company earnings per share by as much as 28 percent, while low employee engagement can result in declines of up to 11 percent per share. The paper will be available later this week at The paper released by the SITE International Foundation is simply titled "Engagement." The document excerpts studies and research on employee engagement and includes findings such as 85 percent of engaged employees intend to stay with their current employer, raising an employee's engagement to a high category yields a 20 percent increase in performance, and companies with low levels of engagement have seen a 32 percent decrease in productivity. Also, from a 10-year study that compared six Fortune 500 companies with high employee-engagement ratings to six with low levels of engagement, the high-rated companies outgrew the latter by roughly four to one. The paper is available at

TARP Companies
Bank of America Cancels Investment Conference
Bank of America will no longer hold its annual investment conference, which occurs every September at the San Francisco Ritz-Carlton, now that the research platforms of Bank of America and Merrill Lynch have been integrated. According to a company spokesperson, "we will now hold more industry-specific conferences, such as the clean technology conference held in New York City last month, vs. one multi-industry conference covering several sectors at one time." The event normally was attended by about 1,000 people, including company leaders, investment bankers, analysts and their clients.

GroupRes Tool Launched for Group Hotel Reservations
GroupRes launched a web-based, real-time, hotel-direct booking tool Tuesday for booking group hotel reservations. Through the site, planners can either upload an existing room list to book guest rooms or have the tool create a room list as attendees make their hotel reservations. Hotel-generated confirmation numbers are delivered upon booking. The program also includes customizable web-page templates. See for additional information.
MeetingMetrics Lowers Prices for Small Meetings
MeetingMetrics, a software platform for calculating meetings value and return, is offering a lower pricing scale for groups of 75 or fewer prospective attendees, with volume discounts available to corporations that hold many such meetings. The platform includes templates for customizable pre- and postmeeting surveys, designed to help plan and execute events that deliver value to the participants.

StarCite's Offers Meetings Tools Free This Year to Qualified Customers
From now through June 30, StarCite Inc. is offering the StarCite Stimulus Plan -- free use of the company's meetings management software through 2009 for qualified new customers. The deal provides tools for planning, budgeting, buying, attendee management, payment and results measurement, including full access to a competitive bidding process through the StarCite Marketplace. For more information, companies can complete a request form here.

Walt Disney World Parks Lay Off 1,900

Walt Disney World Parks and Resorts confirmed this week that 1,900 people have been laid off at its domestic parks. About 1,400 of those cuts came at the Orlando theme park, while 700 were nationwide unfilled open positions and 50 were buyouts.