by By the M&C Staff | May 13, 2009

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention removed its recommendation on Friday that U.S. travelers avoid nonessential travel to Mexico. The U.S. Department of State has lifted its alert as a result. According to the CDC, it appears that the spread of the H1N1 flu outbreak is slowing down in Mexico, while at the same time has become more common in the U.S. and elsewhere. The effects of the illness are also thought to be less severe than anticipated. A Travel Health Precaution remains in effect for Mexico, particularly for high-risk travelers such as pregnant women, children under age 5 and people over 65. Details about flu precautions, applicable for people in any affected regions, can be found at

Dallas Voters Approve Convention Hotel Plan
A referendum to halt plans for a city-owned convention center hotel in Dallas was narrowly defeated last Saturday. With a low voter turnout, the measure lost by just over 2,100 votes, giving the city the go-ahead to build a 1,000-room property next to the Dallas Convention Center, which offers more than 1 million square feet of exhibit space. The next step for the project will involve the sale of revenue bonds to finance the construction. Mayor Tom Leppert plans to delay the sale until the bond rate lowers to 5.5 percent, allowing the city to borrow as little as possible to build the $500 million property. Phillip Jones, president and CEO of the Dallas Convention and Visitors Bureau, said city officials hope to sell the bonds in July or August, allowing for a late August or early September groundbreaking. The hotel, an Omni that will have about 100,000 square feet of meeting space, would open in the summer of 2011. Ancillary projects are expeced: "I think we're going to be seeing more developments announced to coincide with the groundbreaking," Jones said.

Travel Leaders to Speak at Senate Hearing
U.S. Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Mel Martinez (R-Fla.), respectively the chairperson and a ranking member of the commerce subcommittee dealing with tourism, will hold a hearing tomorrow with tourism industry leaders, including Jay Rasulo, chairman of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts; Jay Witzel, president and CEO of Carlson Hotels; and Rossi Ralenkotter, president and CEO of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority. They will discuss how best to increase U.S. tourism during tough economic times, including the role meetings play in the tourism industry. The hearing is part of the 26th Annual National Travel and Tourism Week activities.

Amex Study: Restrictions Likely, but Travel Still Necessary
Although companies intend to spend less on travel this year and impose restrictions, they still are emphasizing the importance of face-to-face meetings, according to an American Express study of global senior finance executives. Approximately three out of four of the 285 execs surveyed reported that restrictions are especially likely for travel to staff meetings, management retreats and other internal needs, and 87 percent said they intend to spend less on travel this year. But companies are investing in areas closely associated with business growth: 82 percent are likely to maintain or increase travel for meetings with new clients, and 66 percent plan to maintain or increase travel for meetings with existing clients. The full findings of the American Express/CFO Research Global Business & Spending Monitor may be found here.

Hawaii Legislature Overrides Gov. Lingle's Veto of Hotel Tax Hike
Last Friday, the closing day of the Hawaii state legislative session, Democratic lawmakers voted to override Gov. Linda Lingle's veto of a hotel room tax raise. The governor opposed the tax increase, claiming the decline in visitor arrivals would deteriorate further and jobs losses in the tourist industry would worsen. The state's transient accommodations tax now will go up by one percentage point, from 7.25 percent to 8.25 percent, beginning July 1. The tax will increase an additional percentage point in July 2010, bringing the total occupancy tax to 9.25 percent. According to the Honolulu Advertiser, the tax hike will generate approximately $88 million over the two years.

New Airport Opens in Branson, Mo.
The $150 million Branson Airport opened this week in southwestern Missouri, becoming the country's first privately funded commercial airport. Currently, the facility proveds daily roundtrip service from Branson to Atlanta and Milwaukee via AirTran Airways, and Sun Country Airlines flies roundtrip three days a week to Minneapolis-St. Paul and Dallas-Ft. Worth. Airport officials plan to add more destinations soon, possibly Chicago and Denver. "The primary complaint we've always gotten from meeting planners was the lack of affordable local air service to Branson," said Ross Summers, president and CEO of the Branson/Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce and CVB. "Now that issue has been satisfied."

Travelers to China Should Allow Extra Time for Visa Applications
The International Association of Exhibitions and Events has issued an advisory that the Chinese Embassy in the U.S. has "suspended" one- and two-day visas for U.S. travelers and that the process of obtaining visas now will take longer than normal due to measures put in place because of the swine flu outbreak. "The fact that the mbassy used the word 'suspended' suggests that this may be temporary, but at this time we do not know for how long this change will be in effect," read a statement from the U.S. Department of Commerce, included in the IAEE notice.

As Mexico Occupancy Plummets, Government Responds with Stimulus Package
Hotel occupancy in Mexico dropped more than 50 percent at the end of April and beginning of May, according to Smith Travel Research. Following news of the H1N1 virus, occupancy rates, already slowed by the recession and media reports of drug-related violence, fell rapidly. The rate was at about 36 percent on Sunday, April 26, and fell to 24.4 percent by Saturday, May 2. For the week, occupancy fell nearly 51 percent from the previous year. Tourism infused $13.3 billion into Mexico's economy last year, making it the third largest source of revenue for the nation. To help offset the already devastating effects of the recession and flu outbreak, Mexico's federal government announced a stimulus package last week that includes $165 million for tourism promotion. Meanwhile, the World Health Organization continues to advise against closing borders, while an advisory against nonessential travel to Mexico from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention remains in effect.

Visit Florida Replaces President and CEO
This past Friday, Visit Florida, the tourism marketing corporation for the state, replaced Bud Nocera, the current president and CEO, with Chris Thompson, the organization's COO. Of the changes, Richard Goldman, chairman of the board of directors, said, "Chris has demonstrated great ability to build relationships with the legislature and the governor's office, and is confident working with our staff. Bud has done a great job, but based on the terms of his contract, he was terminated without cause. This is an opportunity for the organization to look forward." The company also announced that 17 positions have been eliminated, including five that already were vacant. The realignment will save an estimated $1.2 million annually, according to Goldman.

Site Creates Model for Measuring Program ROI
Site's research arm, the Site International Foundation, has published a model to measure the value of incentive programs in a new White Paper. The model offers methodology that can be altered to fit multiple business and revenue strategies. The paper, "A Measurement Model to Validate the Performance of a Motivational Experience Program," is available for free at

FICP Shortens Annual Conference

In an effort to reduce costs and be sensitive to the current economic climate, Financial & Insurance Conference Planners has trimmed one day from its annual conference, which will take place at the Sheraton Toronto Hotel in November. The meeting  originally was set for Nov. 15-19; following a member survey, the program now will run Nov. 15-18. In a statement to members, conference chair Patricia Kerr, CMP, said, " We reviewed the survey results and comments, and the overwhelming response was in favor of ending the conference at noon on Wednesday. The new format will not compromise the number or quality of the educational content. However, it will save you one night's accommodations." Kerr also thanked the host hotel "for being extremely accommodating as we make this change. They epitomize the spirit of partnership and we are grateful for their support and involvement with FICP."

MPI Survey Shows Improving Conditions
Meeting Professionals International's bimonthly Business Barometer, conducted with American Express, shows planners' view of the current state of the industry improved from February to April. The survey of the organization's Industry Advisory Panel, which is made up of senior-level meeting professionals, shows concern over the public perception of meetings continues to be the most influential trend in the industry, as cited by 17 percent of the respondents. This number is down from the 26 percent who felt this was the most influential trend in February. Concern over lower attendance, however, is more troubling now, with 11 percent of those surveyed saying it was the most influential trend, compared with 9 percent in February. Budget cuts (10 percent), the poor economy (8 percent) and indecision due to economic worries (8 percent) also are among the issues troubling the panelists. For the full results of the survey, click here.

Conference Centers
Conference Facility Unveiled in Houston
Now open in Houston is the Norris Conference Centers' 30,000-square-foot Conference Center and Red Oak Ballroom at CityCentre. The property will support the 244-room Hotel Sorella, which will debut in July.

Convention Centers
Wilmington Convention Center Design Expanded, Adding Green Elements

According to the Wilmington, N.C., Star-News, the Wilmington City Council voted unanimously last week to spend $5 million to add 12,000 square feet of space to the Wilmington Convention Center, which currently is under construction. The council also approved the addition of eco-friendly elements including energy-saving lights, plumbing and irrigation systems that will conserve water, and the use of sustainable building materials. The extra funds were freed up as a result of construction bids that came in under the original budget. When the $59.3 million convention center opens in August 2010, it will have 95,000 square feet of event space.

Convention and Visitor Bureaus
Boston CVB Extends Meetings Discount
The Greater Boston Convention & Visitors Bureau is extending its meeting planner discount package through March 31, 2010. The deal includes 3 percent off of the master account, discounts on Amtrak and American Airlines fares, prepaid subway cards, shopping discount cards and a host of incentives from participating hotels, including, in some cases, zero attrition. More than two dozen hotels are participating, including the Boston Marriott Copley Place, the Fairmont Copley Plaza, the Hilton Boston Back Bay, the Hyatt Harborside, the Renaissance Boston Waterfront Hotel and the Sheraton Boston Hotel.

Chesapeake CVB Announces $3,000 Meeting Credit Program
Last week, Chesapeake (Va.) Conventions and Tourism announced that it is offering a potential credit of up to $3,000 for meetings or conventions held in the city through Dec. 31 of this year, or booked prior to Dec. 31 of this year for dates in 2010 or 2011. To qualify for the credit, events must last at least two nights. Planners will receive a $1,000 credit for booking 50 to 100 rooms, a $2,000 credit for 101 to 150 rooms and a $3,000 credit for more than 151 room nights.

DMAI Launches For DMOs and Planners

On May 18, Destination Marketing Association International  will launch, a virtual sales office for CVBs/DMOs. The site also allows planners to access destination management officials throughout the industry, manage personal profiles, track RFP activity and shop for specific rates and available space.

Corporate Travel Management
Concur to Support VAT Recovery and Secure Flight Requirements

Concur, the corporate travel and expense management company, now offers two new features. One is a partnership with Ireland-based TBI, to simplify the global VAT recovery process. The solution will electronically analyze spend data and inform clients of the foreign value-added tax they might reclaim, as well as provide a mechanism by which to do so. Concur also announced that its booking tool now fully supports new data requirements specified by the Transportation Security Administration for its Secure Flight program. These requirements will go into effect in phases, beginning May 15. The data-collection enhancements are automatically available to all Concur clients.

Exec Changes at Egencia and Orbitz for Business
Jean-Pierre Remy is leaving his position as president at travel management company Egencia, to assume the CEO role at a European corporation. Current senior vice president of North America at Egencia, Rob Greyber, will become president. Moving into Greyber's position is Pamela Keenan Fritz, currently vice president of Asia-Pacific and global partnerships. Meanwhile, Orbitz for Business senior vice president and COO Dean Sivley is leaving his post to become president and CEO of Travel Guard, a provider of travel insurance. Orbitz for Business has not named a successor.

MeetGreen partners with MPI and UUA to Create Eco-Event Zones

MeetGreen, formerly known as Meeting Strategies Worldwide, has partnered with Meeting Professionals International and the Unitarian Universalist Association to launch a program to create "Eco-Event Zones." The initiative will facilitate planners hosting meetings within the same city, and allow them to work together to follow sustainable practices. The program also seeks to help event partners collaborate and comprehend the environmental benefits and impact of planning green meetings. A primary example of an Eco-Event Zone in action will occur in Salt Lake City, Utah, where both the UUA and MPI will be hosting large conferences this summer.

Waldorf Astoria Philly Project On Hold

The $420 million, 175-room Waldorf Astoria planned for 15th and Chestnut streets in Philadelphia has been put on hold indefinitely, according to Hilton Hotels Corp. The project was to have included 136 condo units, two restaurants, two ballrooms and retail space.

Ground Broken on $150 Million Broward County, Fla., Project
Construction will begin next week on the Atlantic Village Hotel & Marina complex, a waterfront luxury resort in Dania Beach, Fla. The $150 million project will span 1 million square feet and includes a 419-suite hotel with a 3,000-square-foot spa, restaurants, a nightclub and an 18,000-square-foot ballroom. In addition, the 10-acre site will feature a 12-story office tower and an 80-slip marina, at the center of which an island pavilion will be built.

Crowne Plaza Opens Near Kansas City, Kan.
The 270-room Crowne Plaza Lenexa-Overland Park opened in Kansas last week, about 15 minutes southwest of Kansas City. Formerly a Radisson hotel, the property has 18,000 square feet of meeting space, a café serving three meals daily and complementary wireless Internet. The conversion cost approximately $27 million.

IHG Profits Fall by 43 Percent
InterContinental Hotel Group experienced a 13.6 percent decline in revenue per available room during the first three months of the year, and a 43 percent drop in total operating profit. The hotel company, which counts Holiday Inn, InterContinental and Crowne Plaza among its brands, reported a total profit of $72 million in the first quarter, down from $127 million a year ago. The company's U.S. RevPAR decline of 14.2 percent actually outperformed the market by 3.5 percentage points, according to the company's earnings report, and was in line with expectations.

Owner of Four Seasons Aviara Seeks to Replace Management
BRCP HEF Hotel Tenant LLC, which owns the Four Seasons Resort Aviara in San Diego, is attempting to replace Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts, Ltd, as managers of the property, due to a dispute over the resort's 2009 budget and the owner's dissatisfaction with the property's occupancy and patronage. According to the North County Times, BRCP has selected N.J.-based Dolce Hotels and Resorts as the new management company. However, Four Seasons has no intention of relinquishing control over the resort, and in a statement said the company has "fulfilled all of its obligations under the relevant management agreements. Four Seasons intends to vigorously defend its rights in the arbitration process currently underway." The company also said it intends to seek damages from the owners to compensate for injuries to its reputation and the operation of the resort.

Maine's Largest Convention Hotel Sold
The 239-room Holiday Inn by the Bay in Portland, Maine, the state's largest convention hotel, with 17,500 square feet of meeting space, has been purchased by Lafayette Hotels Group. The new owner plans to renovate all guest rooms and make other improvements to the property. The hotel will retain the Holiday Inn brand.

Jumeirah hotel to open in Frankfurt
The 219-room Jumeirah Hotel Frankfurt (Germany) will open in mid-2010. The property, part of PalaisQuartier, an office/retail complex, will have a ballroom, six meeting rooms and a spa.  

Marks Joins Cardinal Communications
Former StarCite vice president Dan Marks has joined meetings technology developer Cardinal Communications as an equal equity owner and executive vice president. Marks was vice president of sales with Cardinal from 2000  until the company sold its attendee management software RegWeb to StarCite in 2002; he returns to Cardinal to help launch several initiatives, including the Meetings Technology Network, a professional services group that will work with corporate, association and independent planners.

Trade Shows
DMG Sells Consumer Shows to Focus on Trade Markets
DMG World Media, a publishing and trade show company, is shedding most of its regional gift and consumer product shows to focus more on "fast-growing trade markets" such as energy and technology, and shows that attract a national audience, according to a statement by Mike Cooke, DMG's CEO. The company sold its California Gift Show to Merchandise Mart Properties and intends to unload the rest of its West Coast and Canadian gift shows and several art and antiques shows in the coming months. DMG also announced the departure of COO Michael Franks, who has formed a new company that acquired various DMG art and antiques shows last month. DMG will continue to run some consumer goods shows, including the New York International Gift Fair and Surf Expo, but its main focus will be on its brands such as ad:tech and the Global Petroleum Show.