July 15, 2009

Meeting Professionals International’s June Business Barometer, a survey of 1,000 senior-level meeting professionals released Monday at the organization's World Education Congress in Salt Lake City, shows planners are slightly more optimistic than they were earlier in the year. The number of respondents predicting a decline in future business levels fell to 58 percent from 69 percent in April. Of all factors likely to affect meetings over the next six months, planners said that budget cuts, and poor perceptions and media coverage of meetings will continue to have the largest effects. MPI also announced two new marketing partnerships in Asia, with the Beijing Tourism Administration and Meetings and Exhibitions Hong Kong, part of the Hong Kong Tourism Board. An estimated 2,400 people attended the convention, far fewer than last year’s record-setting meeting in Las Vegas, which attracted 4,500.

Social Security Under Fire for Phoenix Meeting

A Social Security Administration conference held last week at the Arizona Biltmore is coming under fire from federal lawmakers who question why the retreat for 675 managers was held. According to the Federal Times, leading members of two House and Ways Committee panels — Reps. John Tanner, D-Tenn.; Sam Johnson, R-Texas; and John Linder, R-Gal. — wrote a letter last week to SSA Commissioner Michael Astrue, requesting his response to a number of questions about the program by Friday, July 17. “At a time when millions of Americans are out of work and having to do more with less, and when the SSA has received significant new funding to address near record backlogs after longstanding funding requests made before our subcommittees, it is essential that great care be taken to use administrative funding wisely, in a way that brings the most value to the American people SSA serves,” the letter said. The meeting also drew the attention of several local Phoenix news shows; the ABC affiliate station aired video of attendees dancing on their Monday night broadcast.

Maritz Recoups $25.6 million from GM
As a result of General Motors’ financial restructuring, Maritz Inc. has been repaid the $25.6 million it was owed by the automaker. The meeting and incentive firm was among GM’s top 20 unsecured creditors when the company filed for bankruptcy in April. “As a supplier and general trade creditor of GM whose contracts were assigned to and assumed by the new GM, we have received payment for 100 percent of our pre-petition debt,” a Maritz spokesperson said in a statement to M&C. “We intend to continue to provide services, including customer satisfaction research; continuous improvement training; and meetings, events and incentives, to the new GM in the ordinary course.  We look forward to assisting the new GM in its resurgence.”

IAEE, NTP to Launch Center for Exhibitor and Event Marketing
The International Association of Exhibitions and Events, along with National Trade Productions, the owner of TS2, a trade show for exhibitors, will announce the launch of the International Center for Exhibitor and Event Marketing next week at TS2 in Chicago. The main mission of ICEEM, a subsidiary of IAEE, will be to serve the entire exhibition industry — organizers, exhibitors, suppliers and event marketers — by publishing online educational and professional development resources and facilitating collaboration throughout the industry. Steven Hacker, president of IAEE, said the center’s focus on supporting industry research efforts and bringing together stakeholders from the entire spectrum of the exhibition industry will help businesses rebound from the recession. “The timing couldn’t be better, unfortunately,” he said. The center’s website is already available at iceem.net.

North Texas CVBs and Hotels Collaborate to Boost Meetings

Officials from CVBs in Arlington, Dallas, Fort Worth and Irving have teamed up with the Hotel Association of North Texas to create the Meet Now Promise, an offer of discounts and other incentives to groups that book and hold meetings in North Texas by Dec. 31. Groups will receive competitive rates and proposals from hotels, a guarantee of fully waived room attrition, a 20 percent discount from participating ground transportation providers and additional group discounts on American Airlines. "We wanted to be the first region to put together a program of this magnitude,” said Phillip Jones, president and CEO of the Dallas CVB. “We announced it on Thursday, and we already have four leads." Planners can submit their requests for proposal online at dfwpromise.com.

Class-Action Lawsuit Filed Against CLEAR Program Provider
The law firm Schneider Wallace Cottrell Brayton Konecky has filed a class-action lawsuit against Verified Identity Pass, the company which, until June 22, operated the CLEAR expedited airport security lane program at 18 airports around the country. In a statement, Todd Schneider, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, accused VIP of refusing to refund CLEAR customers for memberships that were sold and renewed until just before the service was halted. “Businesses cannot simply take money from customers and then fail to perform the services for which they were paid without a refund,” Schneider said. Former CLEAR members who wish to get information about joining the lawsuit should call (415) 421-7100.

Son of Fontainebleau Founder, a Meeting Planner, Found Dead
Ben Novack, Jr., 53, CEO of Convention Concepts Unlimited, was killed at a hotel in suburban New York where he had organized a meeting, according to news reports.

ICCA to Bring Annual Congress to Puerto Rico in 2012
The Puerto Rico Convention Bureau announced last Wednesday that the Puerto Rico Convention Center has been selected to host the 51st Congress of the International Congress & Convention Association in October 2012. This is the first time that the three-day annual meeting, expected to draw 800 attendees from at least 70 countries, will be held in the Caribbean.

Convention Centers
Santa Clara Convention Center Expands

The Santa Clara (Calif.) Convention Center has completed construction of its Mission City Ballroom, a new 22,400-square-foot space. The entire facility now features 302,000 square feet of meeting and event space, including two ballrooms, six exhibit halls, 31 breakout rooms and a 607-seat theater.

Convention and Visitor Bureaus
Baltimore Future Room Night Bookings Up 15.7 Percent

Last week the Baltimore Area Convention and Visitors Association announced that it booked 522,541 room nights in fiscal year 2009 for meetings that will be held through 2019. The bookings represent a 15.7 percent increase over the number of future room nights booked in 2008. Some of the larger groups to book: the American Association of Blood Banks, the American Academy of Religion and the Pediatric Academic Societies. Year-over-year future room night bookings have increased annually since 2004.

Ilikai Hotel Closes, Will Reopen Soon

The 203-unit Ilikai Hotel in Waikiki, Oahu, ceased operations as a result of excessive operating losses. The next day, the company announced plans to reopen as soon as possible, following an agreement struck with the Unite Here Local 5 chapter, although a specific date has not been announced. The hotel will reopen under a new management team and operational structure. The majority of the employees forced to leave the property when it closed will be rehired. The Ilikai offers 8 meeting rooms, a 9,400-square-foot ballroom and a restaurant.

Loews Launches Flexible Meetings Package

Loews Hotels has begun offering a new Flexible Meetings package in which 10 percent of the total room revenue is applied as a credit toward other meeting costs. Planners can choose to use the credit for audiovisual equipment, spa treatments, Internet charges, airport transit costs and more. The deal is for meetings booked before Dec. 31, 2009, and held before the end of 2010.

Four Seasons San Francisco Defaults on Loan

The 277-room San Francisco Four Seasons Hotel has defaulted on its $90 million loan, according to the San Francisco Business Times. This marks the second luxury property in San Francisco to default on a loan in recent weeks; owners of the 393-room Renaissance Stanford Court Hotel in Nob Hill defaulted on a $89 million loan from Barclays Capital.

Hilton Pittsburgh May Avoid Sheriff’s Sale

Owners of the 713-room Hilton Pittsburgh are attempting to avert a sheriff’s sale, wherein the property’s assets would be seized and sold off. The sale had been scheduled for July 27, but it may not happen now that the hotel has begun to settle debts for which grievances had been filed. Hotel owners paid more than $13,000 to Salego Plumbing Co. on Monday, for work completed several months ago. In a development unrelated to the sheriff’s sale, VisitPittsburgh, the city’s convention and visitors bureau, recently removed the hotel from its website and reference materials because the hotel defaulted on membership dues.

International Destinations
Future Leader of Macau Vows to Develop MICE Industry
Fernando Chui Sai-on, who will take over as Chief Executive of Macau in December, stressed the importance of developing the meetings and conventions industry last week when he discussed his plans to diversify the economy, according to the South China Morning Post. “Hong Kong's conference and exhibition industry is streets ahead of ours,” Dr. Chui told members of Macau’s election committee. “We can learn from Hong Kong but are far from being able to compete with it.”

Turnberry Golf Resort Reopens Following $65 million Renovation
The Turnberry Golf Resort in Ayrshire, Scotland, has reopened following a $65 million refurbishment to its public spaces and 40 of its 211 guest rooms.  The property, part of Starwood’s Luxury Collection, is hosting the Open Championship on its Ailsa golf course this week. The resort has a spa, the Colin Montgomerie Links Golf Academy, the Outdoor Activity Centre and a total of three golf courses. 

Luxury Hotel Opens Outside New Delhi
The 322-room Leela Kempinski Gurgaon in the National Capital Region of New Delhi, India, opened on Sunday with 27,000 square feet of meeting and event space. The luxury property has a 20,000-square-foot spa, a fitness center, a business center, four restaurants and bars, and a shopping mall with a seven-screen movie theater. The hotel is near the offices of companies such as IBM, Siemens, Oracle and GE.

German Cities Fare Best in RevPar Change

According to hotel benchmarking firm STR Global’s European Hotel Review, German cities have fared best in a challenging market, judging by the year-over-year change in revenue per available room (RevPAR) for the first five months of 2009. While RevPAR has declined considerably throughout Europe, the dips were less steep in Germany than elsewhere. Of the 40 markets sampled in the report, which represent 2,245 hotels and more than 400,500 guest rooms all over Europe, the top five performing cities by were Cologne (-6.6 percent), Hamburg (-7.5 percent), Frankfurt (-9.9 percent), Munich (-12.3 percent) and Berlin (-14 percent).

Wyndham Garden Opens in Mexico City

The 81-room Wyndham Garden Hotel Mexico City-Polanco opened its doors last Wednesday in the city’s upscale financial and shopping district. All rooms and suites offer wired and wireless Internet and 32-inch flat-screen televisions. The property also has on-site dining, a fitness center, a business center and 376 square feet of meeting space.

MeetingMetrics Releases Upgrade

MeetingMetrics officially has released version 2.1 of its on-site, web-based session evaluation tools. The update offers a more streamlined interface, as well as batch production for staff and easy access to report templates.

Trade Shows
GES Exposition Services and Exhibitgroup/Giltspur Align
GES Exposition Services and Exhibitgroup/Giltspur will collaborate more closely as part of a restructuring of their parent company, Viad Corp., although each will continue operations as separate brands under Viad’s Marketing & Events Group. John Jastrem, president and CEO of EG, will lead the business unit. Kevin Rabbitt, president and CEO of GES, will step down at the end of September and will serve as an advisor to Jastrem for the remainder of 2009. “We have strong, global positions and capabilities through the GES and EG organizations,” Jastrem said in a statement. “As a unified network, the depth of our talent, from tactical to strategic, will be unmatched.”