by By the M&C Staff | August 26, 2009

According to various media sources, House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and Representative Bart Stupak (D-Mich.), chairman of the panel's oversight committee, sent a letter Aug. 17 to 52 insurance companies, requesting financial details on executive compensation and expenses by Sept. 14. In addition to seeking information about top executives' pay, the congressmen asked the companies to provide accounting details about corporate events held off company grounds since Jan. 1, 2007, including how much was spent on transportation, entertainment, gifts and food. In response, a spokesperson for America's Health Insurance Plans, an association of U.S. Health insurance providers, told Bloomberg News, "This is a fishing expedition that is designed to silence the health-insurance industry. It's an effort to change the debate to focus on health insurers rather than focus on the solutions to the health-care concerns that the American people have raised."

IAEE Head Opposes San Jose Convention Center's New Labor Contract
Steven Hacker, CAE, president of the International Association of Exhibitions and Events, is criticizing the San Jose Convention Center's new exclusive labor agreement with Teamsters Local 287. The contract, which went into effect Aug. 1, "takes Teamsters labor in-house as an exclusive building service," according to Hacker. In an op-ed piece submitted to the San Jose Mercury News, Hacker maintains the new labor scheme is significantly more expensive than the previous one, with a base labor rate increase of 56 percent. Moreover, he maintains, the agreement could create labor grievances and litigation by not honoring policies that already were in place. Dan Fenton, president and CEO of Team San Jose, the city's destination marketing organization, told M&C the policy will provide more flexibility and better economics. "There is a minor charge on top of the base rate for workers' compensation, but figures have been revised since the plan was first rolled out." He added that other benefits include more flexible start times and reduced minimum hours -- from eight hours to four -- per shift. "It was designed specifically with customers in mind and gives us a chance to differentiate our services from others." This Thursday, Hacker will meet with Team San Jose along with representatives from the Society of Independent Show Organizers and the Exhibition Services & Contractors Association to discuss the policy. "We are open to a conversation," says Fenton. "We want to make sure everyone benefits."

NBTA Draws Strong Crowd, Names New Executive Director/COO
The National Business Travel Association's annual convention and exposition concludes today in San Diego. As of Monday, the show had more than 5,500 attendees, with those numbers expected to climb. Last year's conference in Los Angeles drew a crowd of 6,450. Among announcements at the show, NBTA named Michael W. McCormick as the association's executive director and COO. McCormick most recently served as managing partner of Hudson Crossing LLC, a travel industry advisory business. He replaces Bill Connors, who left NBTA several months ago to become president and CEO of the Metro Boise Chamber of Commerce. McCormick's key objectives are to globalize the association aggressively, expand product and service offerings, and increase membership. Meanwhile, Craig Banikowski, director of global travel management for Hilton Hotels, is now president and CEO, replacing Kevin Maguire, travel manager for the athletics program at the University of Texas, whose term has ended.

U.S. Government Announces 2010 Per Diem Rates reports the General Services Administration has cut rates in six of the top 10 federal travel destinations, effective Oct. 10. Those six cities are Washington, New York, Dallas, Atlanta, Chicago and Boston. According to the GSA, however, there will be a slight increase of 0.6 percent of the estimated lodging costs compared to last year’s per diems. To explore per diems for 2010, click here.

Airfare Lowest Since '05, Says Amex Business Travel Monitor
According to the American Express Business Travel Monitor for the second quarter of 2009, domestic and international airfare rates are the lowest seen since the second quarter of 2005. Average domestic fares paid decreased 18 percent year over year, while international fares paid fell by 19 percent. Booked domestic hotel rates remained flat year over year but dipped by 2 percent since the first quarter; booked international rates, on the other hand, fell by 12 percent year over year but actually increased by 6 percent over the first quarter. The Business Travel Monitor is published quarterly by eXpert insights, the research arm of American Express Global Advisory Services.

StarCite Partners with Rearden, Experient

Meeting management platform StarCite announced two partnership agreements Monday at the National Business Travel Association convention. Rearden Commerce, a travel and procurement booking platform, will add StarCite as one of its vendor partners, so Rearden customers can book and manage meetings through the Rearden Personal Assistant. Experient, a third-party planning firm, meanwhile, now will use StarCite's online platform for strategic meetings management, international sourcing and attendee management. Experient customers will gain full access to the StarCite Marketplace, which offers direct connections to hotels, venues and other international meeting suppliers.

Concur Unveils Mobile T&E Solution for the iPhone
Concur, provider of end-to-end travel and expense management services, unveiled Concur Mobile for the iPhone during the National Business Travel Association's convention this week in San Diego. This enables iPhone users to manage their itineraries, conduct in-policy business travel transactions, capture T&E expense data and approve expense reports while on the road.

Mandarin Oriental Offers Meeting Edge Package
Groups with 10 or more rooms are eligible for Mandarin Oriental's new Meeting Edge package, which guarantees a minimum of 20 percent off the best available rate and credit to the master account up to 10 percent. Groups must confirm and hold events between now and March 31, 2011, at any of 12 participating Mandarin Oriental properties. For details and a list of participating hotels, click here.

Chile Debut for W Santiago
The 196-room W Santiago opened last week, W's first property in South America. The hotel is part of a mixed-use complex called Isidora 3000, which includes a convention center, office space and retail shops. Four on-site bars and three restaurants offer a mix of casual and formal fare. The property also offers a 24-hour business center, a heated rooftop pool and nearly 20,000 square feet of meeting and event space.

Airline Industry
Barcelona Opens New Airport Terminal
Barcelona's new T1 airport terminal debuted on Thursday. The 5.8 million-square-foot building is expected to handle 100,000 passengers a day. The $1.7 million structure offers a spa, a fitness center, a hair salon, four VIP lounges, an interfaith chapel, more than 50 restaurants and a 28,000-square-foot business center. Nineteen airlines are based in the new terminal.

OAG Reports Slight Growth in Global Airline Capacity
The Official Airline Guide announced last week that global airline capacity for August 2009 has shown its first positive growth in a year's time. This month the world's airlines have 314.2 million seats available, a slight increase of 0.2 percent over the number of seats available in August last year. Flight frequencies, however, still are down by 2 percent compared with August 2008. For a chart illustrating the past year's significant swings in seat capacity and flight frequency numbers, click here.

Virgin America and American Airlines Raise Checked-Baggage Fees

Virgin America has increased its checked-baggage fee from $15 to $20 per bag, for all travel on or after Sept. 10. American Airlines also announced it would charge $50 for a second checked bag on flights to and from most major European countries and India beginning Sept. 14. The first checked bag will remain free.

FICP Launches Online Exchange
Financial & Insurance Conference Planners has launched the FICP Online Exchange. The tool is designed to allow FICP planner members to share details and opinions of their meetings with their peers, including the location of the event, venues, DMCs, speakers and entertainers. To visit the Online Exchange, click here.

Convention and Visitor Bureaus
Orlando CVB Debuts New Website for Events
The Orlando/Orange County Convention & Visitors Bureau has launched, a redesigned website for meeting planners. The site now offers online toolkits with checklists, videos, photos, venue search engines and promotional copy. In addition, planners can upload completed RFPs to the site or create them online.

Scottsdale CVB Announces New Meeting Promotion
The Scottsdale Convention & Visitors Bureau has launched a new meetings initiative called Scottsdale's Room Rate Challenge. The program allows planners to submit a proposal from any hotel or resort from the contiguous United States (except Scottsdale's home Maricopa County), Hawaii, Canada or the Caribbean to the bureau, which will work with comparable Scottsdale properties to meet or beat the room rate, dates, meeting facility space and room night requirements offered by the other property. Meetings valid for this program must be booked and held in Scottsdale by March 31, 2010. Forty properties in the Scottsdale area are participating. Details for the program are available here.

Sandals Resorts Purchases Shuttered Bahamas Four Seasons
Last Thursday, Sandals Resorts International announced its purchase of the 190-room Four Seasons Resort Great Exuma at Emerald Bay, on the Bahamian island of Great Exuma. The Four Seasons had closed permanently in late May after PricewaterhouseCoopers, which had been responsible for the property since it was placed into receivership in June 2007, failed to find a new owner. Sandals plans to add a new pool complex and restaurants, and reopen on Jan. 22, 2010.

Atlantic City's Hilton Casino Resort Defaults on Mortgage

The Hilton Casino Resort in Atlantic City has defaulted on its mortgage. In a financial statement filed with state regulators last week, the company attributed its failure to make a July payment to the "severe impact of the current economic conditions." According to media reports, the property is negotiating with its lender to modify the terms of the mortgage.

Historic Jefferson Hotel Reopening in Washington, D.C.

On Monday, The Jefferson hotel will reopen in Washington, D.C., following an extensive renovation that began in spring 2007. The project touched all 99 rooms, as well as all public spaces, and added a new spa and restaurant, Plume. The spa offers treatments based on botanicals from Thomas Jefferson's farms. Meeting space at the property includes three small rooms, a boardroom, a private dining room and a few other spaces. The largest accommodates 100 people.

Sheraton Dallas Begins Work on Meeting Space
The 1,841-room Sheraton Dallas is beginning a $12 million renovation of its 310,000 square feet of meeting space, the final phase of a more than $90 million project. The work will be finished in early 2010. Chill, a frozen yogurt bar, opens this month. Also new at the property are Peet's Coffee & Tea, a restaurant called The Kitchen Table and the 4,000-square-foot Draft Media Sports Lounge.

Lien Issued Against Baltimore's New Hotel Monaco
According to the Baltimore Sun, the city's $65 million, 202-room Hotel Monaco, which opened at the end of July in a historic former railroad headquarters, could be in financial trouble. A Baltimore judge has issued a lien against the property as a result of the hotel not having paid a lumber supplier for $184,000 worth of building materials. If the matter is not dealt with -- as lawyers for the hotel owners say it will be -- the Kimpton Hotels-managed Monaco could be sold at a public auction next month.

Americas RevPAR Down 16 Percent in July
Revenue per available room for hotels in the Americas dropped 16.1 percent over last July's numbers, according to new data from Smith Travel Research. July's RevPAR was reported as $63.28 for the region (slightly higher than the U.S. RevPAR of $62.34). Other performance metrics were also down: Occupancy for the region fell 7.3 percent, to 64.2 percent. Average daily rate dropped 9.5 percent to $98.54.

Marriott Kansas City Completes Renovations
Last week the 293-room Marriott Kansas City (Mo.) Country Club Plaza Hotel finished a $9 million renovation of its lobby area, concierge, meeting space, public spaces, business center and all guest rooms. The hotel offers a fitness center and an indoor swimming pool; its 16,000 square feet of event space includes a 42-seat amphitheater.

City Council Votes Friday on Boston Bed Tax Rise
The Boston City Council is scheduled to vote on Friday to increase the Boston hotel tax 2 percentage points from 12.45 percent to 14.45 percent. The increase would go into effect Oct. 1. The city's occupancy tax did not rise Aug. 1 when Massachusetts' sales and meal taxes rose from 5 percent to 6.25 percent, as the sales tax is not applied to the city's guest rooms.

MasterCard Partners With Three Tech Providers
MasterCard announced alliances last week with Etouches and Worktopia, each designed to streamline the meetings management process. The suite of hosted solutions offered by Etouches includes registration and meeting management functions; customers who subscribe to Etouches through MasterCard will receive special offers. Worktopia, a platform for searching for, comparing and booking small meeting rooms in real time, will incorporate the MasterCard Purchase Control application on the site. During the booking phase, MasterCard corporate customers can control an employee's use of card accounts to book meeting venues. MasterCard and technology provider CyberShift also announced an alliance, to offer an integrated expense-management solution, which incorporates MasterCard spend data into the CyberShift expense-management platform.

SignUp4 and BCD Meetings & Incentives Forge Partnership
SignUp4, a provider of strategic meetings management software, has been selected by BCD Meetings & Incentives as a strategic partner. Under the agreement, SignUp4's Event Management System and Travel Management System solutions will become part of BCD M&I's technology portfolio. In addition, the two companies will collaborate on enhancing their SMM technologies, making them more powerful, user-friendly and scalable for clients.

Orbitz for Business to Add Live Chat Function
Orbitz for Business soon will test live instant-message customer support. Testing will begin for some customers near the end of 2009; the service should be available on a subscription basis for all corporate clients by spring 2010. The program will identify travel planners and customers who might benefit from assistance while searching for or booking travel, and invite them to "live chat." Additionally, customers will be able to request a live-chat session, reducing the need for  speaking to an agent via telephone.

GetThere Launches Global Consulting Practice
GetThere, an online business travel procurement solution, yesterday launched a global consulting service targeted at midsize to multinational business travel programs. Led by Duane Futch, a former global travel manager for Walmart, the consulting service offers a full range of advisory programs, from short-term projects to complete program reviews.

NBTA Tech Committee Offers Booking Tool RFP
The National Business Travel Association Technology Committee has developed a new request-for-proposal template for the selection of online booking tools. The RFP, which is being distributed to attendees at this week's convention, was built to serve as an industry standard. The committee compiled input from tool vendors, travel management companies and corporate travel managers to develop this scalable template, which can be used for both global and domestic travel programs. The RFP soon will be available for download at

Egencia Rolls Out Enhancements to Meetings & Incentives
Egencia announced enhancements to its Meetings & Incentives management solutions on Monday. Among the new features are added flexibility, in the form of guest accounts and the ability to create open meetings without a predetermined guest list. The new custom report builder allows users to gather and share further insight into corporate meetings spend. Egencia also debuted new traveler tools and travel-management reporting functions for its travel-booking platform.

Trade Shows
Start-Up Licensing Show Postponed
The Licensing Event, which was scheduled to launch April 20-22, 2010, at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in New York City, has been postponed. The start-up show is a rival to Advanstar's Licensing International Expo, which moved to Las Vegas this year and was held June 2-4 at the Mandalay Bay after 28 years in New York City. Linda Cohen, The Licensing Event's show director, told Tradeshow Week the postponement was "due to the economy, not because exhibitors didn't want to participate in two shows next year."