April 16, 2008

The second annual Gulf Incentive, Business Travel and Meetings Exhibition, organized by Reed Travel Exhibitions, took place last week in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, at the Abu Dhabi National Exhibitions Center. While final numbers have not been released yet, Paul Kennedy, group exhibitions director for RTE, estimated that 250 exhibitors, 220 hosted buyers and more than 1,000 visitors attended the show. Exhibitors at GIBTM included local destinations, like the emirates of Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Sharjah; regional destinations, including Oman and Egypt; international destinations such as Ireland and the Czech Republic; and regional and international hotel groups, including Rotana, Jumeirah, Starwood and IHG. The third GIBTM will take place March 24-26, 2009, in the same facility. Meeting Professionals International, which held its first Gulf Meetings and Events Conference just before this year's GIBTM, plans a second conference for the same time next year.

Mexico City will establish an office of congresses and conventions, according to Alejandro Rojas Diaz Duran, the city's secretary of tourism. Rojas made the announcement Monday during a press conference at Tianguis Turistico, Mexico's annual tourism convention. An 8 to 10 percent growth in convention business is expected for the city this year, and Rojas hopes that number will increase significantly over the course of the next few years. The announcement coincides with the Mexico Tourism Board's recent marketing agreement with the Professional Convention Management Association to promote Mexico as a meetings and events destination. "There is a tremendous opportunity to bring North American business to Mexico," said Deborah Sexton, PCMA's president and CEO, during a panel discussion at Tianguis Turistico, "especially to combine it with the tourism appeal already here."

American Express Business Travel released its 2007 Business Travel Monitor data yesterday, an analysis of North America-based domestic and international air, hotel and car rental rates for 2007. Among results: The average domestic hotel rate increased last year to $157 from $141 in 2006, while the average international hotel rate for the year jumped $36 in the same period, to $266. International airfares rose from $1,707 in 2006 to $1,836 in 2007, while domestic fares were flat, rising by just $1 year-over-year, to an average of $231. The average daily cost for domestic car rentals rose 4.4 percent to $72.

Owners of the 215-room Longboat Key Cub and Resort near Sarasota, Fla., announced plans last week for a $500 million renovation and expansion beginning in 2009, hoping to transform the hotel into a five-star resort. A total of 222 hotel rooms will be added along with 261 condo units; the Islandside Golf Course will be redesigned by Rees Jones and supplemented with an 8,600-square-foot clubhouse; and a 28,000-square-foot meeting center, a 28,000-square-foot spa and fitness center, and two new restaurants are planned, as well. Completion of the four-phase project is slated for 2014.

The Convention Industry Council, a watchdog group overseeing the meetings industry, has added two new member organizations. Joining associations such as Meeting Professional International, the Professional Convention Management Association and the American Society of Association Executives are the Green Meetings Industry Council and the International Association of Professional Congress Organizers. CIC now comprises 33 member organizations.

JetBlue Airways is expanding its CompanyBlue Meetings Program, which was launched in March of last year, to include travel discounts conventions and association meetings. Attendees to such events now will be able to enter a code when booking their travel at to receive the negotiated discount on their fare.

A Zurich landmark, the Dolder Grand, has reopened following a four-year, $400 million restoration by London architects Foster and Partners. The 173-room property now has eight meeting rooms and a ballroom, two restaurants and a 40,000-square-foot spa with 19 treatment rooms.