April 09, 2008

Bruce MacMillan, president and CEO of Meeting Professionals International, told M&C the association's inaugural Gulf Meetings and Events Conference was a success. "It was really an opportunity to connect an emerging industry with our community," said MacMillan. The conference, the first in the Middle East for MPI, was held in Dubai, U.A.E., April 5-6. About 175 high-level international planners took part, including about 25 American planners, MacMillan said, adding, "The most compelling part about it was we had 19 countries represented." MPI will return to the Middle East next year, according to MacMillan.

A $1.2 billion improvement project has been announced for Houston's main airport, George H.W. Intercontinental. Terminal B will be expanded from 360,000 square feet to 1.7 million square feet and will house a new Federal Inspections Services facility to handle more international travelers. Also in the plans are the expansion of the automated people mover to include Terminal A; the renovation of the Terminal B lobby and baggage-claim areas; the addition of a new south concourse for regional jet service; a new north concourse, and a host of infrastructure improvements. Construction will begin by the end of the year and take seven to 10 years.

Dozens of attendees of a medical conference at the brand-new, 2,000-room Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center on the Potomac River in National Harbor, Md., just outside Washington, D.C., were sickened with the novovirus last week. According to the Washington Post, county health officials were called in when 14 people were taken to area hospitals after complaining of sickness while waiting to board flights at Reagan National Airport. They were diagnosed with the novovirus, which was traced to the hotel. A letter on the hotel's website notes the illness was confirmed by the Prince George's County health department to be a virus transmitted by person-to-person contact, not by food: "Our kitchens were not exposed and continue to exceed health department standards. The health department indicates that guests of our hotel and other regional facilities where the virus may have been transmitted can proceed as normal."

The St. Louis Convention and Visitors Commission has reached an agreement with three audiovisual unions that provide workers to clients of the city's convention center. Late last month, the CVC locked out some union workers in an attempt to pressure the organizations into accepting new labor rules at the center. Details about the agreement were not released and a spokesperson for the CVC was not available for comment. The CVC's original proposal, posted on its website, included allowing clients to hire fewer workers per event, thus reducing labor costs.

Less than a week after Aloha Airlines ceased operations, ATA Airlines and Skybus have followed suit. Indianapolis-based ATA cited the loss of a key contract for its military charter business as the primary reason for its demise. The state of Hawaii in particular has been affected by the loss of Aloha and ATA. The latter carrier flew to the islands from Oakland and Los Angeles, Calif., and Las Vegas and Phoenix. When ATA stopped flying, approximately 10,000 passengers were stranded in Hawaii. To help travelers holding ATA and Aloha tickets get home, the Hawaii Tourism Authority announced the addition of charter flights. According to HTA CEO Rex Johnson, the organization is underwriting some of the cost of the additional flights and encouraging other airlines to help out. Details regarding departure dates and times of the added flights can be found on the HTA's website, As for Skybus, the carrier said it tried in vain to overcome the combination of rising jet fuel costs and a slowing economic environment. Passengers holding reservations for flights scheduled to depart after April 5 have been advised to apply for a refund through their credit card companies.

New York City's Madison Square Garden sports arena, which seats approximately 20,000 for sporting events, revealed the details of a $500 million renovation. Plans call for expanding and moving luxury suites from the building's pinnacle to mid-level, doubling the size of the concourses, adding two new restaurants and a VIP club, and adding a 25-foot skylight above an upgraded lobby, which also will double in size. The arena seating area will be closed each summer during construction, but the New York Knicks' basketball and New York Rangers' ice hockey seasons will not be affected. Work is expected to begin next year and finish by 2011.