February 06, 2008

Meeting Professionals International shook up its trade show format at its Professional Education Conference, held Feb. 2-5 in Houston, by eliminating all pipe and drape that normally separates exhibit booths, allowing attendees to see from one side of the show floor to the other. Many exhibitors were grouped in round hubs; traditional booths were set up around the perimeter; and large companies, such as Disney, Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, and the Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau, each set up much larger islands. "The concept is great," said Chris Torsy, CMP, meetings manager for the Society of Petroleum Engineers. "The booths were more open, making it easier to talk to people. The environment was more friendly." Final numbers for the conference are not in yet, but at last count, more than 2,300 attendees were registered, about the same number who attended last year's PEC in New Orleans.

Gaylord Entertainment Co.'s purchase of the 508-room Westin La Cantera Resort in San Antonio has been amended to allow Gaylord to bring in another capital partner. After the deal closes on April 30, Gaylord plans to expand the property to 1,000 rooms, eventually taking it to 1,500, then 2,000 rooms. The resort currently has 44,000 square feet of meeting space, which will be quadrupled to 170,000 square feet. In other Gaylord news, all of its hotels -- including the new Gaylord National, which opens outside of Washington, D.C., in April -- now offer wireless Internet access throughout as part of the $15 resort fee that also covers a daily newspaper, two bottles of water, access to the pool area and more.

Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts will open a 175-room property in 2011 in a mixed-use complex in lower Manhattan being developed by Silverstein Properties, the company redeveloping the World Trade Center site. The hotel will occupy the first 22 floors of an 80-story tower and will include a restaurant, a lounge, a full-service spa, a health club and meeting facilities with multiple ballrooms. Square-footage of meeting space has not been finalized. The hotel will be the second Four Seasons in New York City.

The 428-room Hyatt Regency Trinidad, the first new full-service hotel to open on the Caribbean island since 1962, welcomed its first guests last week. Within capital city Port-of-Spain's International Waterfront Development, the Hyatt has 43,000 square feet of meeting space, including the 16,000-square-foot Grand Ballroom and another 10,000-square-foot ballroom. The hotel features a lobby bar, a restaurant, a 9,000-square-foot spa, a rooftop pool and a gym.

In a move that could generate $100 million a year, United Airlines announced Monday that it would begin charging some customers $25 to check a second bag. Passengers who buy nonrefundable economy tickets and do not qualify for special status in the Mileage Plus or Star Alliance frequent-flier programs will be charged the extra fee when checking a second bag on domestic flights, or on flights to Canada, Puerto Rico or St. Thomas. Customers on other international flights still can check two bags without an additional fee. The policy, detailed in full at united.com/baggage, applies to tickets purchased after Feb. 4.

Crowne Plaza, an InterContinental Hotels Group flag, has announced plans to build a new Asian-themed hotel-casino west of the Strip in Las Vegas, scheduled to open in 2010. The 386-room property is slated to offer 16,000 square feet of meeting and banquet space. In addition to a casino, the hotel will have three restaurants, three lounges, an outdoor pool, a spa and a fitness center. Construction is slated to begin in early 2009.