January 16, 2008

Plans for an 800-room Marriott hotel and a 200-room JW Marriot in Austin, Texas, have been revised. The project now will include just a 1,000-room Marriott convention center hotel. This is the second time the parameters have been revised; the original plan called for a 650-room Marriott, a 200-room Renaissance and a 150-room Springhill Suites. The Marriott will open in 2010.

In light of the political unrest that followed the Dec. 27 elections in Kenya, Fairmont Hotels  Resorts will rebook all guests (including meetings) or waive cancellation fees at its three Kenya properties through Jan. 31. According to a spokesperson for the chain, the policy will be revisited in February, before further actions or extensions are announced. Of the three properties -- the 50-tent Fairmont Mara Safari Club, the 120-room Fairmont Mount Kenya Safari Club and the 168-room Fairmont The Norfolk -- only the latter, a business hotel in Nairobi, had been affected by cancellations at press time. A travel warning to the country issued by the U.S. Department of State expires Jan. 31.

With the North American International Auto Show set to welcome the public in Detroit on Saturday, plans to expand the city's Cobo Center have resurfaced. The latest proposal, floated by Wayne County executive Robert Ficano, would add more than 100,000 square feet of exhibit space to the convention center's existing 700,000 square feet; the project would be financed by extending the city's hotel tax, which would otherwise expire. Ficano also proposes creating a regional authority that would run the center, wresting it from city control. Jim Townsend, executive director of the Tourism Economic Development Council for the Detroit Metro Convention and Visitors Bureau, estimates the expansion would cost approximately $400 million, and is primarily intended to keep the auto show from seeking a new home. The auto show brings about $500 million in annual economic impact each year.

The 745-room Disney's Grand Californian Hotel  Spa at the Disneyland Resort in Anaheim, Calif., will add 200 new hotel rooms and 50 two-bedroom vacation villas. The expansion also will include a rooftop deck, a new swimming pool and a 300-unit parking garage. The hotel currently offers a 20,000-square-foot convention center. Completion is expected in 2009.

The 463-room Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua, in Maui, Hawaii, has reopened following a $160 million renovation and redesign. All guest rooms now feature hardwood floors, new furnishings, LCD TVs, iPod docking stations and wireless Internet access. Additional amenities include a new 10,000-square-foot pool with enlarged cabanas, a 24-hour fitness center and 14,700 square feet of refurbished meeting space. A 17,500-square-foot spa will open in May.

The U.S. Department of State announced that U.S. citizens can begin applying for the new U.S. passport card on Feb. 1 through authorized passport centers. The card, which will have an RFID chip for scanning, will be valid for land or sea travel between the U.S. and Canada, Mexico, Bermuda and the Caribbean. For air travel between the U.S. and those locations or anywhere else, a passport booklet still will be required. The card is designed primarily for border-area residents as a less expensive, more portable alternative to a passport, and supports the travel requirements necessitated by the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative. The cards will cost $45 for adults without a passport and $35 for children. The passport cards will be good for 10 years for adults and five years for children 15 and under. No information will be written to the chip beyond a unique ID number that corresponds to a secure government database.

MGM Mirage has filed for a coastal permit, as required by New Jersey's Coastal Area Facility Review Act, for the MGM Grand Atlantic City resort project. The $5 billion resort would be built on part of 72 acres next to the Borgata Hotel Casino  Spa and consist of three towers totaling 3,000 rooms, 500,000 square feet of retail space, the largest casino floor in Atlantic City, a spa and a convention center. Pending approval of this and other permits, MGM Mirage intends to begin construction this year and open the facility in 2012.