December 19, 2007

Implementation of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative for land and sea ports of entry has been delayed from January 2008 until June 2009. Wording to that effect was included in the omnibus spending bill passed by Congress on Monday night by a vote of 253-154. In addition to delaying the WHTI, which requires U.S. travelers returning from Mexico, Canada and the Caribbean to carry a passport, Congress is withholding the $75 million required by the Department of Homeland Security to implement the program until the DHS can report on current driver's-license and technology trials, and on its port-by-port infrastructure and staffing plans.

In a report to be released later this month by Jones Lang LaSalle Hotels, investment in hotels for 2007 topped $45 billion, a 27 percent increase over 2006. While the increase was due largely to several huge deals in 2007 -- such as Ashford Hospitality acquiring the CNL hotel portfolio for $2.4 billion and the Lightstone Group acquiring Extended Stay America for $8 billion -- the survey of 6,000 global investors found that in 2008, respondents plan primarily to buy into quality single-hotel assets in the luxury and upscale segments, rather than large-deal transactions.

Expo! Expo!, the annual meeting of the International Association of Exhibitions and Events, concluded last Wednesday at Mandalay Bay Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas. Approximately 2,500 people attended the event, with roughly a quarter attending for the first time. Randy Bauler, CEM, corporate relations and exhibits director for the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses, replaced Freeman's executive vice president, Jeff Price, as IAEE chairman. Bauler said one of his top initiatives during the coming year will be to pressure all top-tier convention centers to institute random drug testing for employees and to become "drug-free workplaces." Steven Hacker, executive director of IAEE, called the use of illegal drugs and alcohol by employees in the meetings industry "an epidemic on a scale that is frightening." Also at the meeting, the Center for Exhibition Industry Research announced that the CEIR Index, measuring the health of the trade show industry, grew 5.8 percent in the third quarter of 2007. Year-to-date trade show revenue is up 9.7 percent compared with the first three quarters of 2006, and attendance is up 11.8 percent during the same period.

The Great Wolf Lodge opened yesterday in Grapevine, Texas, across the street from the Gaylord Texan Resort and Convention Center. The new resort offers 402 suites; a 98,000-square-foot entertainment area featuring Bear Track Landing, the largest indoor waterpark in Texas; several eating establishments; the Elements Spa; the Iron Horse Fitness Room, and much more. The property currently has about 10,000 square feet of meeting space, but an expansion already has been announced that will bring the conference space to about 27,000 square feet, including a 7,500-square-foot Grand Ballroom. More rooms will be added, as well, giving the resort 605 suites by year-end 2008.

The 305-room Ritz-Carlton, Beijing opened last week. The hotel has 14,000 square feet of meeting space, including a 2,300-square-foot ballroom. The property, adjacent to the upscale Shin Kong Place shopping center, is Ritz-Carlton's third in China. The hotel has Italian, French and Cantonese dining options, as well as a fitness center and a wedding chapel.

The US$1.27 billion, 600-room MGM Grand Macau opened yesterday. The casino has 900 slot machines and 375 table games, plus a spa and meeting space. The joint venture between MGM Mirage and Pansy Ho Chiu-king, owners of the casino, already has secured financing for the hotel's expansion.

Le Méridien Hotels & Resorts plans to open a 200-room hotel on Barbados, according to Travel Weekly. The hotel, set to open in 2010, will be part of a mixed-use, 150-slip marina development in Bridgetown. The as-yet-unnamed resort will have an undetermined amount of meeting space, as well as restaurants, a gym, a rooftop bar and swimming pools.

Echelon, a development of Boyd Gaming Corp., is accepting bookings for The Meeting Center, a 650,000-square-foot Las Vegas Strip convention facility slated to open in the third quarter of 2010. The Meeting Center will be part of the 87-acre Echelon complex, which will feature five hotels -- Hotel Echelon, The Enclave, Delano, Mondrian and Shangri-La Las Vegas. With three levels and 180,000 square feet of exhibit space, The Meeting Center will be able to accommodate multiple groups simultaneously. Also offered: ballrooms from 30,000 to 75,000 square feet, including two with stages; breakout rooms from 1,000 to 3,000 square feet; and 12 dedicated loading docks. The complex also will be home to a 4,000-seat theater, a 1,500-seat hall and a 300,000-square-foot retail promenade.

Prince Resorts Hawaii will spend $150 million on renovations to the 310-room Mauna Kea Resort, including the Mauna Kea Golf Course, on Hawaii's Big Island. The property has been closed since Dec. 1, 2006, because of structural damage caused by earthquakes, and now plans to reopen in December 2008. When the refurbishment is finished, the property will have 258 guest rooms, several restaurants and new retail shops, a spa and a fitness center. The Mauna Kea Golf Course, closed since May, and will open next November.

Team San Jose, which manages the San Jose McEnery Convention Center and Civic Auditorium, has renewed its agreement for another five years, despite recommendations made by city administrators last week to seek a new management team to operate the facilities. Though Team San Jose has increased revenues 67 percent since taking over the venues three years ago, according to the San Jose Mercury News, the goal of a $3.3 million subsidy was not reached last year. "We're thrilled with the outcome," says Team San Jose chairman Dan Fenton, who also is president and CEO of the San Jose Convention & Visitors Bureau. "We think that the city council and both boards of directors were very clear in their support of Team San Jose, and we really look forward to the next five years. We believed, even going into it, that the renewal of the contract was the right thing for the city of San Jose."