October 31, 2007

The Southern California wildfires, which have destroyed more than 379,000 acres of land, have not caused any significant damage to major San Diego hotels. The Rancho Bernardo Inn, which was evacuated last week, suffered minor fire damage to its golf course and land on the northern edge of the resort. Employees and guests were allowed to return to the property last Thursday; the resort opened for business later that day, and the golf course was open the following day. On the meetings front, at least one major event, San Diego-based Sharp Healthcare's annual employee meeting, was canceled as a result of the fires. The event would have taken place at the San Diego Convention Center from Oct. 24 to Oct. 25 and was expected to draw 12,000 to 14,000 local attendees. According to a company spokesperson, the meeting will be rescheduled. The San Diego Convention Center Corp. reports all other events on the books will take place as scheduled.

Last week, The Blackstone Group finalized its $20 billion acquisition of Hilton Hotels Corp., the lodging industry's largest buyout. Christoper J. Nassetta has been selected to take over as Hilton's president and CEO. Nasetta, currently president and CEO of Host Hotels and Resorts, will take his new position Dec. 1. He replaces Stephen Bollenbach, who retired from Hilton last week after seeing the Blackstone deal through to completion. In turn, Nassetta will be replaced at Host by W. Edward Walter, the company's current executive vice president and CFO.

Meeting Professionals International opened an office in Singapore on Thursday. The outpost is headed by Michael Tay, MPI's new director of operations, Asia-Pacific. Tay is a native of Singapore and an adjunct professor at the University of Las Vegas, Singapore campus, where he teaches meetings management. "The expansion of MPI into Asia-Pacific is a deliberate response to supporting the outstanding meetings and travel growth in that region," said Bruce MacMillan, MPI president and CEO, at a ceremony in the city.

The 248-room Raffles Dubai opened last week in the booming United Arab Emirates city. Amenities at the hotel include Wi-Fi access throughout, private balconies for each guest room, the Raffles Amrita Spa and the two-acre Raffles Sky Garden. The hotel has eight meeting rooms, four boardrooms and a Grand Ballroom for groups of up to 550 people.

French hotel group Accor will upgrade 120 of its Sofitel properties from upmarket to the luxury category, and seven properties will fall under its new Sofitel Legends banner. Launching in 2009 will be a boutique-style brand called So by Sofitel. In December, 35 Sofitel properties will be rebranded under Accor's new Pullman brand (a rebirth of an old name once used by Accor), which is aimed mainly at business travelers.

Workers at the Connecticut Convention Center in Hartford voted last week to join the Connecticut Laborers' District Council, a member of the Laborers' International Union of North America. Approximately 45 full-time cooks, engineers, banquet and catering staff, and other workers will join the union, according to the District Council. Last year, the convention center lost some business when groups held meetings at alternate venues to avoid a growing labor dispute about how unions could organize workers. The connected 409-room Hartford Marriott Downtown, owned and managed by the Waterford Group, which also operates the convention center, could be the union's next organizing target. A spokesperson for Waterford said no organizing activity was currently taking place at the hotel, but Charles LeConche, the District Council's business manager, has hinted that such activity could begin soon.

The Washington Convention Center in the nation's capital is being renamed for the city's first elected mayor. His name, conveniently, was Walter E. Washington. Following a rededication ceremony on Nov. 5, the 2.3 million-square-foot center will be known as the Walter E. Washington Convention Center. Washington was voted into the office in 1975 and died in 2003.