October 24, 2007
The San Diego Convention Center and San Diego International Airport continue to operate as wildfires rage to the east and north of the city. Hotels throughout the county are filling up with displaced residents as 270,000 households and counting have been evacuated in San Diego County. Downtown, Qualcomm Stadium is being used as a temporary shelter, and some hotels, including the Omni, have offered discounted rooms to evacuees, according to a local news report. A spokesperson for the convention center told a local newspaper that one meeting expected to draw between 12,000 and 14,000 primarily local attendees has been canceled, but at least two groups booked at the facility -- the American Society of Human Genetics and Pri-Med -- have issued notices that their events will continue as scheduled. While downtown contends with smoke-filled air, meeting properties north of the city are contending with worse. The area surrounding the Rancho Bernardo Inn is burning, according to the San Diego County Emergency website. The region surrounding the La Costa Resort and Spa had been targeted for "advisory evacuation," according to the county website, but the property remained opened and was not damaged. A total of 350,000 "reverse 911" phone messages have been sent to more than 500,000 residents of San Diego county demanding evacuation. As of yesterday afternoon, the fire's perimeter stretched from Escondido, north of San Diego, to Hellhole Canyon County Park and over to the El Capitan Reservoir to the northeast of the city; and from the Lower Otay Reservoir, east of Chula Vista, Calif., to the Mexican border south of Dulzura.

The National Council of La Raza, the largest Hispanic advocacy organization in the country, announced it will pull its 2009 convention out of Kansas City, Mo., to protest the mayoral appointment of a member of the controversial Minuteman Civil Defense Corps to the city's parks board. La Raza and other civil rights groups hold that the MCDC, known for its fervent stance against illegal immigration, is antagonistic to Hispanics.The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), scheduled to hold its 2010 convention in the city, has said it might withdraw its event in solidarity with the Hispanic group, but could not be reached for comment on Tuesday morning. A spokesperson for La Raza said the group is considering Chicago and other Midwestern cities as possible hosts for the 2009 convention.

The Walt Disney Co. will spend a reported $1 billion on a multiyear expansion of the Disneyland Resort in Anaheim, Calif. Among the improvements will be the addition of Cars Land, a 12-acre attraction inspired by the Disney/Pixar movie Cars. Opening next summer at the resort's Paradise Pier will be Toy Story Mania!, an interactive ride; also being added is a ride based on The Little Mermaid. A new gateway to the park will be built with dining, shopping and live entertainment. In addition, the new Hollywood Pictures Backlot will offer presentations by directors, writers and animators. The announcement follows the groundbreaking last month on a 250-room expansion of Disney's 745-room Grand Californian Hotel & Spa.

A 250-room Ritz-Carlton golf and spa resort is being built in Marana, northwest of Tucson, Ariz. To open in late 2009, the Ritz-Carlton, Dove Mountain, will offer two ballrooms of 9,000 and 4,800 square feet, respectively, and a 17,000-square-foot spa and fitness center. Twenty-seven holes of Jack Nicklaus Signature Golf Courses currently are under construction, to open in 2008.

According to an SEC filing on Oct. 18, Dubai Investment Group, which owns Jumeirah Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, has acquired 3.9 million shares (representing a 9.2 percent stake) in Orient-Express Hotels and has expressed interest in acquiring the luxury chain. In the past month, according to several financial news resources, DIG has contacted Orient-Express expressing interest in developing a joint strategy. In a letter to DIG, widely published in the media this week, Paul White, CEO of Orient-Express Hotels, said his company has no interest in being acquired. "As you are fully aware, our board has previously advised you that Orient-Express had no interest in the transaction Dubai Group wished to discuss. It has been the view of the board of directors that the company's standalone business strategy provided the best long-term value and opportunities for the company and its shareholders."

Meetings costs will continue to increase in 2008, according to American Express Business Travel's 2008 Global Business Travel Forecast, released yesterday. The increase is driven in large part by hotel market conditions, which continue to be robust: Amex cites a 10 percent increase in guest-room rates and a 34 percent increase in overall meetings costs for its clients to date in 2007, compared with all of 2006. In 2008, meeting costs are projected to increase by another 8-10 percent. The rise also is due to the fact that many companies aren't fully managing meetings spend, according to Chris Wilkes, practice leader, meetings management for American Express Business Travel Advisory Services. This is particularly true for small meetings, added Wilkes, and as such Amex expects to see more meetings technology products this year to address the need. Wilkes cited Amex's Preferred Extras Meetings Program, which was introduced for smaller companies, as an example of programs that will be rolled out for a wider audience.

The 2,000-room Orlando World Center Marriott will unveil the largest pillar-free resort ballroom in the country on Saturday. The 105,000-square-foot Cypress Ballroom can seat up to 13,000 attendees and fit 596 10-foot-by-10-foot booths. The resort, the largest Marriott in the world, offers a total of 400,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor meeting space, as well as 10 restaurants and lounges.

The Grand Hotel Kempinski in Geneva reopened last week, following a two-year renovation. The property's 423 guest rooms were updated and now feature wireless Internet access. The 10 meeting rooms, including a 6,800-square-foot ballroom, also have been refurbished.