October 10, 2007

Greg Ortale, president and CEO of Meet Minneapolis, is moving south at the end of the year to become president and CEO of the Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau. Ortale, who starts on Dec. 3, will fill the vacancy left by the January resignation of Gerard J. "Jordy" Tollett. The search for a new CEO started in November 2006, following a request by Mayor Bill White to find the most qualified candidate for the position; the committee had then asked Tollett to reapply for his job. For Ortale, this is a return: In 1984, he was executive vice president and general manager of the Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Council. Back in Minnesota, Melvin Tennant, senior vice president of innovation + operations of Meet Minneapolis and the former executive director of the San Antonio (Texas) Convention and Visitors Bureau, will become acting president and CEO when Ortale leaves.

Linda Howell DiMario has resigned from her position as president and CEO of the Arlington (Texas) Convention and Visitors Bureau. Her last day will be Dec. 31, after which she plans to become a consultant in the industry. On Monday, the CVB board created a four-person search committee headed up by Jim Brothers, marketing director of Six Flags Over Texas. A search firm will be hired to help fill the position; ideally a new CEO will be identified before DiMario leaves.

The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Co. has launched Meaningful Meetings, a way for groups to give back to the community. For bookings of 10 or more nights made by Dec. 31 at any of the chain's U.S., Canada or Caribbean properties, for events taking place by Dec. 31, 2008, Ritz-Carlton will donate 5 percent of the total room revenue to a charity of the group's choice. The hotel company also will donate an additional 5 percent, in the group's name, to the Ritz-Carlton Community Footprints Fund. In 2006, the fund donated $5.25 million in products and services -- and Ritz employees volunteered more than 100,000 hours -- to causes such as hunger and poverty relief, education and conservation.

Conrad Hotels & Resorts, part of Hilton Hotels Corp., will open a Conrad Hotel in Portugal's Algarve, the first outpost of the brand in Europe. The property will feature 158 guest rooms, a 16,000-square-foot spa and 15,000 square feet of meeting space. The hotel, which opens in 2010, will be Hilton's second in the Algarve. The 154-room Hilton Vilamoura As Cascatas Golf Resort & Spa opened in Vilamoura in July.

A $170 million renovation has begun at the Eden Roc Renaissance Beach Resort & Spa in Miami Beach. Slated to finish up in late 2008, the work will add a 21-story tower with 283 guest rooms, and several 1,200-square-foot suites with private balconies and Jacuzzis. Guest rooms will be updated with iPod docking stations, LCD TVs, new bedding and furnishings. Two ballrooms overlooking the ocean and totaling 14,000 square feet will be added to the current 43,000 square feet of meeting space, as well as a rooftop garden and skybar for private events. The main pool will be redesigned as an infinity pool with added cabanas, a full-service bar and a retail shop. The spa will be increased to 21,000 square feet, and three new dining outlets will open as well. The hotel currently is closed until Feb. 4 for the renovation of the existing 349-room tower. When all the work is finished, the property will have 632 rooms and 57,000 square feet of meeting space.

Windjammer Barefoot Cruises has ceased operations temporarily and possibly permanently. A release on the website Monday said the company is "in the midst of a storm" and has canceled its sailings for the weeks of Oct. 14 and Oct. 21. According to M&C's sister publication, Travel Weekly, and postings by Windjammer customers on numerous web forums, Windjammer's tall ships currently are stranded in the Caribbean; throughout the past few months, customers have arrived for their cruises and been told the trips have been canceled because of staff walkouts and lack of fuel. According to the posted release, Danny Walsh, the founder's grandson, has paid debts to staff and is working with investors to get the company back up and running. Customers are advised to check www.windjammer.com for updates. Phone calls to Windjammer went unanswered.

The Grand Casino Resort Tunica (Miss.) will undergo a $45 million renovation. As part of the work, a new restaurant by Food Network star Paula Deen will be added, called Paula Deen's Buffet. The refurbishment will encompass all 1,356 guest rooms and public spaces at the three-hotel complex. Phase one will be completed in May and the second in September. Also in May, the property will be rebranded as Harrah's Casino Tunica. The resort offers 45,000 square feet of meeting space.

A $90 million renovation was completed last week at New York City's 515-room Jumeirah Essex House. The project refurbished the guest rooms and lobby area and added the Spa at the Jumeirah Essex House. The 900-square-foot health club also was redone. Final touches to the restaurant's upgrades will finish by December. The hotel offers a total of 11,610 square feet of meeting space.