August 15, 2007

ASAE & The Center for Association Leadership is launching two initiatives that will lead to two new summits, to be held next year. The Diversity Initiative and a corresponding forum on diversity, expected to be held next summer, will focus on preparing associations to recruit and train diverse work forces. A Social Responsibility Initiative will lead to its own special summit -- to be held April 30 to May 2, 2008, in Washington, D.C., and in satellite cities -- focusing on how associations can create a positive social, economic and environmental impact. ASAE also will be ramping up its outreach to philanthropic organizations and international associations. Of particular note to meeting planners: ASAE organized an impromptu educational session on Tuesday to discuss proposed changes to the Internal Revenue Service's Form 990, which governs association's tax returns. The new rules would require associations to disclose financial and other information about meetings held overseas. John H. Graham IV, president and CEO of ASAE, is working to extend the IRS comment period so ASAE members can rally together against certain proposals he said would be too cumbersome for associations. ASAE's news was announced at this year's annual meeting, held Aug. 11-14 in Chicago. The show was the largest in ASAE's history, with more than 7,000 attendees.

Opening today is the 218-room Ritz-Carlton, Dallas, within walking distance of the American Airlines Center, the city's main sports and entertainment facility. The property features 14,000 square feet of meeting space, the 12,000-square-foot Ritz-Carlton Spa and Fearing's Restaurant, created by chef Dean Fearing. The rooms are equipped with Frette bed and bath linens, Bulgari bath amenities, flat-panel Sony HDTVs, DVD players, iPod docking stations, and wired and wireless Internet access., known for offering low-cost airfare and hotel rates, has entered the group sales market. Customers now will be able to book 10 to 1,000 rooms at special prices at The website guarantees the rates will be the best available or the group coordinator's room will be comped. The service also allows planners to create a free event website, providing information and registration forms for attendees. The initial form asks for number of rooms; meeting date; maximum cost per room; requested hotel rating; room types; group type; whether breakfast, lunch and/or dinner is needed; and whether meeting space is required. When the meeting space box is checked, a space calculator pops up.

StarCite Inc., an online meetings management service, has launched the beta version of StarCite TV ( The interactive site aims to bring meeting planners together virtually to research, learn and communicate. "We are committed to bringing Travel 2.0 technology to the meeting planning world," said Michael Boult, StarCite president and CEO, in a statement. StarCite TV currently includes hotel listings, property videos and meeting planning blogs. Some features coming soon include hotel property ratings (based on meeting planner experience), mapping mash-ups (visual mapping of key information like local restaurants and entertainment options), market trends (based on the StarCite Global Meeting Marketplace data), instant group-booking capability and meeting planner surveys.

Last week the Nashville Metro Council approved four new tourist taxes to finance a new downtown convention center, called the Music City Center. The taxes include a 1 percent increase in the hotel/motel tax, bringing it to 6 percent; an added $2 occupancy tax on hotel rooms; a 1 percent rental car tax; and $2 fee on shuttle vehicles (including taxis) leaving the airport. According to the Music City Center Coalition, a group working to get the facility built, the proposed 1.2 million-square-foot center will cost $455 million and offer 375,000 square feet of exhibition space -- three times more space than the current convention center. The Coalition estimates that the new center would bring more than 1 million additional visitors a year, and would position the city to accommodate up to 70 percent of the meetings market. The current convention center competes for only 20 percent of the meetings market. While Nashville is 28th largest city in the country, its convention center is only the 115th largest in the country. The new taxes go into effect Sept. 1.

The Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center in Nashville will undergo a $400 million expansion. More than 400,000 square feet will be added to the center as well as an adjacent 400-room all-suite hotel, bringing the property's totals to 3,281 guest rooms and 1 million square feet of exhibition and meeting space. Construction will begin in 2008 and end in 2011.

Gaylord Entertainment and the Unified Port of San Diego will resume negotiations regarding plans for a $1 billion hotel and convention center project in Chula Vista, Calif. Gaylord pulled out of the project early last month when talks with the unions had reached a standstill. On Aug. 2, Bennett Westbrook, senior vice president of Gaylord Entertainment, sent a letter to Bruce Hollingsworth, president of the Unified Port of San Diego, requesting to continue discussions, due to "the overwhelming show of community support for Gaylord's inclusion within the Chula Vista Bayfront Project." Port commissioners met last week and decided to continue the negotiations, although a timeline for the talks has not been set.

Ground was broken on the Hilton Orlando last Saturday. The property will include 1,400 guest rooms and more than 130,000 square feet of meeting space, including a 50,000 square foot ballroom and 38 meeting rooms. A spa and four restaurants are planned, as well. The hotel will open in 2009.

New York Governor Eliot Spitzer has signed legislation providing airline passengers in New York airports with basic amenities such as food, water, fresh air and working rest rooms. The bill was drafted in response to several instances of severe weather delays that occurred at John F. Kennedy Airport earlier this year and caused passengers to be stranded in planes on the tarmac for hours without any food or water. Included in the legislation are several guidelines to ensure consumer protection, such as a consumer bill of rights, the creation of the Office of the Airline Consumer Advocate to ensure compliance with the bill of rights, and a contact person with which passengers may register complaints.