July 25, 2007

Last week, the Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau extended an offer to Stephen Perry, president and CEO of the New Orleans Metropolitan Convention and Visitors Bureau, to fill a similar position in the Texas city, but Perry turned down the job. The search committee, which first convened in November when Mayor Bill White requested the CVB find the most qualified candidate for the position, must now review other candidates for the job. "The search continues," said Don Henderson, chairman emeritus of the board, who has been running the bureau along with current chairman Doug Horn since the former president and CEO, Gerard J. "Jordy" Tollett, resigned in January. When the search first began, Tollett had been encouraged to reapply for his job, but according to the Houston Chronicle, since leaving his post, Tollett now is bound by an agreement not to do so. Currently, he is a consultant to the CVB until early 2008, still receiving his full salary of $206,000.

This week the Palm Beach Convention and Visitors Bureau will vote on and finalize a compensation package to offer Jorge Pesquera to become the bureau's president and CEO. The package details include a salary of $195,000 for the first year, rising to more than $250,000 by the third year. Pesquera currently is the COO of the Aruba Hotel and Travel Association; according to the Palm Beach Post, he is making $250,000 a year, so if he accepts the position he will be taking a pay cut.

A feasibility study is under way to determine if the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center in San Antonio, Texas, should be expanded. The most recent enlarging of the facility was completed in 2000, bringing it to about 400,000 square feet of exhibit space and 67 meeting rooms. "Our occupancy at the center is over 60 percent, so it's time to look at expanding," said Michael Sawaya, director of convention, sports and entertainment facilities for the city. "We don't even know if they'll recommend expansion. We don't know if bigger is better; that's what we're paying to see." Convention, Sports & Leisure, an advisory and planning firm, has been hired to conduct the study; the results are due in October. If they recommend expansion, the next step, according to Sawaya, would be to look into financing such a project.

The Massachusetts Convention Center Authority wants to expand and enhance the three-year-old Boston Convention and Exhibition Center by developing a 22-acre lot to the south of the facility, which now holds a parking lot. The MCCA last week put out a request for proposal for master plans and will accept submissions through Sept. 5. Among the additions that MCCA executive director James Rooney said he would like to be considered are an auditorium with TV broadcast-quality A/V equipment, a second ballroom and permanent food service facilities.

A $1.1 billion plan to build a performing arts center, an arena and renovate the Citrus Bowl stadium in Orlando, Fla., is being voted on this week. On Monday, the City Council of Orlando passed the plan with a 6-to-1 vote; today and tomorrow, the Tourist Development Board and the Orange County Commission will cast their votes. The plan is the biggest public building project in Central Florida history, and would be funded by a combination of grants, private contributions and tax dollars. If approved, the arena will open in 2010, renovations to the Citrus Bowl will be completed in 2011, and the performing arts center will open in 2012.

Dolce International, the conference center management company, has been recapitalized by Broadreach Capital Partners, who have acquired 85 percent of Dolce from AEW Capital Management and Soros Real Estate Investors. Over the past two years, Dolce has sold off most of its assets and now owns just one of the 26 hotel, resort and conference facilities it manages. "We think the Dolce brand is underused," said Philip "Flip" Maritz, managing director of Broadreach, which just acquired two new Dolce properties, the Dolce Basking Ridge (N.J.) and the Dolce Norwalk (Conn.) Conference Center. Plans for the company include rapid expansion in the United States and Europe, and possibly in Asia. According to Andy Dolce, chairman and managing director, "We'd like to be in Milan and Rome, back in Houston, and all over California. We are in an expansion and development mode."

The landmark 1,334-room Marriott Wardman Park in Washington, D.C., the city's largest hotel, has begun a $100 million renovation. Included in the work will be a complete overhaul of guest rooms, 173,000 square feet of meeting space and public areas, as well as the addition of a new ballroom, a signature restaurant and a fitness center. The project will be completed by the end of 2008.

AirTran Airways is sponsoring Clear, the top provider of registered traveler lanes at U.S. airports, to operate lanes at LaGuardia International Airport's Central Terminal. Passengers at all three New York City-area airports now will have access to RT lanes. AirTran is the first domestic-only carrier to support the program. An in-airport enrollment center at LaGuardia will open in August. Fast lanes currently are open at JFK, Orlando, San Jose, Cincinnati and Indianapolis airports, as well as Newark Liberty, where the lanes opened on July 19. Other facilities where the RT lanes will open soon include those in Albany, N.Y.; Atlanta; Denver; Little Rock, Ark.; San Francisco; Washington, D.C.; and Westchester, N.Y.

Virgin America, the new San Francisco-based airline partially owned by Virgin Group founder Richard Branson, began selling tickets Thursday for travel between Aug. 8 and Feb. 12. The airline will offer last-minute discount fares for business travelers in both coach- and first-class cabins. Virgin America's first day of service on Aug. 8 will feature two daily flights between San Francisco International Airport and New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport, as well as five daily flights between San Francisco and Los Angeles International Airport. Two more flights between San Francisco and New York will be added, one each on Aug. 19 and Sept. 9. Washington and Las Vegas also will be included in the flight plans by the end of October. The airline aims to serve 10 cities by next summer and 30 cities within five years.

Caesars Palace in Las Vegas will add a new 665-room hotel tower and 110,000 square feet of new meeting space by 2009, part of a planned $1 billion expansion. These additions will push the room count at the resort to 4,013 and the total amount of meeting space to more than 300,000 square feet. The hotel's existing 512-room Forum Tower also will receive an $83 million renovation over the next six months.

Orbitz Worldwide, the online travel service, has formed a strategic alliance with StarCite, an online meetings management company, through which StarCite users and their attendees will be able to book travel through Orbitz for Business and Travelport for Business directly from the StarCite Attendee Management application. The new feature is expected to be available to StarCite customers by the first quarter of 2008.