June 13, 2007

The U.S. State Department has modified the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative to allow U.S. citizens to fly to and from Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean or Bermuda without a passport through Sept. 30. U.S. citizens will only have to present customs officials with a government-issued photo ID and a printout of a government website showing proof that the citizen has applied for a passport. A State Department official cited "record-breaking demand for passports" and "longer-than-expected processing times for passport applications" as the reasons for the change.

The Ritz-Carlton, Hong Kong, will close on Jan. 1, 2008, to be redeveloped as an office high-rise, the hotel company announced last week. Ritz-Carlton currently is developing a new Hong Kong hotel, the 300-room Ritz-Carlton, Hong Kong, Kowloon, in a 1,574-foot tower the company says will be the tallest hotel in the world. The new property is expected to open in 2010.

The Professional Convention Management Association has launched the Live Learning Center, an online learning management system aiming to make education more accessible to members of the meetings industry. The center will offer live programming from events such as the PCMA Annual Meeting and the Leadership Conference, as well as stand-alone sessions. Available now are recordings of sessions from the 2007 Annual Meeting and the 2007 Leadership Conference, along with slide presentations, handouts, speaker bios and other information. The sessions are free for attendees; members and nonmembers pay fees for various parts of the content. The association hopes soon to offer a system for awarding CEU credits to those who complete online sessions.

The Convention Industry Council now offers the Certified Meeting Professional application and CMP handbook as free downloads from www.conventionindustry.org. Nearly 12,200 people in 34 countries hold the CMP designation. Plans are in the works to provide additional online services supporting the certification process.

Having interviewed five candidates for the position of CEO of the Palm Beach County (Fla.) Convention and Visitors Bureau, the search committee goes in front of the CVB board of directors today to see if the committee should continue its search or further pursue those five people. The five are Thomas Anderson, co-president and chief marketing officer, Distinctive Lifestyle; Cleo Battle, vice president of convention sales for Richmond (Va.) Metropolitan CVB; Carolyn McCormick, managing director of North Carolina's Outer Banks CVB; R. Moke McGowan, president of New York's Long Island CVB and Sports Commission; and Jorge Pasquera, president and COO of the Aruba Hotel and Tourism Association. Former CEO Warren "Mac" McLaughlin took early retirement last November during a $1.6 million embezzlement investigation involving one of his employees.

A $12 million renovation has been completed at the Mansion Rooms, new function space at the 893-room New York Palace Hotel. The new 13,000-square-foot venue occupies the fourth and fifth floors of the Villard Mansion, which serves as the hotel's entryway. The 55-story property now offers 24 meeting rooms totaling 22,000 square feet of space, as well as a restaurant, a spa and a fitness center.