November 22, 2006

The executive board of the Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau has asked the current president and CEO, Gerard J. "Jordy" Tollett, to reapply for his job. The board is conducting a national search, following a request by Mayor Bill White to find the most qualified candidate for the position. Tollett's contract with the city expires in February, but he took a monthlong leave of absence starting July 13, three days after an expose on Houston's KPRC (Channel 2) showed Tollett apparently spending extended lunch hours in a bar. Tollett has been the head of the CVB since 1997 and has been working to bring visitors and conventions to the city in some capacity for about 35 years. An executive search firm has been hired to gather résumés; a list of candidates will be submitted within 90 days to a search committee chaired by Greater Houston Partnership CEO Jeff Moseley.

The Department of Homeland Security has delayed the deadline that requires U.S. citizens, Canadians, Mexicans and others to present passports upon entering the United States by air from Bermuda, Canada, the Caribbean, Mexico, and Central and South America. Originally set for Jan. 8, 2007, "the date has been pushed back," said a DHS spokesperson. "The rule will go into effect 60 days after it is published in the Federal Register. It may be published in November, so it may still be effective in January." In the meantime, "it's still a very good idea for travelers to be ready and prepared to present passports," said the spokesperson. When it takes effect, the requirement will cover U.S. citizens as well as nationals of all Western Hemisphere countries. This morning, the Associated Press reports the rule will go into effect Jan. 23.

The 220-room Wyndham Milwaukee Center will be reflagged as the InterContinental Milwaukee on Jan. 1. The hotel wrapped up a renovation last month that updated all guest rooms and its 12,000 square feet of meeting space. In other news, a new prototype Crowne Plaza is under construction in Milwaukee. The 197-room Crowne Plaza Milwaukee West will open in the first quarter of 2008. Responding to consumer research, designers have outfitted lobbies and lounges with power sources and Internet access, and have paired seating with table surfaces in order to make the spaces more suitable working environments. The meeting rooms, totaling 7,000 square feet, will have natural light, movable partitions or walls, multizone lighting systems, ergonomic chairs, wireless Internet access and backlit projection screens.

Mohegan Sun, the casino resort in Uncasville, Conn., announced plans for a $740 million expansion -- a response to the $700 million expansion under way at nearby Foxwoods Resort Casino. The Mohegan Sun construction includes 1,000 new hotel rooms, 300 of which will be branded as House of Blues rooms with their own entrance. Although new meeting space is not included in the plans, the additional guest rooms are expected to allow the casino to handle more groups, especially on weekends. Due to high occupancy rates, "we really have been unable to accommodate any conventions on weekends," said Mitchell Estess, president and CEO of the casino. When the new rooms open in 2010, the resort will have a total of 2,200. The property has approximately 100,000 square feet of meeting space, including a 40,000-square-foot ballroom. The rest of the expansion calls for a 1,500-seat House of Blues Music Hall, a 20,000-square-foot Mandara Spa, and 115,000 square feet of retail and dining space, to open in 2009. A new 64,000-square-foot casino will open in 2008.

Italian fashion house Versace plans to build 15 luxury resorts around the world, in partnership with Australian property developer Sunland Group. The design firm, which owns one property, Palazzo Versace, on Australia's Gold Coast, will design and furnish the luxury properties. Currently in the works is the 215-suite Palazzo Versace Dubai, which also will have 204 villas, set to open in 2009. No details on meeting space are available yet.

The Lodge at Koele was rebranded the Four Seasons Resort, the Lodge at Lana'i, last Wednesday, becoming the second Four Seasons property on the Hawaiian island of Lana'i. As part of a $50 million enhancement program, the resort finished renovations to all 102 guest rooms, the three dining venues and public areas. A new spa and wellness center and a Kids for All Seasons facility will open in 2008. The resort has more than 40,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor meeting space.

The final details of a $1 billion renovation to the Fontainebleau Miami Beach have been announced. To be completed in mid-2008, the project will consists of a new hotel tower with approximately 280 rooms, as well as the complete gutting and renovation of two existing towers that will have approximately 800 rooms. A 462-room tower, the highest on the property, was opened last year. When completed, the property will feature 1,504 rooms; 126,000 square feet of meeting space in 60 rooms; 66,000 square feet of ballroom space; 122,000 square feet of additional function space, and the two-story, 40,000-square-foot Spa of the Fontainebleau.