October 04, 2006

The Society of Incentive & Travel Executives' board has turned down the request by the SITE Foundation, the research arm of the association, to relinquish its governance of the Foundation through bylaws, approve its name change to the Incentive Research Foundation and approve its proposed trustees. In late May, the group announced it was breaking with SITE and relaunching as an independent research foundation for all incentive organizations, in addition to SITE. Association president Lex Granaada told members in a statement that "the board does not support the Foundation's desire to relaunch and believes this misguided desire is not in the best interest of SITE's membership or the incentive and travel industry...The Board feels a responsibility to our membership for the funds that were raised by the SITE Foundation under the umbrella of the SITE name." He added that SITE has created another foundation that could carry out the mission of the initial foundation, in the event the two organizations separate. At press time, Foundation executive director Frank Katusak could not be reached, but SITE sources say the two organizations are continuing to talk about the foundation's future.

While business travel advocates are cheering provisions of the FY 2007 Homeland Security Appropriations bill that would change the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative to extend the passport deadline for travel between the U.S., Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean until June 1, 2009, there is still confusion about the ramifications of the legislation. "Right now, there is ambiguity in both the government and the travel and tourism industry," said Greg Cota, legislative aide for Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), who co-sponsored the WHTI amendment to the appropriations bill. "The amendment as it reads moves all the [WHTI] deadlines back, however there is some gray area as to whether or not DHS and State could move forward on just the air travel requirement starting Jan. 8, 2007." Despite such questions, travel industry advocates strongly support the extension, as it gives more time for travelers to secure necessary documents for travel from the Western Hemisphere into the United States.

Officials at New Orleans' Ernest N. Morial Convention Center have announced that the Phase IV expansion of the center has been put on a temporary two- to three-year hold. The center currently has 1.1 million square feet of exhibit space and is due to reopen the last four of its exhibit halls next month. Stephen Perry, president and CEO of the New Orleans Metropolitan Convention & Visitors Bureau, explained the delay could "allow for the investment of resources in the short-term to make New Orleans even more attractive as a destination, rebuild and accelerate the quality of our appeal as a tourist destination, attract more visitors more quickly, and strengthen our brand, all while laying the foundation for the construction of Phase IV." Phase IV calls for the addition of 524,000 square feet of exhibit space, including a 60,000-square-foot ballroom.

The Hyatt Regency Denver at the Colorado Convention Center is now unionized, following a vote by members of UNITE HERE local 14 last week. The 1,100-room hotel, which opened last December, employs about 700 workers. Locals speculate the move could help the city win the 2008 Democratic National Convention; the Democratic National Committee confirms that the site candidates are down to New York City and Denver. In other union news, more than 300 protesters were arrested during a staged sit-in outside the Hilton Los Angeles Airport and the Westin Los Angeles Airport last Thursday. About 2,000 people attended the protest, organized by UNITE HERE Local 11, which is pushing the hotels' workers to unionize. The union filed charges with the National Labor Relations Board against the Hilton hotel in August, alleging hotel management violated the National Labor Relations Act by attempting to disrupt or discourage union activities. A lawyer for the union said she expects the NLRB to rule on the case in about a month.

The 2008 National Republican Convention will be held Sept. 1-4, 2008, in Minnesota's Twin Cities, with the main events occurring at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul. Approximately 20,000 room nights will be secured at 95 area hotels; the Hilton Minneapolis most likely will serve as the headquarters property, according to Meet Minneapolis. The Twin Cities also had been in the running for the Democratic National Convention. Greg Ortale, president and CEO of Meet Minneapolis, said he does not expect much hotel construction or renovation to occur as a result of the Republican National Committee's announcement, noting the biggest changes will likely occur at the six-year-old Xcel center, which will be under exclusive contract to the RNC from June 30 to Sept. 22, 2008. Kathy Ross, a spokesperson for the center, said renovation plans were not yet in place but agreed some alterations could be significant. "In scope, it's definitely the largest event, several times over, that we'll have ever hosted as a building and as a city," Ross added.

On Friday, Congress passed legislation that would end the Wright Amendment, which restricts air traffic from Dallas' Love Field. The action by both the House and the Senate endorses an agreement reached earlier this year between Southwest and American airlines that will bring an end to the amendment in eight years. This would allow Southwest passengers to through-ticket to destinations within the 50 United States and Washington, D.C. All international travel, however, is restricted to Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport; any through-ticketing from Love Field to international destinations also is prohibited. The city of Dallas and Southwest agreed to invest $150 million to $200 million to modernize the main terminal at Love Field, but the airport's total gates will be reduced from the current 25 to 20.

Opening to the public this weekend is the Daniel Libeskind-designed expansion of the Denver Arts Museum called the Frederic C. Hamilton Building. The angular, titanium-clad building is a companion to the castle-like North Building designed by Gio Ponti, which opened in 1971 and has been renovated as part of the $180 million expansion project. The Hamilton Building increases the museum's exhibit space by 40 percent and will hold permanent works as well as traveling exhibitions. The North Building's Schlessman Hall seats 200 for dinner, and the new Duncan Pavilion, with an outdoor deck and wraparound windows, holds 150 for a reception. Reopening at the same time is Palettes, the museum's restaurant that features a menu by chef Kevin Taylor. Palettes' special events room accommodates up to 80 people. Opening next year will be a 280-seat auditorium. Groups of up to 2,000 can take over the museum.

Construction is under way on a $120 million expansion for the Pasadena Conference Center, designed by Fentress Bradburn Architects, which will nearly double the current amount of exhibit space to 57,600 square feet, add a 24,800-square-foot ballroom and restore the existing 17,000-square-foot ballroom. The project will be completed in January 2009.