August 09, 2006

StarCite Inc. and OnVantage Inc., the top providers of online meetings management tools, announced today plans to merge. The new company, to carry the StarCite name, will be headquartered in Philadelphia and will offer a suite of tools and services aimed at managing organizations’ meeting spend. “On-demand global meetings management is the future of the meetings industry,” said Michael Boult, president and CEO of StarCite, who will retain the position for the new company. “With only about 3 percent of meetings spending currently under management, this business is a virtually untouched front.” Boult’s OnVantage counterpart, John Chang, will serve as the new company’s chairman, charged with overseeing the integration of the two entities’ systems. The new company is backed by investors such as Internet Capital Group, Norwest Venture Partners, Texas Pacific Group and TL Ventures. The merger is expected to be completed by the end of 2006. “This is the meetings technology equivalent of Microsoft and Apple merging,” said industry expert Corbin Ball of Corbin Ball Assoc.

Aramark Corp. is poised to go private after accepting a buyout offer yesterday from a group of investors led by its chairman and CEO, Joseph Neubauer. The $8.3 billion deal includes the assumption or repayment of about $2 billion in debt. Among Neubauer's investment partners are funds managed by GS Capital Partners, CCMP Capital Advisors, J.P. Morgan Partners, Thomas H. Lee Partners and Warburg Pincus LLC. The buyout, which should be completed by late this year or early 2007, must be approved by the company's stockholders, who will receive $33.80 in cash for each share of Aramark common stock. Among the business ventures that are part of Aramark are 60 conference centers in North America and Europe, plus an additional 48 in Japan. The company employs about 240,000 people in 20 countries.

Attendees scheduled to stay at three Boston airport hotels during ASAE & The Center for Association Leadership's annual meeting on Aug. 19-22 might want to consider moving to downtown properties, as traffic is expected to be heavy because several tunnels have been closed, the association said last week. Amy Ledoux, CMP, CAE, vice president of meetings and exhibitions for ASAE, is concerned that those staying at the Embassy Suites, Hilton and Hyatt airport properties might have trouble getting to and from the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center. "Once they are downtown and the meeting starts, we don't foresee any impact," said Ledoux in a statement. A spokesperson for ASAE said, "It was not our intent to aggravate our hotel partners. If attendees choose to stay at the airport hotels, we will do everything we can to provide them with updated information on methods of travel to the BCEC."

On Aug. 2, the 1,675-room Atlanta Marriott Marquis, which has the highest room count in Atlanta, announced a $100 million renovation to begin immediately. All public areas and its 120,000 meeting space will be given an overhaul; an additional 40,000 square feet of meeting space, including seven meeting rooms and the 25,000-square-foot Atrium Ballroom, will be built, bringing the property's total to 160,000 square feet of function space. The project will be finished in October 2008.

David Riddell, vice president, certificate marketing for Marriott Corp., passed away Aug. 1 after a long illness. Riddell served as president of the Society of Incentive & Travel Executives in 1997 and, until his death, held a seat on the SITE Foundation Board of Trustees. In a letter to SITE members, association CEO Brenda Anderson and president Lex Granaada said, "David was a business leader, pioneering individual incentives in the incentive and travel industry." He is survived by his wife, Laurie, and sons Scot, Ryan and Cameron.

Ian Schrager's Gramercy Park Hotel opened yesterday in New York City. The 185-room hotel aims to be wholly unconventional, from the design by artist Julian Schnabel to the room-service menu that features signature dishes from celebrated New York City restaurants; to the fitness center that includes "fitness pods," where guests can enjoy an interactive workout. The hotel has 7,000 square feet of meeting space, indoors and outdoors, including one dedicated room. Of the hotel's concept, Schrager has said, "It's a complete left turn for me and different than anything we have ever done before."

Marriott's Caribbean Travel Interruption Promise, announced this month by Marriott International, will give meeting planners peace of mind when booking at the 16 hurricane-prone Marriott and Renaissance resorts each year during storm season, from June 1 through Nov. 30. If a meeting or travel to the meeting is interrupted by a hurricane, the resort will offer a replacement meeting within one year, or make every attempt to relocate the group to a comparable resort.

New York City mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and Senator Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) began a push Monday for Phase II of the expansion to the Javits Center to break ground at the same time as Phase I, later this year. Phase I will add 520,000 square feet of meeting and exhibit space to the center; Phase II will create a sixth floor with another 300,000 square feet of exhibit space. Combining the phases would save money, and all construction might be completed by 2010, when Phase I is scheduled to debut.