June 28, 2006

UNITE HERE, the union representing hotel employees, has created a new organization aimed at pushing meetings business to hotels that have a good track record with the union. Called the Informed Meetings Exchange, or INMEX, the organization will amass and distribute data to its members about hotel companies, including their financial filings, status of negotiations with the union, and when contracts are up for renewal. According to UNITE HERE, 100 organizations already have signed on as members, including the NAACP. Jason Ortiz, a Miami-based spokesperson for UNITE HERE, said INMEX will be a place where meeting planners from member organizations can go for information on hotels before booking their group business. When asked by M&C if the new organization was not self-serving for UNITE HERE, Ortiz said, "It may seem that way. But I think if you really look at what INMEX is offering, which is information that is completely public, not created by us, you will see it is a valuable service, because meeting planners do not have the time to go out and find this information for themselves."

OnVantage, the online meetings management company, on Monday launched EasyBook, a service that allows planners to book rooms for events of 50 people or fewer. Both users and hotels available on the system agree to adopt a contract hammered out by OnVantage. "We got best practices contracts from both corporations and hotels and settled on a reasonable agreement that both sides can live with," said John Chang, CEO of the technology company. The contract includes attrition and cancellation clauses with standardized payment terms. Corporations pay OnVantage an annual licensing fee for the service; companies using OnVantages MeetingView technology get EasyBook as part of the package. Hotels are paying OnVantage a fee to cover the cost of maintaining the infrastructure and providing support to both corporate clients and hotel properties.

Bill Peeper, president of the Orlando/Orange County Convention & Visitors Bureau, has announced he will retire on Dec. 31. Peeper's tenure began in May 1981; he saw the formation of the city's CVB in its current guise in July 1984. Peeper is a former chair of both the Florida Association of Convention & Visitors Bureaus and Destination Marketing Association International (formerly the International Association of Convention & Visitor Bureaus) and currently serves as treasurer of the Travel Industry Association of America. City officials have begun the search for his replacement.

The 2,010-room Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa in Atlantic City will open the first phase of its $525 million expansion on June 30. Restaurants overseen by celebrity chefs are the focus of the $200 million project and include Bobby Flay Steak, Wolfgang Puck American Grille, and SeaBlue, a Michael Mina restaurant. Also new are additional casino space, a nightclub and a food court. The second phase of the expansion opens in late 2007 and will feature an 800-room hotel tower called The Water Club at Borgata, bringing the property's total room count to 2,810.

About 23,000 hotel workers at more than 100 New York City hotels, members of the New York Hotel Trades Council, ratified a six-year contract last Thursday with the Hotel Association of New York City, to take effect July 1. Not included were two Hilton properties, the Hilton New York and the Waldorf=Astoria, which the council said must agree to special provisions, including health checks for employees affected by asbestos and a penalty for cases of willfully underpaying employees. The two hotels were given until mid-July to agree on a contract with the council. According to Marc Grossman, senior vice president, corporate affairs, for Hilton Hotels Corp., "On June 2, the Waldorf=Astoria and the New York Hilton agreed to...the economic terms agreed upon by the Hotel Association and the union, including changes in wages, and medical and pension benefits. The Union accepted this proposal. Having cleared this significant hurdle, only a few issues remain unresolved...We look forward to returning to the bargaining table on Wednesday so we can negotiate with the Union in good faith on the remaining economic and non-economic issues."