June 07, 2006

Seeking to unionize employees at the 409-room Hartford Marriott Downtown, Unite HERE Local 217 in Hartford, Conn., sent a letter on Monday to Waterford Group LLC, the hotel's owner and operator of the Connecticut Convention Center, pledging to halt protest activities for a week in hopes of making progress toward an agreement. The union wants Waterford to sign a "labor peace agreement," which would prohibit Waterford from interfering in the unionizing process and prevent employees from striking, but the company maintains that it need only comply with National Labor Relations Board Act procedures. The union contends the act does not adequately protect employees. As a result of the unrest, the United Church of Christ is considering moving its national convention, scheduled for next June, to the Hartford Civic Center.

Room rates will continue to rise through 2008, according to Bjorn Hanson, principal of PricewaterhouseCoopers, who was speaking at the New York University Annual International Hospitality Industry Investment Conference this week in New York City. According to estimates, average occupancy levels, which were 63.1 percent in 2005, will grow to 64.3 percent for 2006 and to 64.8 percent by 2008. Average daily rates, which increased to $90.91 in 2005, are predicted to rise to $96.69 for 2006, a 6.4 percent gain and the third highest since 1996. By 2008, the average daily rate is expected to reach $107.14.

The SITE Foundation, the research arm of the Society of Incentive & Travel Executives, is breaking from the association and relaunching as an independent research foundation. According to Ira Almeas, CITE, president of the foundation's board of trustees, the organization wants to provide funding for research to benefit the entire incentive industry, not just incentive travel. Almeas denied rumors the foundation, which raises money through its annual invitational golf outing, would align with the Incentive Marketing Association, stating the foundation would remain independent from any association involvement. The move caught SITE leaders off guard, who said they thought the two groups which have spent the past three years trying to align their goals for the funds the foundation has raised were finally making headway. Brenda Anderson, SITE's CEO, told M&C, "We are disappointed; we were affiliated with the foundation for [20] years, but now we need to look ahead." She said SITE is looking into new fundraising options, including launching its own foundation.

The Hyatt Regency New Orleans, which has been closed since last August's Hurricane Katrina, will be renovated as part of a development project for an area called the Hyatt Jazz District. Work in the 20-acre zone will include a top-to-bottom refurbishing of the 1,184-room Hyatt and the construction of an auditorium, the National Jazz Center, a lawn for events, new government and court buildings, and a bridge linking the area to the Superdome. No timeline for the project has been announced, although Hyatt sources say the hotel will reopen in early 2007.

The 492-room Hyatt Regency Lost Pines Resort and Spa opened last week near Austin, Texas. On the banks of the Colorado River, the property offers the 20,000-square-foot Spa Django with 18 treatment rooms, plus more than 60,000 square feet of meeting space. Recreation options include kayaking, fishing and rafting on the river; golf at the Wolfdancer Golf Club; horseback riding at the Renegade Trailhead Equestrian Center; and hiking in the 1,100-acre McKinney Roughs Nature Park, adjacent to the resort.

Ground was broken last week on the second phase of the expansion of the Phoenix Convention Center, formerly called Phoenix Civic Plaza. The facility's North Building now is being demolished to make way for a four-level structure. When completed in 2009, the center will offer more than 900,000 square feet of meeting and exhibition space. Opening next month is the new West Building, with a 62,000-square-foot exhibition hall, 16 meeting rooms and a 16-room conference center approved by the International Association of Conference Centers.

Hilton Hotels will build a 1,000-room Hilton and the 500-room Waldorf=Astoria at Bonnet Creek adjacent to Walt Disney World Resort in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. Ground will be broken on the project by the end of the year, to open in summer 2009. The Waldorf=Astoria property will be the first outpost of the famous New York City establishment. The two hotels will share a golf course, a spa and pools, as well as a 115,000-square-foot conference center and a 36,000-square-foot ballroom.

Istithmar Hotels has purchased the historic Knickerbocker Hotel in Times Square for $300 million and plans to convert it from its current state as an office building into a 250- to 300-room luxury hotel.

Starwood Hotels & Resorts has partnered with celebrity chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten on an enterprise that will bring the French chef's restaurants to W, Westin, Le Meridien and St. Regis properties. Vongerichten is best known for his flagship three-Michelin-star restaurant Jean-Georges, as well as the popular Thai-style eatery Spice Market, both in New York City. The new company also will open restaurants not affiliated with the hotels.