January 25, 2006

The U.S. Departments of State and Homeland Security will begin issuing biometric passport cards, to be called People Access Security Service (PASS) cards, to U.S. citizens in border regions. Beginning later this year, the cards will replace traditional passport books for those making frequent cross-border trips. "We're talking about the kind of driver's license or other simple card identification that almost all of us carry in our wallets day in and day out," said Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff. "We face a tremendous task in balancing maintenance of security with the ease of the flow of people and goods that are vital to our country." However, some travel boosters say requiring such cards will hurt tourism and business. "The 'passport lite' they are proposing still requires marketing, consumer education, an application and delivery process, and agencies to deliver the cards," said Del Rollo, president of the Binational Tourism Alliance. "Additional cost and the potential confusion caused by yet another form of ID will hamper cross-border tourism."

MPI unveiled its MPI Member Solutions on Sunday at the organization's Professional Education Conference in Charlotte, N.C. The goal of the new online tool, developed at a cost of $1 million, according to Christine Duffy, MPI's international chairperson, is to revolutionize the perception of meeting planning by CEOs, human resources professionals, and government and educational institutions. The online program allows planners to create a personal profile and take a skills self-assessment test, and then maps a personal career growth plan based on the results. In its first day of operation, 126 members signed on. A second phase under development will address supplier development needs. "We focused on the planner first, because there is more consistency on the supplier side in terms of job description," said Duffy. "That is what we want for the meeting planner side, which right now does not exist as a recognized job description in the professional world outside of this association."

Shangri-La Asia, parent company of Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts, has acquired the historic palace of Prince Roland Bonaparte, grand nephew of Napoleon Bonaparte, in Paris. The hotel company will work with designers to convert the site to a hotel, while preserving its architectural integrity. The Shangri-La Hotel, Paris, expected to open in late 2008, will offer 140 deluxe guest rooms and suites, two restaurants, meeting facilities, an indoor swimming pool, a health club and a business center. The hotel company also plans to open a second property in Europe, the Shangri-La Hotel at London Bridge Tower, in 2010.

Financing is in place for the $348 million, 1,190-room Hilton San Diego Convention Center. Groundbreaking on the hotel is expected in the near future, with a fall 2008 opening. The project has been financed completely with private funds, unlike many other large convention hotels across the country. According to the Port of San Diego, 106,000 square feet of meeting space is planned for the facility.

The next renaissance of Navy Pier in Chicago could include an indoor water park, a Ferris wheel, a hotel, a theater and a monorail system. The Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority unveiled ideas on Jan. 13 for expansion and renovation of the Pier in a master plan created by the consulting company Forrec Ltd. The transformation of the popular attraction would take years and, likely, hundreds of millions of dollars to complete; total cost and funding have yet to be determined. After a period of public input, an economic feasibility study will be conducted over the next few months. Among the elements included in the plans: an 80,000-square-foot water park, a 48,000-square-foot conference center, a new venue for the Chicago Shakespeare Theater, a floating hotel and parking facilities, a marina south of the Pier, and a monorail system that would run the length of the Pier.

The new West Building at Chicago's McCormick Place is now slated to open in July 2007, eight months sooner than originally projected, the Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority announced last week. An additional $3 million will be spent to accelerate the construction, which has been proceeding ahead of schedule due, in part, to favorable weather conditions. The expansion project is expected to cost a total of $882 million, some $30 million more than initially planned. The building will offer 470,000 square feet of exhibit space and 250,000 square feet of meeting space, including a 100,000-square-foot ballroom. Forty events already have been booked for the new building.