November 09, 2005

ICPA, An Association of Insurance and Financial Services, will have a new name: Financial & Insurance Conference Planners. The measure was approved by more than two-thirds of the members and ratified by the board. The new name was revealed Tuesday at ICPA's Annual Business Meeting and Exchange, held during the organization's annual conference in New York City.

Last week, Denver voters approved a 1 percent increase to the city's tourism tax. Rising from 13.85 percent to 14.85 percent beginning Jan. 1, the tax will provide extra funds to the Denver Metro Convention and Visitors Bureau to market the city. The bureau expects a windfall of about $4 million a year.

The Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group announced on Nov. 2 that it will manage a new 400-room hotel in Las Vegas. Part of the 18 million-square-foot Project CityCenter, a hotel and entertainment complex being developed by MGM Mirage, the Mandarin Oriental Las Vegas will open in late 2009 and consist of a 37-story hotel tower, seven restaurants, a 30,000-square-foot spa and 40,000 square feet of meeting space, including two ballrooms.

Baha Mar Development Co. announced on Nov. 7 details of its $1.6 billion Baha Mar "resort metropolis," to open in 2010 in Nassau, The Bahamas. Harrah's Entertainment will own and manage the 1,000-room Caesars Baha Mar, complete with casino. In addition, Starwood Hotels & Resorts will own and manage a 700-room Westin, a 700-room Sheraton, a 300-room St. Regis, a 300-room W hotel and a Bliss spa. Also in the plans will be extensive sports facilities, a 20-acre water park, a Jack Nicklaus-designed 18-hole golf course and a Caribbean village with restaurants, entertainment venues and 200,000 square feet of meeting space. Groundbreaking will take place in 2007. Currently at the site are the Radisson Cable Beach Resort, the Nassau Beach Hotel and the Wyndham Nassau Resort-Crystal Palace Casino, all of which will be torn down when construction on Baha Mar begins.

Last week, Chicago filed suit against more than a dozen online travel booking companies alleging they have failed to pay the city's 3.5 percent hotel tax in full. Expedia, Orbitz, Travelocity and are among the 17 defendants. The suit charges that online companies buy rooms from hotels at discounted rates, sell them to consumers at a higher price and pay hotel tax based on the lower price the company paid to the hotel, rather than the higher price the company received from the consumer. A spokesperson from Chicago's city law department said the suit does not specify what the city estimates its losses to be but did say it is "in the millions," and part of the purpose of the suit is to force full financial disclosure from the companies. Chicago is the third major U.S. city in the past year to sue online booking companies over hotel taxes, joining Los Angeles and Philadelphia.

Le Meridien Chicago became a Conrad-branded Hilton property upon completion of the sale of the hotel by London-based Le Meridien Hotels & Resorts to an affiliate of Chicago-based Lodging Capital Partners late Monday afternoon. A spokesperson for Le Meridien declined to comment on the sale price; however, the Chicago Tribune, citing sources close to the deal, reported the hotel commanded more than $80 million. The Conrad brand is part of the Beverly Hills, Calif.-based Hilton Hotels Corp. portfolio. The hotel, currently known as the Conrad Chicago, has 311 guest rooms and 12,000 square feet of meeting space.

Gaylord Hotels won exclusive negotiating rights last week for a major parcel on San Diego's Chula Vista Bayfront. The company, famous for its mammoth convention resort properties in Nashville; Kissimmee, Fla.; and Grapevine, Texas, and with a Washington, D.C.-area property on the way, hopes to bring a 1,500 to 2,000-room hotel and a convention center with up to 500,000 square feet of space to Chula Vista. If Gaylord and the bayfront commission agree on the terms, the resort will anchor a 550-acre waterfront development.