September 28, 2005
In the aftermath of Hurricane Rita, Houston airports reopened for business on Sunday, and toll roads continue to be free until today to facilitate residents' return to the city following their difficult flight from the storm last week. No damage to convention or hotel facilities was reported. As of yesterday morning, power had been restored to all but about 100,000 residences. According to a spokesperson for the Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau, several late-September conventions have canceled, including the Texas Association of School Boards and School Administrators (scheduled for Sept. 23-26) and the National Minority Aids Council (scheduled for Sept. 26-Oct. 3). All conventions scheduled for the month of October will take place as planned. A few Houston attractions, including Space Center Houston and Blaffer Gallery, will open later this week. No hotels on Galveston Island, off Texas, suffered major damage from the storm, according to a spokesperson for the island's convention and visitors bureau. One property, the Hilton Galveston Island Resort, will not be accepting reservations until Oct. 3, although a Hilton spokesperson said the hotel is fine. In the devastated towns of Beaumont and Port Arthur, Texas, hotels such as the Holiday Inn Beaumont Plaza, Holiday Inn Port Arthur Park Central, Courtyard Beaumont and Fairfield Inn Beaumont remain closed as management continues to assess the damage. The L'Auberge du Lac Hotel & Casino in Lake St. Charles, La., close to the Texan border, is closed until further notice due to damage sustained from the hurricane. A reopening date for the 745-room property, which debuted on May 26 with approximately 28,000 square feet of meeting space, has not been set.

The Harrison County Board of Supervisors, which oversees the Hurricane Katrina-devasted gaming destinations of Biloxi and Gulfport, unanimously approved a resolution on Sept. 21 requesting that the Mississippi State Legislature amend state law to "allow casinos to move ashore within 1,500 feet of their current locations." Currently, Mississippi law states that casinos have to float; legislators quickly reassessed this provision in light of the fact that the storm destroyed all of the area's 13 casinos. The board's statement said its request would be limited to "those [casinos] possessing a valid gaming license as of Oct. 1, two days after the next scheduled meeting of the Mississippi Gaming Commission." The legislature discussed the request at a meeting on Sept. 27, but at press time, no decision had been announced.

Last week, ground was broken on Indiana Stadium, a new home for the National Football League's Indianapolis Colts being built south of the RCA Dome in Indianapolis, which will be demolished. The stadium project is the first step in a $900 million plan to expand the Indiana Convention Center onto the land occupied by the dome. Plans call for the RCA Dome to be demolished in 2008 to make room for an addition to the convention center that will add nearly 230,000 square feet of exhibit space to the facility, bringing the total exhibit space to 730,000 square feet. The whole project is expected to be complete in 2010.

For the first time in 10 years, Marriott International has launched a new guest room look for its Marriott-branded hotels. Two years in the making, the design goes beyond the new bed linens (which required the purchase of 30 million yards of white linen fabric), to include bathrooms fixtures, flat-screen televisions, furniture, amenities and in-room technology enhancements. According to Marriott, the new guest room will be rolled out brandwide by Jan. 31.

Hilton International has signed an agreement with Expedia to add its 400 worldwide properties to the online travel site's preferred hotel program. The agreement will give Hilton access to the estimated 70 million Internet travel shoppers who visit Expedia's site per month. In addition, Hilton will implement a direct connection to Expedia, which will make transactions efficient and more cost-effective for its hotels in managing inventory and hotel room rates.

InterContinental Hotels Group announced plans last week for a 550-room hotel adjacent to San Francisco's Moscone West Convention Center. The 32-story InterContinental San Francisco will offer 43,000 square feet of meeting space. Groundbreaking is scheduled for October, with an official opening set for late 2007.