August 31, 2005

Hurricane Katrina hit Gulf Coast states on Monday, battering the major convention city of New Orleans, which sits below sea level, as well as coastal areas of Mississippi and Alabama. Major convention hotels and other properties in New Orleans and the Mississippi Gulf Coast were heavily damaged and many conventions and events canceled. According to the New Orleans Convention & Visitors Bureau, "there is no electrical power for the city of New Orleans in the largest power outage in the area's history," and there is "no access to the city of New Orleans except by helicopter or boat." The NOCVB says affected group events include those of the General MacArthur Honor Guard Association, the Internal Revenue Service, the U.S. Dept. of Defense, the Community Action Partnership, the Louisiana Commission on Law Enforcement and the 106th Infantry Division Association. According to the Biloxi Sun Herald, the Hard Rock Casino in Biloxi, which was to open next week, "will have to be rebuilt [as its] superstructure was severely damaged." The newspaper also reported "at least five casinos [are] out of commission."

Starwood Hotels & Resorts signed an agreement last week to purchase the entire Le Meridien brand of hotels. According to a Starwood statement, the acquisition should be complete by the end of this quarter, at which point Starwood will take over ownership as well as management of the more than 130 properties in the Le Meridien line. Further details, including possible transformations of the general brand image as well as renovation plans for individual properties, won't be finalized until the hotel line officially changes hands this fall. "When all the pieces of the transaction come together," said Le Meridien CEO Robert Riley, "the Le Meridien brand, our hotels and our people will be poised to move forward aggressively with one of the world's most dynamic global hospitality companies. Until then we can assure our owners, partners and guests that it is business as usual at Le Meridien."

This week, the American Anthropological Association added to the mounting tally of conventions pulling out of San Francisco over union labor concerns. With Unite HERE Local 2 and the San Francisco Multi-Employer Group still embroiled in negotiations, the group moved its 5,000-attendee 2006 conference to San Jose, Calif. In a public statement, Bill Davis, the group's executive director, alluded to a 2004 contract that was moved at the last minute from San Francisco to Atlanta over the same dispute. "AAA members could not again be subjected to an eleventh-hour change that would jeopardize their annual meeting," he said. "In order to properly plan and market for the [November] 2006 annual meeting and secure an alternate location, it is necessary to make the change now." The group hopes to return to San Francisco, as scheduled, in 2008 and 2012.

On Aug. 28, W Hotels Worldwide announced plans to open the W Las Vegas Hotel, Casino & Residences in Las Vegas in 2008. At the intersection of Harmon Avenue and Koval Lane, the $1.7 billion property will feature approximately 3,000 hotel and residential units, 10 dining and nightlife outlets, retail space, a 75,000-square-foot casino, a spa, a gym and 300,000 square feet of meeting space.

Last week, Seattle rolled out a red carpet for the annual meeting and trade show of Twinsburg, Ohio-based Conferon Global Services, the nation's largest privately owned convention management, site selection and meeting planning firm. The event's 750 attendees, including 180 Conferon staff and 100 of Conferon's top clients, attended a gala at the Experience Music Project, as well as events at the Space Needle and the Chateau Ste. Michelle winery. Seattle officials hope Conferon's event drives more business for their city: "Conferon's influence is sizable on key meeting planner decision makers at associations and corporations," said Don Welsh, senior vice president of sales with Seattle's Convention and Visitors Bureau. "This is a rare chance to showcase our city to key Conferon staff who have the potential to recommend Seattle to key convention groups."

Club Med announced last week a December opening for the $60 million, 293-room Club Med Buccaneer's Creek, rebuilt from scratch on the site of the original resort, on the island of Martinique. Rooms have been designed with a French Caribbean sensibility and will have CD players, flat-screen TVs and pillow-top mattresses. The resort will also offer a fitness center, a multiuse entertainment area and a small spa. Nonstop charter flights to the island from New York City's John F. Kennedy International Airport commence Dec. 17.