July 20, 2005
Category-4 Hurricane Emily, with winds measuring 145 miles per hour, hit the tourist spots of Cancun and Cozumel in Mexico on July 18. According to Artemio Santos Santos, executive director of the Cancun Convention & Visitors Bureau, "Most of the infrastructure was spared." A spokesperson for the CVB added, "The hotel zone is up and running, and the airport reopened at noon Monday." While many news agencies reported damage to the area, such as fallen trees, broken glass and flooding, several hotels told M&C they are largely unscathed and open to guests. Hoteliers on the island of Cozumel, which was harder hit than Cancun, say power was down but that it has been partially restored and most hotels are open or running at slightly smaller capacity. However, the InterContinental Presidente Cozumel Resort & Spa will be closed until next week after sustaining damage to its beachside restaurant and 25 of its 261 guest rooms. In the Caribbean, Hurricane Emily passed without much damage to hotels. Neither Jamaica nor Grenada reported any major damage to hotels, though the northern part of Grenada, as well as some of the small resorts on Grenada's sister island of Carriacou, were damaged.

The National Rifle Association will relocate its 2007 annual meeting from Columbus, Ohio, in protest of a new ban on the sale and ownership of assault weapons that the city council passed last week. Wayne LaPierre, executive vice president of the NRA, blasted Columbus officials in a statement on Monday and pledged to lobby the Ohio legislature to overturn the ban. "When freedom comes back to Columbus, we will come back to Columbus," LaPierre said. Joe Marinelli, senior vice president of Experience Columbus, the city's convention and visitors bureau, said the NRA was aware of the legislation being considered by the city council prior to choosing Columbus this past May. "Our organization really conducted this whole process with a spirit of full disclosure," Marinelli said. The wording of the enacted legislation would prohibit up to 25 percent of the NRA's exhibitors from attending the convention, Marinelli estimated. At a press conference on Monday, Columbus city officials, including Paul Astleford, president and CEO of Experience Columbus, and councilman Michael Mentel, expressed disappointment with the NRA's pullout. However, Mentel reiterated that such actions will not dictate the policies of the city.

The Chicago Convention and Tourism Bureau announced last week that CEO Christopher Bowers will resign his post, effective in early August, to join the Chicago-based construction equipment rental company NES Rentals Holdings Inc. Phil Stefani, chairman of the board at the CCTB, said last week he already has offered the opening to one individual who does not currently work for the CCTB. Stefani expects a preliminary agreement to be reached within the next two days or he will expand the search for a new CEO. Bowers is the latest of four executives to depart the CCTB. Deborah Sexton, formerly the bureau's president, left in March to become president and CEO of the Professional Convention Management Association; Sian Moynihan, vice president of bureau services, will become executive vice president at PCMA in August; Mark Tester, former vice president of sales, recently accepted the position of senior director of convention sales at Chicago's Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority, a partner of the CCTB. Stefani said those who have left all did so to accept opportunities they viewed as too good to pass up. "I hate to see [Bowers] leave, and I congratulated him for where he's going," Stefani said, adding he doesn't expect the recent turnover to be overly disruptive at the bureau.

Deep pockets Colony Capital LLC is buying all 41 Raffles and Swissôtel properties from Singapore-based Raffles Holdings Ltd. for approximately $1 billion. Colony said it intends to maintain the two brand identities and is creating a strategic development plan to expand globally, particularly in Asia. The purchase covers 15 Raffles and 26 Swissôtel properties, representing 12,000 hotel rooms.

The City of Philadelphia has filed a lawsuit against 17 online travel companies, including Orbitz, Expedia and Priceline, claiming the companies should be paying hotel tax on the markup they charge to customers, not just on the rate given them by the hotels. According to Art Sackler, executive director of the Interactive Travel Services Association, the markup charged is a service provided and should not be taxed. He added that the Pennsylvania Department of Revenue issued a ruling last year that agreed with the online travel companies, which has "left us scratching our heads rather vigorously." The lawsuit is similar to one filed in December by the City of Los Angeles, which is still in the discovery phase.

Struggles between San Francisco's 14 major convention hotels and Unite HERE Local 2 continued last week when union representatives rejected the Multi-Employer Group's most recent offer. Waging the same war that Unite HERE's Los Angeles branch recently won, Local 2 has pushed since late last year for a 2006 contract expiration date, which would align the city with contracts already signed in Boston, Toronto and Honolulu. While the MEG's latest proposal offered increased health-care benefits and wage increases of 30 cents an hour for non-tipped employees, the suggested contract came with a 2007 expiration date, a condition Local 2 president Mike Casey called unacceptable. "We're not going to mortgage our future for a contract in the short term," he told M&C. Mark Theis, vice president of the San Francisco Convention & Visitors Bureau, estimated a potential loss of $48 million this year from conventions canceled due to the union's continued boycotts. Last week, the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans was the most recent group to leave town, moving its 15,000-attendee convention to Atlanta at the last minute. "We can't know yet what kind of lasting blemish this period will leave on San Francisco," Theis said. The two parties are set to meet for another round of negotiations on Aug. 10.