June 22, 2005

After intense lobbying, the Department of Homeland Security last week postponed requiring 27 "visa waiver countries" (mainly located in Europe) to issue passports embedded with RFID chips containing biographic information and a digital photo of the passport holder for admittance into the U.S. The postponement came after several of the so-called VW countries claimed they were not ready to produce new passports by the original deadline of Oct. 26, 2005. Many travel and meetings trade groups argued the deadline would hurt travel to the States. The new deadline for so-called "e-passports" is now set for Oct. 26, 2006.

Reint Reinders, president/CEO of the San Diego Convention and Visitors Bureau, announced his resignation last week, to take effect when his contract expires in June 2006. Reinders, who began his current post at the bureau in 1991, has guided the bureau through numerous pivotal challenges, most recently funding cuts that whittled 2003's $13.5 million budget down to this year's $9.5 million, expected to be shaved by another $1 million in 2006. Reinders has committed to assisting in the hunt for his replacement along with a search committee.

Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide has inked plans to hoist its first Westin flag in India. The Westin New Delhi Hotel & Residences in Gurgaon is scheduled to open in 2007. The property will feature 300 rooms, five restaurants, 17,500 square feet of meeting space and a 16,000-square-foot health and spa center. Another 150 units will be devoted to high-end two-, three- and four-bedroom residences.

The Rihga Royal, a 505-room hotel in Manhattan, gave up its JW Marriott flag on Friday. The hotel was bought by Blackstone Real Estate Advisors, is now managed by the Boca Hospitality Collection (the team behind the Boca Raton Resort & Club) and will be renovated within the year.

Kansas City (Mo.) Convention Center officials broke ground on Friday for a new ballroom with 46,500 square feet of exhibit space. The ballroom and accompanying outdoor public plaza are expected to be available for events by June 2007. The new construction is part of a $135 million multiphase expansion and renovation project at the convention center, which already has updated its 200,000 square feet of meeting space and municipal auditorium.

On June 20, Osceola County Commissioners voted to suspend discussions for developing a convention center in Kissimmee, Fla. The project was to include an 800,000- to 1 million-square-foot convention center and an 800-room headquarters hotel. The commissioners also failed to consider expanding Kissimmee's Gaylord Palms Resort & Convention Center to double its meeting space to approximately 800,000 square feet. According to the commissioners, both projects stalled due to the need to conclude a study examining "the use of tourist-development taxes." A Kissimmee Convention & Visitors Bureau spokesperson said that both proposals are likely to be discussed again but could not say when.