May 18, 2005

A judge in Texas has recommended that the Hyatt Regency DFW pay a $375,000 fine or have its alcohol permits suspended for 75 days in finding that the hotel was complicit in the 1999 death of visitor David Clopton. After leaving the hotel, Clopton walked onto nearby International Parkway and was killed by a truck. His blood-alcohol level at the time was 0.31, 0.23 above the legal limit. The Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission is expected to accept or reject Judge Robert F. Jones Jr.'s recommendation within 30 days. If it is accepted, a date will be set for the payment of the fine; seven days after that deadline, if Hyatt has not paid the fine, the suspension will begin. "Based on our current understanding of the proposed findings, we disagree and would like to stress [that] the decision stated there was no direct evidence the hotel served alcohol to an intoxicated person," said Hyatt general manager Tom Smith in a statement. According to TABC staff attorney Tim Griffith, however, "The judge felt there was some gross misconduct, but he didn't go so far as to cancel the hotel's permits." Hyatt's Smith added, "We intend to appeal the proposed findings."

Miami's famed Fontainebleau Resort will open a sister property in Las Vegas, its parent company Turnberry Associates announced May 13. (Turnberry recently bought the Florida property.) The as-yet-unnamed megaresort will have approximately 4,000 rooms, a casino, a price tag of $1.5 billion and a 2008 opening date. The chosen site used to be the home of two famous Vegas addresses: the Algiers and El Rancho casino-resorts. Also in Las Vegas, the Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino Pavilion will open a $39 million, 60,000-square-foot expansion of its conference center on May 20. The addition brings the property's total convention space to 160,000 square feet, which includes 80 meeting rooms.

Fairmont Hotels & Resorts has taken over management of five landmark properties in Kenya: the 167-room Norfolk Hotel in Nairobi; two resorts, the 115-room Mount Kenya Safari Club and the 48-room Aberdare Country Club; and two safari lodges, the Ark, with 60 cabins, and the Mara Safari Club, with 50 luxury tents. About $25 million will be spent refurbishing the properties; they will be reflagged under the Fairmont banner in mid-2006. This is Fairmont's first venture in Africa.

The International Association of Convention & Visitor Bureaus' board has approved a business plan for a bureau accreditation program. The program is scheduled to launch in late 2006.

Yesterday, the Department of Homeland Security issued a reminder that, as of June 26, 2005, travelers visiting from 27 "visa waiver" countries will be required to have machine-readable passports in order to enter the United States. These passports must contain a bar code that can be swiped by United States Customs and Border Protection officers "to confirm the passport holder's identity quickly and obtain other information about the holder typically found on a passport's inside cover." Anyone planning on traveling to the U.S. from the 27 visa waiver countries should check with their passport-issuing authority to make sure they have a machine-readable passport. Yesterday, Roger Dow, president/CEO of the Travel Industry Association of America, released a statement saying, "Our greatest concern is that some travelers from some of these nations have valid passports but they have not been renewed and do not include a machine-readable bar code. These travelers will need to acquire a new, machine-readable passport by June 26." A full list of the visa-waiver countries is available at:

The Los Angeles Hotel Employer's Council -- made up of nine area hotes, including the Hyatt Regency Los Angeles, the St. Regis Hotel and the Wilshire Grand Hotel -- has restructured the contract it has proposed to members of the local Unite Here union of hotel employees. Among the offerings are a $1,000 signing bonus, a 20 percent raise for non-tipped workers over the four-year term of the contract and free health care. "This is a substantial offer, giving employees an unprecedented pay and benefits package," said Brian Fitzgerald, president of the council. "The time to end these contract negotiations is now, for the good of the hotels, our employees and the Los Angeles economy." The four-year contract, however, does not fulfill one of the union's key demands: a 2006 expiration date, which would align with union contracts signed already in several major cities around the country. The union has not yet responded formally, but Unite Here Local 11 secretary-treasurer Tom Walsh, speaking to the Los Angeles Times, dismissed the offer, adding, “This tells me two things: First, they can afford a better economic package. Second, and more importantly, they’re still not listening to us.”