March 02, 2005

Last week, to the relief of the local and national meetings industry, the Cook County (Ill.) Board of Commissioners rejected a 2 percent increase in hotel and restaurant taxes in the county, which includes Chicago. "The wise decision by the Cook County Board of Commissioners is an example of a city recognizing the tremendous value that meetings and conventions bring to a community in both local spending and tax revenues," said Deborah Sexton, incoming president of the Professional Convention Management Association.

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey has scheduled a number of short- and long-term improvements for the three major New York City-area airports, totaling more than $300 million. Plans call for $219 million in security enhancements, including advanced perimeter-intrusion systems, closed-circuit televisions and the use of biometrics for identifying employees. Also, the Port Authority has approved a new baggage-screening program at the Continental Airlines terminal at Newark Liberty International Airport that will feature the use of CT scans on checked luggage.

Michelin, known for rating European restaurants and accommodations, will publish Michelin Guide New York City 2006, to arrive this November. About 500 restaurants and 50 hotels are being evaluated. Michelin guides offer a "comfort rating," as well as a number of special distinctions and star ratings for top hotels and restaurants.

Rhode Island has joined the growing number of states with a smoking ban. While loopholes in the statewide law do allow for some exceptions, namely the gaming areas of local casinos Newport Grand and Lincoln Park, all other venues will now be smoke-free.

Conference center news:
*Benchmark Hospitality International took over management of the Berry Hill Plantation Resort in South Boston, Va., on Feb. 24. On 750 acres, the 1842 antebellum mansion, with 12 meeting rooms, will reopen in June following some minor upgrading. A larger renovation will add 100 guest rooms (for a total of 192), a spa, an 18,000-square-foot conference center and a golf course. No timeline has yet been announced for the project.
*Dolce International, which owns or operates more than 25 conference centers, will once again manage the Lakeway Inn Conference Resort in Austin, Texas, which it ran from 1985 to 2002. The 239-room property offers 20,000 square feet of meeting space.
*The 25-acre Learning Center at Marlboro in Marlborough, Mass., has been renamed the Conference Center at Marlborough. The 223 guest rooms, which have been outfitted with high-speed Internet access, will undergo renovations this year, as will the IACC-certified conference facility that features 53 conference rooms and a 170-seat auditorium. The property is run by Aramark Harrison Lodging.

The Hilton Hartford reopened yesterday, reclaiming its old spot downtown after a $34 million revamp. Connected via skywalk to the Hartford Civic Center, the property offers 13,854 square feet of meeting space. In June, the Hilton will be joined by a new convention center and a headquarters hotel.

Continental Airlines has secured $500 million worth of annual salary and benefit reductions from unions representing its pilots, flight attendants, mechanics and others. In doing so, the carrier met a self-imposed Feb. 28 deadline, after which reductions in service and layoffs were planned. The union agreements still are subject to a rank-and-file vote.

Chicago's 84-year-old Drake Hotel, considered the grande dame of the city's hotels, will undergo a $15 million renovation that will add a 7,500-square-foot conference center, a fitness center and new amenities for the property's 537 guest rooms. A $45 million refurbishment of the Drake's guest rooms was completed in 2003.

On Monday, the Transportation Security Administration added lighters to the list of items prohibited from aircraft, and all areas beyond security checkpoints, starting April 14. The ban includes butane, absorbed-fuel (Zippo-type), electric, battery-powered and novelty lighters, although matches still are allowed. TSA will dispose of lighters brought to security checkpoints.