February 02, 2005
The boards of the London-based Institute of Travel Management and the Alexandria, Va.-based Association of Corporate Travel Executives announced yesterday a proposed merger of the two organizations, pending the approval of their respective memberships. "Nearly all the major issues facing travel management executives this year will be better addressed with a single worldwide voice and a unified membership," said ACTE president Greeley Koch. Added ITM chairman Tom Stone, "A merger of the associations will be a massive step toward ensuring our members have a single and much stronger voice in lobbying government, both at home and internationally." Coinciding with the announcement, ITM discontinued its affiliation with the Paragon Partnership, an alliance of the National Business Travel Association and other global travel management organizations that was founded in 2002. ITM plans to change its name to ACTE International U.K. On the heels of the ACTE/ITM announcement, NBTA will announce later this week that the French Business Travel Association has joined the Paragon Partnership, bringing the alliances' member organizations to 11 worldwide.

Travelocity announced yesterday an agreement with Groople Inc., a provider of online group travel reservations, that will give Travelocity customers a dedicated groups section with discounted hotel rates, group content and new planning features. "Combining Groople's expertise into Travelocity's hotel offerings is another commitment we are making to our customers' varying needs as they research and plan their trips on Travelocity, regardless of the size [of the group]," said Josh Feuerstein, Travelocity's vice president, hotels. The group booking function can be accessed from Travelocity's main hotel page. After choosing the city and dates, users select the "5+ rooms" button to proceed with a search for larger room blocks. The program provides automated rooming lists, flexible payment options and other advantages for planners. According to a spokesperson, the discount-travel site is ideal for groups of fewer than 100 people and all planners conducting initial research on rates and availability. Travelocity's primary competitors, Expedia and Orbitz, do not yet offer group-booking capabilities.

California's San Jose McEnery Convention Center debuted its renovated main ballroom this week. After the $400,000 revamp, the 22,000-square-foot space features silken wall panels that enhance the room's acoustics and aesthetics, changing color when viewed from different angles. By June a total of $1.4 million in renovations should be complete, as should a temporary, 80,000-square-foot tensile structure to accommodate that month's eBay Live! Conference.

The 362-room St. Regis Hotel & Residences San Francisco will open this July, bringing 260 guest rooms to the Yerba Buena area. The 40-story property will offer 15,000 square feet of indoor meeting space, a 10,000-square-foot spa and the haute interiors of Toronto-based design firm Yabu Pushelberg.

The Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education has released a toolkit to help CME providers navigate the recently released Updated Standards for Commercial Support. The tool kit of documents and presentations can be used to help providers understand the new rules and implement them in future programming. Click here to access the tool kit.

A Ritz-Carlton property is coming to the Turks and Caicos Islands. A planned mixed-use development called West Caicos Reserve will feature the 125-room Molasses Reef, a Ritz-Carlton Resort, along with a spa, villas, a marina and 2,000 square feet of meeting space. Guests will fly into Providenciales and take a 20-minute ferry ride to the property. The bulk of the resort should be complete in two years.

The Plaza, perhaps the most recognized hotel in New York City, will close April 30 of this year until late 2006 for renovations. Upon reopening, the currently 805-room hotel will offer only 150 guest rooms, 200 condominiums and retail space, but no meeting space. The structure of the Grand Ballroom, the Oak Room and the Palm Court will remain intact; however, the ballroom will be integrated into the retail component, and the Oak Room, though it will continue to function as a restaurant, might change names. The Palm Court will remain the hotel's dining room. Whether Fairmont will continue to manage the property has not been decided.

Darlene Armstrong, former director of finance at the Gateway Convention Center in Collinsville, Ill., was sentenced to 20 months in federal prison and ordered to pay $352,709 in restitution after pleading guilty to mail fraud for stealing from the center. Armstrong admitted to spending Gateway Center proceeds on several sport-utility vehicles, all-terrain vehicles and a plasma-screen television, among other items. "I don't have a full understanding of why I did this myself," Armstrong said at the sentencing hearing. Gateway officials said a planned $7 million, 23,500-square-foot expansion of the facility was delayed as a result of Armstrong's actions, but is now in progress.