July 21, 2004

Last Wednesday, casino giant Harrah's Entertainment agreed to buy Caesars Entertainment for an estimated $9.4 billion, including $4.2 billion of Caesars' debt. The entities are calling the agreement a merger, and it comes on the heels of the announcement in June that MGM Mirage was buying the Mandalay Resort Group. That deal was worth $7.9 billion and created the world's largest casino company, but that will change if the Harrahs-Caesars deal is finalized. If shareholders of both Las Vegas-based companies and state gaming regulators approve the merger, it is likely to be completed in mid-2005.

A name change for the International Association of Convention & Visitor Bureaus is "likely," and could occur by year's end, according to the organization's CEO, Mike Gehrisch. The move is tied to the organization's Brand Leadership Campaign, a multiphased project aimed at assisting the organization and member CVBs to "identify, develop, maintain and enhance distinctive CVB characteristics." Findings of the initial phase -- which included surveys and focus groups -- were revealed at IACVB's annual convention last week in Boston. Of note: 71 percent of consumers have not interacted with CVBs, and most respondents (with the exception of meeting planners) felt the name "convention and visitors bureau" or "CVB" was confusing. New names under consideration have not been revealed.

Los Angeles' long-awaited headquarters hotel came one step closer to reality last week when AEG, owners of the Staples Center arena, announced plans to build a 1,200-room hotel next to the adjacent convention center. The focal point of an ambitious sports and entertainment district, the hotel is expected to have 50 stories, complete with meeting and ballroom space. AEG also unveiled plans for a 300-room and a 600-room hotel to be built within the area of the Staples Center. According to AEG, construction could begin by the end of this year.

According to the Ernst & Young 2004 National Lodging Report released earlier this week, the lodging industry is performing better in 2004 over 2003, but that performance should be considered a stabilization of the market rather than a full-blown recovery. The luxury market continues to outperform other market segments. Occupancy at high-end properties will increase in 2004 to 68 percent, while average daily revenue (ADR) will increase 2 percent over 2003 to $143. In the full-service upscale segment, occupancy will rise to 63 percent, while ADR will increase 2 percent to $93. The midscale, limited-service segment will show slight occupancy growth to 59.5 percent, while ADR will rise 2 percent to $69. The report also pointed out that, while a weak U.S. dollar has increased demand for international travel to the States, demand is being undermined by strict visa regulations.

Starwood has announced plans for a W hotel in Hoboken, N.J. Set on the Hudson River waterfront, the 225-room W Hoboken Hotel and Residences will offer a 5,000-square-foot Bliss Spa and more than 11,000 square feet of meeting space. The property is expected to open in September 2006.

Kauai's 252-room Princeville Resort, a member of Starwood Hotels & Resorts' Luxury Collection, is being sold to joint-venture company Princeville Associates LLC for an undisclosed amount. A spokesperson for the seller on Monday said it is unclear whether Starwood will continue operating the hotel after the sale is finalized at the end of this year. In a statement, however, owners of the property said all 600 resort employees are expected to be offered employment as part of the sale agreement.

Hyatt Hotels Corp. last week raised its first flag in California's wine country. The 155-room Hyatt Vineyard Creek, in the center of Sonoma County, features a spa, surrounding vineyards and 18,000 square feet of meeting space.