December 17, 2003

Beginning Jan. 1, travelers to Toronto will pay an additional 3 percent per night on rooms. The charge, which will not be included in quoted room rates and instead entered as a separate billing item, is being called a "destination marketing fee" and will be used to fund a worldwide marketing program for the city. According to the Greater Toronto Hotel Association, which represents 145 properties, the fee is a necessity due to the blow to the city's lodging industry from the SARS outbreak earlier this year, when the World Health Organization placed Toronto on its travel advisory list. The GTHA estimates the damages to the hotel industry as a direct result of SARS to be $95 million.

Walt Disney World in Florida opened the first phase of its Disney's Pop Century Resort on Sunday, debuting a total of 2,880 guest rooms with a pop-culture theme. The resort's second phase, also consisting of 2,880 rooms, will open at a later date. Pop Century has no meeting space, but it can be used for group overflow. The hotel is the closest Disney resort to the recently expanded Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, 10 miles away.

The City of Chicago goes to court tomorrow against the 840-room Congress Plaza Hotel & Convention Center, to order the remediation of 68 violations of the building code found in an inspection last month. A spokesperson for the city's law department said these cases are common, though unusual for a large hotel. None of the violations should result in the venue's immediate shutdown, he added. "The hotel is in good condition," said a spokesperson for the property, adding that repairs were being made based on the code violations. A spokesperson for the Hotel Employees, Restaurant Employees International Union Local 1, which has overseen a strike at the property since June over low wages and benefits, said it will reach out to the building trade unions to keep any major repairs from being done.

A recent American Express survey of 45 corporate travel and purchasing managers found room for improvement when it comes to controlling meeting costs. While 97 percent of respondents have a corporate travel policy in place, only 32 percent have a corporate meetings policy. And of that 32 percent, fewer than half mandate meeting planners and employees to follow the meetings policy. Only 20 percent track the use of preferred suppliers, while 16 percent use a preferred hotel program for meetings. On another note, 63 percent of respondents centralize hotel searches for meetings across their organizations. And 58 percent have uniform contract addenda limiting hotel penalties for cancellation and attrition.

According to a Dec. 14 report by PricewaterhouseCoopers, U.S. lodging industry demand will increase 4.5 percent in 2004. Occupancy will increase 0.9 percent to 61.2 percent, a significant improvement over the 59.1 percent average in 2002. Also on the upswing are room rates, which are predicted to increase 1.9 percent, compared with the 2.5 percent cumulative decline since 2000. In addition, PWC anticipates continued growth for the industry in 2005, with increases in both occupancy and room rate.

The former Wyndham Montreal was reflagged the Hyatt Regency Montreal on Monday. The 607-room hotel will undergo a yearlong renovation of guest rooms, public space and dining outlets. The Hyatt has 34,000 square feet of meeting space.

The 177-room Penha Longa in Sintra, Portugal, is now a Ritz-Carlton. Next year, the hotel company will begin a $20 million renovation of the golf resort that will add rooms and a 5,000-square-foot spa by spring 2006. Meeting rooms also will be upgraded and an 11,400-square-foot grand ballroom will be added.