In 1997, the operators of the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre were toasting each other because their multi-million dollar hall had opened in time for the handover of the city's political control to the Chinese from the English. Unfortunately, they were also just in time for the region's economic implosion. And thereby hangs an opportunity.
The Centre's more than 500,000-square-feet of exhibit space was built with the telecoms revolution in mind. A fiber-optic network is in place to handle 10BaseT or 100BaseT Ethernet connections (sorry, no gigabit capability yet). Miles of Category 5 copper wire are also in place, just waiting for conference organizers to bring in their preferred network server and hubs. As a practical matter, there is an unlimited ability to add nodes to the network.
Phone service has not been neglected, either. There are six ISDN U-interface lines available at the Centre for bringing digital phone service in and out of the building. The Centre's tech staff is ready to add not only T1 and T3 service, but European standard E1 and E3 high-capacity lines as well.
Conference organizers needing breakout space for seminars and vertical market presentations will appreciate the Centre's 52 meeting rooms capable of handling groups as small as 11 and as large as 640, and the four convention halls that divide into a total of 10 independent spaces. The largest single hall, Hall A, offers 135,000 square feet of contiguous exhibition space.
Best of all, for organizers who want to put a lot of heavy hardware on the show floor (or maybe a family of elephants), Halls 5 and 7 share two 45-ton heavy-duty freight elevators, eight 7-ton freight elevators, and 58 loading docks. Halls 1, 2, and 3 share 11 freight elevators with 2.7-ton capacities. A huge indoor area for trucks will handle 15 container-trailers and 27 light trucks at once, and features a ramp directly to the show floor. Conference organizers from North America will be grateful for all this material-handling muscle if they bring show materials in via shipping container--in Hong Kong, dealing with container loads is a commonplace of commercial life.
The most recent tech show in the Centre was the 10,000-attendee TechWorld '99, and it provides a good example of the venue's flexibility: The event encompassed a big IT exposition, a conference on tech-startup financing, plus a series of 1,600 private sessions where entrepreneurs could try to match up with like-minded venture capitalists.
For more information, visit the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre's excellent Web site at www.hkcec.com.hk. Among the site's features is a calendar of upcoming events--where an enterprising planner might find a week to fill at a comparatively reasonable cost. --David Erickson
* Ernest N. Morial Convention Center, New Orleans, has taken another technology step, introducing wireless digital phone service in partnership with TeleCorp PCS. The service, launched in February at the Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association convention, allows event managers or exhibitors using standard wired phones in the center to have calls forwarded seamlessly to the wireless unit. The portable phones, which attendees can rent too, have e-mail and voice messaging features.
* The 770-room Sheraton Birmingham Hotel has added a 25,000-square-foot ballroom, the largest in Alabama.
The Birmingham Grand Ballroom is equipped with state-of-the-art audiovisual equipment. The Sheraton Birmingham is connected by skywalk to the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex (350,000 square feet).
* The 800-room Loews Miami Beach Hotel has opened in the heart of South Beach. The first new luxury hotel built on Miami Beach in more than 30 years, the Loews Miami Beach has six restaurants and lounges, an oceanfront free-form swimming pool, a fitness center, a children's camp, and 85,000 square feet of meeting space. One hundred of the resort's rooms are in the historic St. Moritz Hotel, which has been completely restored to its art deco splendor. Three concierge floors are available in the new 700-room tower.
* Ground will be broken this year for a $10 million, 45,000-square-foot convention center in Slidell, La., 30 minutes from New Orleans. Projected for completion by 2001, the lakefront East St. Tammany Events Center will be built on a 25-acre site. Some 1,200 hotel rooms are available nearby.
* The Memphis Cook Convention Center will begin an expansion project this spring to add 40,000 square feet of exhibit space to the existing 125,000 square feet. The Center's main building will be completely renovated. In conjunction with the renovation, Marriott Corp. has purchased the former Crowne Plaza Hotel attached to the Center, and plans a total renovation and expansion from 402 rooms to 602. Both the hotel and the Center are expected to be completed by spring 2001.
* The Grove Park Inn Resort in Asheville, N.C., is building a $13 million, 40,000-square-foot spa, to open in the spring of 2000. At that point, the 510-room property will be renamed the Grove Park Inn Resort and Spa. It offers 50,000 square feet of meeting space.
Asia Notes * Shanghai's newest hotel is also its highest, in fact, it's the world's highest. The 555-room Grand Hyatt Shanghai begins on the 56th floor of the 88-story Jin Mao Tower in the burgeoning financial center of Pudong. Guest rooms feature interactive televisions with Internet access and online financial information; high-speed data ports, and voice mail. Two ballrooms and 10 smaller meeting and conference rooms are available for groups of up to 1,200.
* Not far from the Grand Hyatt, The Pudong Shangri-La Shanghai opened last August with terrific views overlooking the historic Bund riverfront area, and 612 rooms and suites. Guests will find data ports in the rooms as well as Internet access in the hotel's business center. Extensive meeting space includes a Grand Ballroom seating 1,000 for a banquet.
* At the Ritz-Carlton, Hong Kong, 20 guest rooms have been renovated as high-tech "WorldRooms," featuring high-speed Internet access via a built-in workstation (or your own laptop). The workstation is outfitted with software suites from Corel, Lotus, and Microsoft; online news services; and WorldRoom SmartMail, a proprietary e-mail service that allows guests to access home accounts. A laser printer/scanner/fax is also provided.
Odds and Ends * The 670-room Hershey Lodge & Convention Center in Hershey, Pa., has installed T1 Ethernet connectivity to the 231 Tower hotel rooms added to the resort last year, as well the meeting rooms throughout the exhibition hall.
* In Palo Alto, Calif., a new Westin hotel is going up next door to the Sheraton Palo Alto. Both will be managed by Starwood Hotels & Resorts. The Westin Palo Alto will offer 1,500 square feet of meeting space and 185 guest rooms, of which 16 to 20 will be Westin Guest Office accommodations that feature multifunction copier/laser printer/fax, dual-line speaker phone with data port, Macintosh- and IBM-compatible computer printer cable and surge protector, desk chair, and free local phone calls.