Not Your Father's Philadelphia Philadelphia has taken its knocks over the years, including W.C. Fields' put-down about Philadelphia and the grave. But Susan Schwenderman, director of communications for the Philadelphia CVB, recently shared the news about major developments under way, including the addition of 3,000 hotel rooms by the year 2000. According to Schwenderman, the 350-room Grand Bay Hotel, slated to open December 1999, will be among the city's most luxurious properties, with a 71,000-square-foot rotunda and a 30-story tower. The Grand Bay is along the emerging Avenue of the Arts, a $350 million revitalization effort that is turning the Broad Street area into a thriving arts district. Philadelphia was among the final contenders for both the Democratic and Republican national conventions in 2000 (as we went to press). And readers of Conde Nast Traveler have voted Philadelphia the Best Restaurant City in America, and also the friendliest. What say you now, W.C.?

Top to Bottom Quick! How many statute miles in 10 nautical miles? To find the answer quickly and to great accuracy (up to 14 decimal places), visit www.principalmetals.com/ven_Met.htm. This is the Web site of Principal Metals, where you can convert square feet to square meters or quarts to liters in a flash. The site has dozens of interactive conversions for length, area, and volume. (For the answer to the question above, see the bottom of the page.)

Turn Up the A.C. Atlantic City is maturing as a destination and drawing more of the corporate meeting and incentive market, says Marshall E. Murdaugh, executive director, Atlantic City (N.J.) Convention & Visitors Authority. To demonstrate its commitment to corporate meetings, the ACC&VA offers AC Meetings Express, a one-stop shopping service. Planners booking short-term meetings can now get dates and rates information within 24 to 48 hours by placing just one phone call. "You call us, and we'll do the 20 calls [to properties] instead of you," Noreen G. Bodman, vice president of communications, ACC&VA, said at a recent industry meeting. Over the next few years a new wave of development will dramatically increase the city's appeal, says Murdaugh. Hotel room inventory is expected to triple, bringing the total to roughly 30,000 rooms. The city is also investing more than $478 million to enhance its infrastructure and transportation capabilities.

Feeling the Pinch Member countries of the Asian Association of Convention and Visitor Bureaus spoke openly about the impact of the Asian economic crisis on the meetings, incentives, conference, and exhibition (MICE) industry at their annual meeting this summer in Hong Kong. Hong Kong reported a 21 percent drop in tourism during the period of January through June 1998 compared to the same period in 1997. Korea has been severely affected, as has Malaysia, but Thailand representatives have seen an increase in some aspects of tourism, with shopping revenues up as much as 50 percent during the first part of the year. MICE officials realize that the worst is yet to come, because intra-region travel is not expected to bounce back anytime soon. The bottom line for U.S. corporate groups: The region has never been cheaper, so there's never been a better time to book.

Banquet Doesn't Have to Be Boring Chef empowerment. That's the mantra at luxury resorts these days, where some of the world's most creative culinarians are serving up banquet fare that's anything but boring. We recently indulged our palates at two group events in New York City where top chefs presented multi-course feasts fit for a president. That's exactly who Jon Hill, executive chef at the Wigwam Resort in Litchfield Park, Ariz., used to cook for--President and Mrs. Reagan. Among the highlights of his luncheon for us: a salty/sweet salad that mixed such ingredients as marinated watermelon with prosciutto of duckling, and melt-in-your-mouth jalapeno fry bread. Although he supervises a staff of 76, Chef Hill likes to personally pow-wow with meeting executives to come up with individualized banquet menus.

We were also feted by chefs from Sonesta resorts around the world, who cooked up a storm at the James Beard House in New York. Starting with an hors d'oevre of scallop sea urchins with sunflower sprout salad and ending with a dessert of tropical fruit sushi, the food was art on a plate. "We know that people eat with their eyes," said Sonesta's corporate food and beverage director Cathy Rowe. Chocolate chopsticks, anyone?