Every month I put the pile of interesting items for Off My Desk in priority order. But some items never make it up from the bottom of the pile because they are not so important nor immediate; they're just interesting or fun. I've always said I was going to run a column someday called Up from the Bottom of the Pile. Here it is. (The "immediate and important" stuff is near the end.)
Japan has relinquished the honor of having the most expensive city in the world for the business traveler to Hong Kong, now exceeding Tokyo's per diem by $34 a day. Tokyo's futuristic Shinjuku area now has Takashimaya Times Square, with a 12-story Takashimaya department store, a 468-seat playhouse, 28 restaurants, an HMV music store seven stories high with 350,000 CDs in stock, a 3-D IMAX theater, and a high-tech Sega amusement center with more than ten attractions. The Park Hyatt Tokyo is a 12-minute walk away. . . . The China Hotel in Guangzhou now issues boarding passes and checks baggage for frequent business travelers commuting on Southern China Airlines to Hong Kong and other domestic cities in China from its own airline ticket and check-in counter.
Amtrak now offers Thruway Connecting Bus Service to take you from New York City's Penn Station to J.F.K. and La Guardia airports via Carey Airport Express, which runs hourly from 8 a.m to 8 p.m. New thru ticketing takes care of your entire trip (including the train) for one fare. Call (800) USA-RAIL. . . . Atlantis Submarines International ties with Norway for the 11th-largest submarine fleet in the world, ahead of 35 countries, and just behind the United Kingdom's 15. . . . The Arizona Diamondbacks begin playing baseball in Phoenix next year in the new 47,000-seat Bank One Ballpark with its retractable dome. . . . And this is no hokum: Scottsdale,AZ has broken ground for a downtown waterfront to include shops, restaurants, department stores, and recreation using its historic canals, first dug by the Hohokam Indians.
London's Royal Garden Hotel offers a private tour and spectacular dinner at neighboring Kensington Palace, whether Princess Diana, Princess Margaret, the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester, and the Duke and Duchess of Kent are at home or not. Included: impressive personal invitations from the palace, champagne and canapes in the Red Salon, a private tour of the State Apartments and Royal Ceremonial Dress Collection, and dinner in the Orangery for up to 150 persons. . . . And here's real news! The public bathrooms at the Tower Thistle Hotel by historic Tower Bridge in London have been named "Best Hotel Loo" in the British Tourist Authority's 1996-97 "Loo of the Year" Awards. Awards Director Martin Hingham described the hotel's redesigned and upgraded loos as "loos that you'd be happy to linger in!"
Hyatt Regency Beaver Creek in Colorado has outings that include llama trekking, rock climbing, hot-air ballooning, hayrides, rafting, or old-style cattle rustling. . . . Walt Disney World has set up a partnership with Grande Journeys, a Winter Park, FL luxury tour operator specializing in private jet and group travel, to tie into Disney events like EPCOT's International Food and Wine Festival, a Richard Petty driving school at Disney's new Indy 200 track, and corporate training programs at the Disney Institute. . . . A cute little book called True Grit(s): A Meeting andPlanners' Guide to the South, plugs Dillon Enterprises International's event and destination management company in Atlanta, but also includes such invaluable information as: How To Be A Southern Belle--in Four Easy Steps (big hair, big outfit, big daddy, and lots of "But darling sugar"). . . . Carnival Cruise Lines' new, 70,000-gross-registered-ton MS Elation will be the first passenger vessel to feature revolutionary new Azipod propulsion, which pulls a ship through the water rather than pushing it like conventional propulsion systems, taking up less space and making the ship easier to steer and maneuver, saving fuel and cutting overall noise and vibration. . . . Princess Cruises is accepting bookings for its Total Solar Eclipse Cruise aboard the February 21, 1998, seven-day Caribbean sailing of the new Dawn Princess, which will provide an ideal view of the eclipse 20 miles off the shore of Aruba on February 26, 1998 at approximately 2:05 p.m. The ship will drop anchor at the center line, the optimal viewing place, because the closer you are to it, the longer the eclipse will last. . . . The Maui Pineapple Company Ltd. has started tours of Hawaii's only remaining pineapple plantation with breathtaking views along the slopes of the West Maui Mountains. They are led by longtime plantation workers on yellow company vans driving into fields being harvested that day. Visitors can even pack some of their own pineapple to take home. Call the Kapalua Resort Activity Desk at (808) 669-8088 for reservations.
David Arnold of PFK Consulting in Philadelphia, financial consultant of the International Association of Conference Centers (IACC), gave some conference centers the raspberry at IACC's 16th annual meeting at The Woodlands in Texas, accusing them of having become "a generic resort." Sam Haigh, chief operating officer of Benchmark Hospitality Group,defended the need for conference centers to produce continuing revenue for owners by diversifying their business base, while putting meeting guests first. Haigh warned that the name "conference center" can conjure up an "institutional" impression that implies it is not high-end enough for executives.
An exclusive interview during IACC with Marriott's Terry Harwood, vice president of Marriott Conference Centers and Susan Morris, his national director of sales and, revealed that the chain's conference center growth rate is a whopping 20 percent a year. (There are 25 Marriott-managed conference centers to date.) Customer research has resulted in a steadily growing customer satisfaction rate, they said. Using its 15 million-person Marriott Rewards database to drive business, the company offers resort conference settings (often with golf), conference/meeting settings, or a blend. Where it does not have a conference center, it drives the business into a Marriott Hotel with conference center, such as the Marriott World Center in Orlando. Overseas, watch for a probable joint venture with a British conference center group. Marriott's management of MeadowView Conference Resort and Convention Center for the city of Kingsport, TN has led to similar for the cities of Trenton, NJ and Columbia, SC.
Burt Cabanas, president and CEO of Benchmark Hospitality Group, whose firm has 15 conference centers under management, has a joint venture with Daiwa of Japan under way and has formed a relationship with a five-star hotel in Ayutthaya, Thailand called the U-thong Inn. Its owners realized their inability to meet competition from overbuilt Bangkok, with its nearly 75,000 hotel rooms, and brought in Benchmark to convert the inn to a conference center, adding 25,000 square feet of meeting space, upgrading 207 units, and adding a 134-unit tower. In addition, Benchmark has formed a joint venture, Benchmark-Pacific Hospitality, with Pacific Assets PCL to develop and manage conference centers, conference hotels, conference resorts, and golf courses in Thailand. Pacific Assets is the owner and developer of such deluxe properties in Thailand as Le Meridien Hotel and the Phuket Yacht Club in Phuket, Le Royal Meridien Baan Taling Ngam resort on Koh Samui, and other major office, residential, and resort complexes. Cabanas is also investigating Manila, the Philippines, and developing day centers like the ones Benchmark already manages for CNA in Chicago and J.P. Morgan in New York.
President and CEO of Dolce International, Andy Dolce operates seven North American conference centers and three in Europe, and has plans for four new centers in Ireland; Orlando, FL; Scottsdale, AZ; and Orange County, CA. He will buy hotels or resorts to convert in areas where there is no conference center. He, too, is working on a project to build a day-conference center next to a hotel on the Jersey City waterfront.
Next year's IACC conference is scheduled for Oak Brook Conference Center,outside Chicago, a choice impressively announced with a seven-foot-tall, cardboard-easel reproduction of Michael Jordan dressed in a huge Oak Brook T-shirt in each attendee's hotel room.
I visited the Imperial Tombs of China Exhibition at the Orlando (FL) Museum of Art and was impressed by the museum and amazed by the objects in the show. Docents demonstrate some Chinese arts, and you can even touch some of the bricks of the Great Wall of China! After September, it all returns to China. An overnight stay at the Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress nearby was like another art show; the hotel has $1 million worth of art objects inside and out, including many unique items from Asia. Ask at the concierge desk for a guide to the art collection. For a look at the other Orlando, read Orlando's Other Theme Parks: What To Do When You've Done Disney, by Kelly Monaghan (Intrepid Traveler Publishers) at bookstores or by credit card for $14 plus $3 for shipping. Call (800) 356-9315.*