Air Consortium Signs Regional Carriers Business Travel Contractors Corporation (BTCC) is pursuing its goal of "more rational," less costly business travel airfares through new agreements with two low-fare airlines plus a proposal to promote low-fare airlines' entry into markets dominated by the majors.

BTCC President Kevin Mitchell expected to sign contracts in May with Frontier Airlines and Reno Air for airfares that exclude commissions and credit-card costs and are guaranteed for six months. The deals are based on revenue guarantees by members of BTCC, a buying group composed of U.S. corporations purchasing about $1 billion a year in business travel.

BTCC, based in Lafayette Hill, PA, has a fare agreement in place with Southwest Airlines, and has continued to pique the interest of the major carriers. None has yet signed on, though Mitchell says the consortium got "extremely close" to an agreement with Continental Airlines. "When the time is appropriate, we will go out [to the majors] with another proposal," he says.

The Frontier and Reno agreements, he adds, do not represent a change in strategy toward low-cost carriers. Mitchell attributes much of the major carriers' resistance to BTCC's proposals to high load factors, currently at about 70 percent. "Even if the majors are comfortable dealing with a group, they're still thinking, 'We don't have to do this,' " he says. "We are moving toward our endgame by employing other kinds of strategies."

One of those strategies involves BTCC underwriting the low-fare carriers' entry into what Mitchell calls "hostage" markets--those served exclusively by one or two major carriers. "We would identify the market and the corporations it serves, sit down with the carrier and ask, on every 100 seats, how many do you need guaranteed to cover your costs?" Mitchell says.

This spring, BTCC expects to reach agreements with three low-fare carriers to enter the Philadelphia, Cincinnati, and De-

troit markets. Agreements of this kind will neutralize the majors' ability to prevent competitors from entering new markets or from being driven out of markets they're in, Mitchell believes. "The frustration is so deep and so wide that just having one of these agreements launched will put everything in motion," he says.

He also has attracted the attention of lawmakers and representatives from the Department of Transportation and the General Accounting Office, many of whom will discuss the issue at a Washington, DC "summit conference," scheduled to get under way around press time.

-Robin Amster

IACC Keynote: Conference Centers Must Get Connected Meetings will continue to fill conference centers in the coming years, but meeting participants will demand continuous contact with headquarters and affiliates all over the the world by e-mail.

So said technological guru Elliot Masie of The MASIE Center think tank in Saratoga Springs, NY, who held the nearly 500 attendees at the 16th annual meeting of the International Association of Conference Centers (IACC) rapt with his predictions. Most learning will occur on the Internet, he said, allowing participation by those who can't attend meetings in person. Masie urged conference centers to add Internet access with enough bandwidth to handle users in guest rooms, meeting rooms, the lobby, and on golf carts.

The IACC meeting, held at The Woodlands (TX) Executive Conference Center and Resort in April, also featured David Arnold of PKF Consulting in Philadelphia, who told attendees that a "real" conference center must provide the kind of service and attitude that hotels, which try to satisfy many markets, can never provide.

Arnold, IACC's financial consultant, recommended, however, that conference centers expand their business by offering Complete Meeting Packages at a different price-value level for meetings that don't need "Ritz-Carlton buffets." Arnold also observed that conference centers are obvious targets for purchase by large chains and/or publicly held companies. "There are discussions going on as we speak about the acquisition of most major conference centers," he said, predicting that by next year's IACC meeting, many centers will be under new ownership.

IACC's 1997 Mel Hosansky Award, which recognizes an individual who has played an exceptional role in advancing awareness of IACC and the industry, went to Andy Dolce, president and CEO of Dolce International. --Connie Goldstein

Meeting Industry Lobbyists Hit Washington, DC 1997 Legislative Action Day participants

Over the blare of recorded music at Washington, DC's Planet Hollywood Restaurant, participants in the fourth annual Meeting Industry Legislative Action Day (MILAD), on March 6, traded notes between visits to Congressional offices. Sponsored by Meeting Professionals International (MPI), MILAD brought together 331 meeting planners, hoteliers, association officials, and convention and visitor bureau representatives. Their chief lobbying issues: increased funding for the U.S. National Tourism Organization (NTO), support for a traveler safety program, and an increase in the tax break for business meals and entertainment.

Last year the meetings industry (along with other tourism organizations) helped convince Congress to pass legislation setting up a public/private partnership to run the NTO, which replaced the U.S. Travel and Tourism Administration.

This year MILAD lobbyists focused on supplementing the NTO's current meager funding. Proposals for additional funding sources included an airline departure fee (possibly reflected in the ticket price), a fee paid at the airport by both Americans and foreign travelers, or a passport fee. If no permanent financing is found by October 1998, the NTO will be forced to fold up its tent.

MPI's agenda called on Congress to restore the business meal and entertainment deduction to 100 percent--or at least bring it back to 80 percent. LeeAnn Harle, an independent meeting planner from Dallas, told Rep. Ken Bentsen (D-TX) that the business meal deduction encourages her to make deals over lunch, keeping her business competitive with firms having large promotional budgets.

Since there is little chance of an increased tax break without a revenue offset, MPI's defensive strategy is to protect the existing 50 percent write-off. Rep. Charles Bass (R-VT) and other House members contacted during MILAD appeared open-minded, asking delegates such as Kelli McCann, meetings manager of the Society for Human Resource Management, in Alexandria, VA, for numbers on the economic impact of raising the tax deduction to 80 percent.

Last year, MILAD drew 250 people to Washington, representing ten associations. This year, an 11th organization, MPI's Potomac chapter, joined MILAD as a sponsor and fielded 55 delegates. -Roland Leiser, Washington Correspondent

NEMICE: Biggest Ever The 1997 New England Meetings Industry Conference & Exposition (NEMICE) drew more than 1,200 attendees to the World Trade Center Boston in April--the biggest NEMICE ever.

Among the highlights attracting the 500-plus meeting planners: a lively, informative keynote from Richard Whiteley of The Forum Corporation, a Boston-based consultancy; educational sessions on legal issues, planning basics, and small meetings; and some 350 exhibiting companies.

Mike Bloy, director of sales for the World Trade Center, welcomed attendees to Whiteley's keynote address. By spring 1998, he said, meetings held at the World Trade Center will have a new, 427-room hotel to book--The Seaport Hotel, owned and managed by the World Trade Center.

Whiteley spoke on customer-centered growth, highlighting the performance of such customer-focused and employee-

focused companies as Saturn, Southwest Airlines, and New England's own Malden Mills. "We're in a period of massive change," he said. "And it's not going to go back to calm." The challenge for organizations is to maintain their "laser focus" throughout the turmoil.

Following the keynote, Scott Corey, past president, Meeting Professionals International (MPI) New England chapter and director of marketing for the Sonesta Beach Resort Bermuda, presented the first-ever NEMICE Founders' Award to Michael J.C. Neagle, vice president, The Bay Tower Room & Club in Boston. Corey thanked Neagle for his key role in creating NEMICE.

New Net Resource Representatives of New England CVBs were happy with the results of a poll taken during a morning NEMICE session, moderated by Leslie Mathieu-Hogan, vice president of marketing, Greater Boston CVB. The poll of planners attending the session revealed that

* 65 percent prefer to work with suppliers who have e-mail.

* 35 percent use the Internet frequently to do research.

* 100 percent of those who never use the Internet for meeting research do not have Internet access.

In June, the New England CVBs will launch a Web site called MeetingPath, at www.meetingpath.com, where planners can get information from 2,000 New England suppliers and send those suppliers information about their own meeting requirements. A planner using the site would create a list of potential suppliers--hotels, for example--that meet his or her meeting criteria. The planner would then send RFPs to that list. Those suppliers would send back a yes-or-no response, along with the date they expect to e-mail a proposal to the planner.

NEMICE is sponsored annually by MPI/New England, in association with the New England chapters of several other meeting and hospitality organizations.

Airlines Reconsider Passing Tax to Travelers Airfares took a roller-coaster ride this spring following the industry's attempt to pass on the reinstated ten percent ticket tax to consumers earlier this year. When the ride ended, the major carriers had settled on a four percent hike in fares.

This latest airfare drama was triggered by a Congressional vote in March to reinstate a package of ticket taxes that expired December 31. The tax package, used to fund airport safety projects, includes a $6 per ticket tariff on international departures and a 6.25 percent tax on domestic air cargo. When Congress allowed the ticket tax to lapse at the end of 1996, the airlines got a windfall by maintaining fares, most of which they had raised by ten to 20 percent in late December in anticipation of the expiration of the tax.

Following reinstatement of the ticket tax, American Airlines and Delta Air Lines raised fares on most routes by another ten percent. Both carriers backed off when Northwest Airlines refused to match the increase and instead boosted its fares by four percent. United Airlines and Continental Airlines also retreated from their ten percent increase and instituted a four percent hike.

Airfares had been continuing a year-long rise before this latest increase. Among the reasons: strong demand, limited capacity increases, and less competition from low-fare carriers. The higher fares, coupled with heavy traffic, has led to record airline profits. But fuel costs have also risen and many airlines--particularly American with its ongoing dispute with its pilots--are contending with rising labor costs as well.

Hotels Lure Business Guests With E-Mail Boxes, Rubber Duckies * As hotel rates continue to climb, many properties appear to be looking for ways to help you believe you're getting what you're paying for. Look for deluxe amen-ity packages and other new services. Here is a sampling:

* No surcharge for local and 800 calls. Many hotels are trumpeting this long-awaited guest-bill relief. Among them: the Wyndham Anatole Hotel, all 26 Canadian Pacific Hotels, and the San Juan Marriott.

* The Park Hyatt Los Angeles and the Ritz-Carlton, Tysons Corner in McLean, VA, have introduced new, personalized room amenities. The 367-room Park Hyatt offers a range of packages from the "bath turndown" (rubber ducky, loofah, bath salts), to the "movie turndown" (candy, popcorn, soda, and your choice of two movies). At the Ritz-Carlton, Tysons Corner, the "fiesta turndown" gets you tortilla chips, dip, and Mexican beer, while the "health nut turndown" offers bottled water, granola bars, trail mix, and fruit.

* The Buena Vista Palace Resort & Spa at Walt Disney World Village has introduced Direct Inward Dialing (DID), a new system that allows people to phone directly into guest rooms. Callers bypass the hotel operator so guests receive faxes (with hook-up of a fax machine or computer with fax capability) and e-mail (for guests with computers) directly in their rooms.

* A new "Extended Office" allows guests of the Hayes Conference Center to forward e-mail to a personal mailbox at the San Jose, CA property. Personal in-room computers feature a full range of office software and an Internet browser. The new service, developed with Hewlett-Packard and Netscape, is available in the center's 135 rooms and 15 meeting rooms.

* Frequent Hilton International corporate guests will soon be able to be contacted at a single global number that will automatically follow them to any of 160 chain properties. The new system, called HINet, is the result of an agreement with Australia-based Telstra. The initial roll-out of HINet is already under way in Asia-Pacific and European properties.

* And, finally, The Casablanca, a New York City boutique hotel, has begun serving complimentary daily grape juice to guests, after news that "flavonoids" found in grape juice (and red wine) could help prevent blood clots. Bottoms up!

International Meeting News For the first time, Asia will host the Society of Incentive & Travel Executives (SITE) annual conference. Some 450 attendees from Europe, North America, and Asia are expected to converge at the Westin Stamford and Westin Plaza hotels in Singapore in December to learn about "Motivating in the New Millennium." Call SITE at (212) 575-0910.

The Pan Pacific Hotel Singapore, in conjunction with NEC Singapore, is putting a computer in every room at the Pan Pacific Hotel Singapore--and, eventually, in all Pan Pacific Hotels worldwide. The computers will allow guests not only to do business in their rooms but also order breakfast, request shoe-shines, or confirm air reservations. The first 100 computers went on line in April, with 600 more expected to be installed by July. A ready-made Swiss meeting package is available for $1,499 per person, from November 2 to December 7, 1997 and January 4 through April 28, 1998. The package includes roundtrip air on Swissair; four nights at the Palace Hotel, Lucerne; transfers; most meals; meeting space; coffee breaks; and sightseeing tours. The package is offered by Swissair and the Palace Hotel, Lucerne, along with Conferences International, Inc. Call (800) 221-8747.

Some 75 people attended the first Beyond Borders Conference, an educational forum for planners and suppliers of international meetings, incentives, and events, held at the New York Hilton in March.

Co-sponsored by Adams/ Laux Publishing, publisher of Insurance Conference Planner and four other meetings magazines; and PGI, a global events, entertainment, exhibitions, and business communications company based in Arlington, VA, the conference was a spin-off of Adams/ Laux's popular Beyond Borders magazine supplement on planning international meetings and incentive programs, published annually in June.

Meeting planners, who made up at least 50 percent of attendees, represented a cross-section of Adams/Laux's readership, including Motorola and Prudential Securities on the corporate side and the American Chemical Society and the American Payroll Association on the association side.

Virginia Lofft, vice president and publishing director of Adams/Laux, and C.B. Weismar, senior vice president, corporate marketing & commu-

nications, PGI, opened the conference with congratulations for attendees on their global outlook and forethought in entering the international meetings arena.

A dozen topics were covered in the day-and-a-half seminar, presented by experts including Conference Chair Anne Boehme, CMP, president of Meetings & Management Plus; Jonathan Howe, Howe & Hutton; and Kathleen Papadimi-

triou, president, Safaris/ PGI.

Sponsor Shangri-La Hotels, with deluxe properties throughout Asia, provided registration materials, including a bound workbook and a copy of luncheon speaker Roger Axtell's Gestures: The Do's and Taboos of Body Language Around the World.

Based on attendee evaluations, Adams/Laux plans to hold the Beyond Borders Conference annually. -Betsy Bair

METCON Tackles Technology Controversies METCON (the Meetings and Exhibitions Technology Conference)--the first joint meeting of the American Society of Association Executives (ASAE) and the Professional Convention Management Association (PCMA)--provided a forum for meeting planners frustrated with the future of meeting technology. A fitting symbol of that frustration was the announcement during METCON, held April 9 to 11 at the Rosemont (IL) Convention Center, of more delays in the release of PlanSoft's

Ajenis software for the electronic exchange of meeting information between planners and hotels, now planned for a summer release.

Meanwhile, after a breakup with the PlanSoft Ajenis Limited Partnership, Arthur Esch, chief scientist for Maryland-based Meetings Exchange, Inc., announced that Meetings Exchange, a Web site where planners can connect with convention and visitor bureaus, hotels, and suppliers of all kinds of meeting-related services, was to go online May 1 at http://www.mxi.net.

Sounding off at Friday's general session, attendees and panelists underscored the desperate need for industry standards. "Associations such as ASAE, PCMA, and Meeting Professionals International (MPI) have to provide leadership," declared panelist Ed Paradine, former brand vice president, Marriott Convention & Resort Hotels, and now general manager, marketing vice president with the Atlanta Marriott Marquis. "Those associations have to come in without a profit motive and decide on a common highway," he continued, drawing audience applause. "We need to link these three associations and provide a common platform."

Taking up that theme, Taylor announced that the Unity Team, composed of representatives of several meeting industry associations, would meet to discuss standards May 29, during the Greater Washington (DC) Society of Association Executives Springtime in the Park trade show.

METCON drew nearly 500 participants, including 206 meeting planners/association executives and 224 suppliers. Next year's METCON is set for April 1 to 3 at the Sheraton Gateway Atlanta Airport and the Georgia International Convention Center. --Tamar Hosansky

Briefings Beat Gossip Look at the bulletin board. There's nothing here. No announcements, no statements. It's your worst nightmare. Classic management technique."

So declares an employee in a scene from "The Grapevine," the newest video from comedian John Cleese's Video Arts training company. Believing that he and his department are about to lose their jobs, this employee spreads his panic to his coworkers, and eventually even to departments that have been informed about their company's plans. Employees begin thinking that, even though they've been told their jobs are safe, they've got it wrong.

Clear, open, regular communication with all employees is the only way to keep gossip from running rampant, the video teaches. It's a lesson insurers should pay attention to. With many companies still in the midst of mergers and restructurings, company briefings ought to be a regular feature of office life. If they're not, this video (which comes with a discussion booklet and guide) shows what your company is putting at risk--its best employees, who might jump ship, and the motivation and loyalty of the staff as a whole. Call Video Arts at (800) 553-0091.

City Harvest Centerpiece: Decorate a Table, Feed the Hungry A clever meeting planner might get several uses out of a meeting's table centerpieces. Well, what if your centerpieces fed the hungry, got attendees networking, and garnered positive feelings (and tax deductions) for your company?

Consider City Harvest's edible centerpieces, designed by Christina Cerciello. After your program, the produce goes to hungry New Yorkers. "Quality produce is desperately needed to improve the diets of hungry people," says Julia Erickson, executive director of City Harvest, a nonprofit food rescue group based in Manhattan.

Centerpieces cost between $100 and $200 and come with a table note explaining the purpose of the creation--a great icebreaker.

For New York meetings, call John Krakowski at

(212) 463-0456. Or, call Foodchain at (800) 845-3008 to find the food rescue organization in your meeting city.

Insurance News * "What the heck is insurance anyway?" That was just one of the 15 workshops offered by Chicago-based CNA Insurance when hundreds of kids descend on its offices for a day in late April. In 1996, 700 children aged 9 to 18 arrived for the CNA Kids Day at Work to see what their parents do on the job--and at least that many were expected again this year.

* The 1997 Field Management Seminar (FMS), offered by the Life Insurance Marketing Research Association (LIMRA), is scheduled for 100 locations in the U.S. and Canada on June 18. Sponsored by the Agency Management Training Council (AMTC), the seminar is called "The Power Launch: Selecting and Coaching New Peak Performers." For information on locations, call LIMRA at (800) 285-7728.

* Michael Halloran, field director for the Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Company in Jacksonville, FL has received the R. Gordon Setchell Award, the most prestigious service award given by the AMTC. He received the award at the annual meeting of the General Agents and Managers Association in Orlando in March. Halloran was recognized for work on AMTC programs such as the Agency Management Training Course and Field Management Seminar in western New York and Jacksonville.

* More than 50 speakers are scheduled for the 1997 Million Dollar Round Table (MDRT) Annual Meeting June 8 to 12 in Atlanta. Sessions will be held on sales, management, and life balance topics. Call MDRT at (847) 692-6378 or check out the meeting information at its Web site: http://www.agents-online.com/MDRT/ annmtg/index.html.

* The life insurance industry's Life Communicators Association (LCA) is on the LIMRA International agenda this fall. LCA's past president, Charles "Larry" Larance, has been invited to lead a workshop on the importance of communication planning to give LIMRA's marketing officers a better sense of the critical responsibilities of the communications department--from designing product literature and recruiting materials to planning sales incentives and public relations events.