AS OUR EDITORS greeted guests at our booth the opening afternoon of this year's Motivation Show, a couple of people commented about how packed the aisles were. “You know,” another said, “the aisles were so crowded it took me longer to get to the booth [this year].” Was this just our location, in the midst of several popular hotel companies? Or a nonscientific sign of a business rebound?

According to show organizer Hall-Erickson, it was the latter. Total buyer registration for the show, held September 28 to 30 at Chicago's McCormick Place, reached 15,117 — a 4.4 percent increase from last year. For the first time, Hall-Erickson did an audit of its registration. “We expect this independent report to verify this increase,” said Nancy Petitti, show director.

For more about industry and supplier happenings from the show, read on.

Starwood Rebounds

WITH REVENUE UP 18 percent in the first five months of 2004, Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide is enjoying a “record rebound year,” said Bob Cotter, president and COO, at a Motivation Show client luncheon. He emphasized that Starwood intends to continue to be a strong partner to planners, even as the economy shifts to a supply-demand model that hasn't been seen in the past four years.

It won't be an easy partnership. Not only will the expected seller's market be exacerbated by limited supply — new hotel construction ground to a halt during the recession — but Internet transient pricing has changed the playing field, said Cotter. “We have to talk together about why a transient price can be lower than a group rate, and how we can set appropriate rate expectations.”

Appropriate rate expectations mean that the deep hotel discounts that have been offered to planners in the past few years are becoming history — and in the near future, planners who negotiate a rock-bottom group rate should be prepared to pay for meeting space. “We're coming into a radically different environment,” said Cotter, “and there's a lot of misinformation. It seems to me that the most important thing to be talking about is the way we talk to each other.”

The Gaylord National

IT'S OFFICIAL! Gaylord Hotels has announced construction of the much-anticipated East Coast property, The Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center on the Potomac, to open in March 2008. Sited on a scenic bluff overlooking the Potomac River in Prince Georges County, Maryland, the Gaylord National will be less than 10 miles from Washington, D.C. The 1,500-room property will feature 400,000 square feet of exhibition and meeting space. Warren Breaux, formerly with The Gaylord Opryland, has been named vice president, sales and marketing.

Monaco: New and Improved

THE TIMING COULDN'T BE BETTER: Just as new hotels are opening and existing properties are unveiling major renovations, Monaco is seeing a significant uptick in incentive programs. “2005 is going to be an improvement, but the demand is extremely strong for 2006,” reported Cindy Hoddeson, director of convention and incentive sales for the Monaco Government Tourist Office. In hotel news, the contemporary-styled 50-suite Port Palace, available for group takeovers, opened this September; a 337-room luxury hotel owned and operated by the Société des Bains de Mer will open in 2005;and a 219-room Novotel will open in 2006. Existing properties are sprucing up and expanding: 66 new rooms are set to open at Le Méridien Beach Plaza in January; the 146-room Hotel Metropole Monte-Carlo reopened in July after a multimillion-dollar renovation; the Hôtel Hermitage added 63 rooms and suites in a major renovation project completed in April; and the 89-room, 14-suite Hôtel Mirabeau added a spa and was completely redesigned in a contemporary style.

Other news: As of January 2004, many U.S. — based companies qualify to reclaim the value-added tax on business expenses incurred while in Monaco. And a new program offered by nine hotels in the principality offers a U.S. dollar pricing guarantee package for meetings and incentives held through 2006.

Wynn's Wow Factor

BUILT FOR AN ESTIMATED $1.5 billion, the 2,700-room Wynn Las Vegas Resort and Country Club won't lack for any luxury amenity when it opens April 28, 2005. A purpose-built theater for the 2004 Tony Award-winning musical Avenue Q; the only golf course on the Vegas strip; floor-to-ceiling windows and two flat-screen televisions, even in standard guest rooms; the former chef of La Cirque Las Vegas overseeing banquet cuisine; a huge spa; and deluxe guest rooms that include massage tables for in-room treatments are just a hint of the Wynn wow factor. From a practical point of view, 200,000 square feet of meeting space will include 18 meeting rooms with outdoor patios, two boardrooms equipped with state-of-the-art technology, and two ballrooms. Every guest room will have high-speed Internet access.

Canadian Rockies Fairmonts: Even More Spectacular

THE FAIRMONT BANFF SPRINGS just keeps getting more special. The resort recently spent $2.3 million on luxurious enhancements to its Willow Stream spa, which was designed over three floors to capture the magnificent mountain landscape. At the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise, a new $48 million meeting facility, the Mount Temple Wing, expands the Chateau's meeting space to 36,000 square feet. Fairmont designed the facility with cathedral-like interior spaces, including the two-story Heritage Hall, with five arched, stained glass windows that illustrate the key wildlife of Lake Louise. The new facility features a 24-hour business center, a conference concierge, high-speed and wireless Internet access, and T1 lines. There are also 81 new guest rooms, bringing the total guest room count to 550.

Mexico: It's All in the Numbers

2004 LOOKS LIKE it will be an even stronger year for tourism in Mexico than 2003, when figures announced by the Mexico Tourism Board showed 18.6 million international visitors, with 20 percent more cruise visitors than in 2002. In late 2003, the government passed Tasa Cero, or Zero Tax, an amendment to the VAT law for international meetings, conventions, fairs, and exhibitions. Other news: In February 2004, the Mexico Tourism Board launched a new government initiative to increase the amount of business tourism. Finally, the government is working on a technology initiative that will disperse convention leads to 40 CVBs instantaneously to speed up response for meeting planners.

Singapore: Incentives Are Back

THE GOOD NEWS from Singapore is that U.S. companies, especially from the financial services and insurance sectors, are once again showing interest in the Lion City as an incentive destination. For one, the level of hotels is unbeatable, with 35 five- and six-star properties, including the legendary Raffles, Shangri-La, and Ritz-Carlton. The choice of special event venues is expansive and includes the two-year-old Esplanade, which has brought a new level of culture and vibrancy to the city. Many exclusive activities are just a short drive away: among them is a night safari at the world-famous Singapore Zoo, where groups can view the nocturnal animals in their natural habitat and dine in first-class style on the zoo's tram. For something new, Ubin Island, off the eastern tip of Singapore, has a more rural, laid-back feeling and is often used by corporate groups for teambuilding programs.

Fiesta Americana Mexico

EVERYONE IS TALKING about Fiesta Americana Grand's new Aqua, which opened in Cancun November 1. The 371-room resort, with 16,500 square feet of meeting space, was designed using feng shui principles around a fresh and exciting water theme. Other news from Fiesta Americana: The elegant 330-room Fiesta Americana Grand Los Cabos recently completed a major softgoods renovation and is adding the new Ocean Spa. The 502-room Fiesta Americana Condessa Cancun just completed a $10 million renovation that added three ballrooms with space for 800 people.

Wyndham Martineau Bay: A Classic Retreat

THIS LOVELY RESORT on the north shore of Vieques, Puerto Rico, has been getting a lot of press lately, most recently an article in Architectural Digest focusing on the building design by Donald Evans and interior design by Dan Nelson. Evans came up with the idea of a great house for the 156-room resort, which is surrounded by several villas and lodges, giving every guest room an unobstructed view of water. Inside, the mood is described as “a kind of quiet internationalism” — with floor tiles from Spain, chairs modeled after Balinese originals, and tray tables made in Vietnam. More than 4,000 square feet of meeting space can accommodate groups of up to 200.

Malaysia: A Valuable Option

WITH THE MALAYSIAN ringgit pegged to the U.S. dollar at RM 3.8 to USD $1, the low cost for luxury resorts and services in Malaysia is attractive, as is the fascinating combination of Chinese, Indian, and Malay cultures. The warmth of the people and the delicious Malaysian cuisine spur incentive groups too.While groups would typically fly into the capital city of Kuala Lumpur, most incentives venture beyond to the exotic island of Borneo, perhaps to the Sutera Harbour in Kota Kinabalu, which has lots of meeting space and a fabulous location adjacent to a jungle featuring canopy walks and an orangutan preserve.