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.” Was this just our location, in the midst of several heavy-partying 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.

Several associations aligned their events with the show this year. The National Association for Employee Recognition held its 2004 Fall Summit the first day; the Promotional Products Association Business Forum and Marketplace, for distributors, was held adjacent to the show; and an all-new Results Marketing Conference was held, with its own education track focused on target marketing.

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 for planners. 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. Situated 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, according to Jay D. Sevigny, executive vice president and COO, Gaylord Hotels.

Gaylord National will be part of a planned 200-acre National Harbor development led by The Peterson Cos. Proposals call for waterfront development of 500,000 square feet of dining, retail, and entertainment along the Potomac River waterfront, including a 2,500-seat theater for live performances.

Warren Breaux, formerly with The Gaylord Opryland, has been named vice president, sales and marketing, for Gaylord National.

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. The strongest business sectors for Monaco programs, she said, are insurance, financial, direct sales, and automotive. As well, subsequent to a $200 million expansion of Monaco's harbor, increasing numbers of cruise incentives are booking pre- or post-stays in the principality.

In hotel news, the deluxe, 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 inside a striking glass facade 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 that included 1,900 square feet of meeting space and spa facilities; the Hôtel Hermitage added 63 rooms and suites in a major renovation project completed in April; and the 89-room, 14-suite Hôtel Mirabeau recently 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. In response to the rising value of the euro against the U.S. dollar, 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, there's no luxury amenity that the 2,700-room Wynn Las Vegas Resort and Country Club won't have 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 the most basic guest rooms; the former chef of La Cirque Las Vegas overseeing banquet cuisine; and 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.

Located on the site of the former Desert Inn, adjacent to the Sands Convention Center, the resort's construction site is concealed by a sculptural wall installation of life-sized characters — white tigers, acrobats, a golfer, a shopper — trying to catch a glimpse of the resort. When the wall comes down in December, passers-by will be able to see for themselves how the behemoth project is shaping up.

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. Among the additions: four new treatments rooms and a Vichy shower, a new deluxe suite with two tables for simultaneous massage treatments, and an updated salon.

The news from the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise has more to do with meeting rooms than treatment rooms. 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: eagle, bear, fish, mountain goat, and wolf. 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

AT A PRESS CONFERENCE at the show, the Mexico Tourism Board announced the good news: 2004 looks like it will be a strong year for tourism. The 2003 figures showed 18.6 million international visitors to Mexico, with 20 percent more cruise visitors than in 2002. Other news: In February 2004, the Mexico Tourism Board launched Tasa Cero, a new government initiative to increase the amount of business tourism. In late 2003, the government passed Tasa Cero, or Zero Tax, an amendment to the VAT law for international meetings, conventions, fairs, and exhibitions; the effects that this change has had on business are still being analyzed. Finally, the government is working on a technology initiative that will disperse convention leads to 40 CVBs instantaneously, to speed up the response for meeting planners.

Singapore: U.S. 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, including the two-year-old Esplanade, which has brought a new level of vibrancy and culture to the city. The Esplanade's Roof Terrace, with fabulous views of the city, can accommodate up to 450 people for an outdoor function.Many exclusive activities are just a short drive away, including a night safari at the world- famous Singapore Zoo, where groups can view the night 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.

News from Fiesta Americana Mexico

EVERYONE IS TALKING about Fiesta Americana Grand's new Aqua, which opened in Cancun November 1. The 371-room resort is being described as “a treat for the senses,” and was designed using feng shui principles around a fresh and exciting water theme. Highlights include the Spa Aqua, with a Mayan Oriental theme, cabanas with hammocks right on the beach, three signature restaurants, and 16,500 square feet of meeting space. The ideal group size for the property is 200 people.

Other news from Fiesta Americana: The elegant 330-room Fiesta Americana Grand Los Cabos recently completed a major soft goods renovation and is adding the new Ocean Spa, as well as a new wine bar to its main restaurant. The 502-room Fiesta Americana Condessa Cancun just invested $10 million in a renovation that included all new furniture and has 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

MALAYSIA IS ONE of the best values for incentive planners, according to officials from Tourism Malaysia, with the Rinngit pegged to the U.S. dollar at RM3.8 to USD $1. The low cost for luxury resorts and services is attractive, as is the fascinating combination of Chinese, Indian, and Malay cultures. The warmth of the people, and the 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.

Nestled between the shores of the South China Sea, fronting the tropical islands and majestic Mount Kinabalu, the 384-acre Sutera Harbour Resort provides an array of activities for groups, from its five-star accommodations to a championship golf course and marina and recreational facilities, with future development of premier condominiums and bungalows. It is a favorite among U.S. incentive groups.

Another favorite is Langkawi, a cluster of 99 islands separated from mainland Malaysia by the Straits of Malacca. Surrounded by clear blue waters and amazing marine life, its main island specializes in serving incentive groups in a variety of four- and five-star accommodations.

Southwest: Building Leaders

On October 29, Southwest Airlines was honored with the annual Performance Through People Award from the Forum for People Performance Management and Measurement at Northwestern University — an event that is becoming a highlight of the Motivation Show.

Cheryl Hughey, director of leadership training, accepted the award — the perfect person to do so because she embodies the company's policy of promoting from within. Hughey started as a reservations sales agent, over time becoming manager of customer service training. Now she is responsible for selecting and training the next batch of Southwest leaders through the Manager in Training program.

Launched in 2002 as a new unit within Northwestern's Medill School of Journalism's Integrated Marketing Communications Department, the Forum for People Performance Management and Measurement develops research and education programs. Previous winners of this award include The Container Store, CDW Computer Centers, Dell, Nordstrom, Marriott, and Fifth Third Bank of Chicago.

golden carrot award

Who's the best merchandise company to do business with?

According to Chicago-based Hinda Incentives, it's Panasonic Consumer Electronics, which was awarded Hinda's first Golden Carrot Award as Best Supplier. Hinda plans to give the award each year.