Part One: U.K. New Developments A recent press trip sponsored by the British Tourist Authority brought to life some of the exciting new U.K. developments of interest to meeting and incentive travel organizers. This is part one of a two-piece report, with the second part (on London) to appear in our June issue.

Our time in Wales focused on the capital city Cardiff, where billions are being spent to transform the Cardiff Bay waterfront--once a major port for coal shipping--now on the brink of becoming one of the U.K.'s most interesting urban harbors. A freshwater lake is being created, around which are new entertainment spots, hotels, and charming marinas. Leading that rejuvenation is the 136-room, five-star St. David's Hotel & Spa, which opened last January. With stunning views of Cardiff Bay (balconies in every room), this minimalist-style hotel also offers an elegant hydrotherapy spa with an extensive menu of treatments, plus eight function rooms, and a reception area for up to 300.

We hit town during the 1999 World Rugby Cup Finals, held at the new World Cup stadium, with the world's largest retractable-roof arena. The facility seats 73,500. We stopped for lunch at the new Hilton Cardiff, a cosmopolitan 197-room property overlooking Cardiff Castle and the Civic Centre. Cardiff's largest hotel, it offers a health and fitness spa, and Hilton's award-winning Meetings 2000 business services with meeting rooms and suites, a bar, restaurant, and a ballroom with a seating capacity of 350.

We also toured Cardiff International Arena, the city's largest indoor entertainment and conference venue. This flexible, multi-level facility offers many options for exhibitions, conferences, and corporate entertainment. The CIA has 5,000 rooms within five miles. Cardiff is only two hours from London by rail and a three-hour drive on the express M4. Its airport has direct flights between Amsterdam, Brussels, Dublin, Paris, and Toronto, among other cities.

We enjoyed lunch at the just-opened 400-room Celtic Manor Hotel Golf & Country Club, in Newport, Wales, a 90-minute drive from London's Heathrow Airport. The development is Britain's largest residential conference and leisure resort, and it really puts Wales on the map for American group business, including top-tier incentive and executive groups. Owned and operated by a Welsh entrepreneur, the resort's strong Celtic theme is carried throughout the interior, beginning with the huge carved dragon in the multi-level lobby. Rich red and blue fabrics and paintings, and warm cherry wood are featured throughout. The attention to design detail is matched by a five-star service that will please even the most jaded group.

The manor's convention center boasts 39 purpose-built conference suites (accommodating up to 1,500 delegates), with ISDN lines and a separate reception area. There is also a plush health spa with two swimming pools and 16 treatment rooms, plus three championship golf courses by Trent Jones Ventures. The 1,400-acre estate abuts 22,000 acres of forest.

Just outside of Cardiff is a new four-star property, the Vale of Glamorgan Hotel, Golf & Country Club, a new facility offering accommodations for small groups. We also stopped at the lovely Llanerch Vineyard, a tiny award-winning Welsh vineyard where proprietor Peter Andrews gave an entertaining tasting--a perfect complement to any Welsh meeting.

Moving on to bustling Edinburgh, home to the Edinburgh Castle and surrounding Old City, we stayed at the five-star Caledonian Hotel in the heart of the New City. A recent refurbishment of the hotel's guest rooms and period meeting rooms has fully restored this classic property.

We toured some of the city's new special-events venues, including the Dynamic Earth museum. Set against the Salisbury Crags overlooking the city, this geologically themed museum offers excellent venues throughout--as does the Hub, home to the Edinburgh International Festival. This 19th-century building, with the city's highest spire, has been given a glorious, colorful contemporary interior design. Another one-of-a-kind venue: The Royal Yacht Britannia. Used by the British Royal Family until very recently, the majestic yacht now accommodates receptions for 50 to 250 and a gala dinners for up to 90 people.

A night at the Thistle Awards, the premier tourism awards in Scotland, hosted at the Edinburgh International Conference Centre, showcased that facility's excellent conference and reception capabilities, and the many outstanding tourism programs and facilities honored that evening.

The next day involved a whirlwind tour of Glasgow. One of the busiest and wealthiest shipping centers in the world in the 19th century, Glasgow is in the midst of a cultural and economic resurgence. The U.K City of Architecture and Design in 1999, Glasgow boasts some of the finest Victorian architecture anywhere, including the lovely Kelvingrove Art Galley and Museum, a fabulous sandstone landmark available for private functions at a very reasonable cost, relative to American rates (as were all of the venues that we visited in Wales and Scotland). Another 19th-century gem on our itinerary: The Corinthian, an elegant restaurant and club with private dining and meeting rooms for groups under 100.

The city's 10,000 hotel rooms are expected to increase 20 percent by 2002, attesting to its growing popularity as an international tourism and meeting destination. Key to the latter is the Scottish Exhibition & Conference Center. A stunning conference center for 3,000 recently opened adjacent to the original facility, which debuted in 1985. The complex, along the historic River Clyde, is very adaptable and well wired, accommodating up to 10,000 for theater-style meetings and 6,000 for banquets, with 15 smaller meeting rooms.

Two more stops in Scotland included the Cameron House Hotel & Country Club, on the banks of magnificent Loch Lomond, 20 minutes from Glasgow International Airport. With 96 guest rooms, lots of outdoor recreation options, and antique-furnished meeting rooms, the estate is perfect for small conferences.

Overlooking the windswept Scottish countryside, Sterling Castle, the royal residence of the Stewart dynasty, is surely one of the most romantic castles in Europe. Its recently restored 16th-century Great Hall offers groups a one-of-a-kind ceremonial space.

The San Diego Convention Center Corp. says it is the first and only U.S. facility to offer guaranteed convention and trade show space and rates 10 years out. It also announced a new streamlined contract process in an effort to cut red tape. The new license agreement, which went into effect last month, reduces the old 21-page contract to seven, according to San Diego CCC President and COO Carol Wallace. The wordy parts that included the facilities rules and policies will now appear in a more user-friendly, stand-alone publication entitled San Diego Convention Center General Policies, Rules and Regulations. Clients who already signed contracts with the San Diego CCC will not be asked to sign new license agreements, Wallace says. She adds that clients have flexibility to cancel an event with no financial penalty if the space is resold.

Transformations Wyndham International has taken over the former Westin Canal Place in New Orleans and renamed it the Wyndham New Orleans at Canal Place. The 438-room hotel, located at the foot of Canal Street in the French Quarter, recently completed a $23 million renovation that included all guest rooms. The property offers 35,000 square feet of meeting space, a fitness center, and 12 business guest offices.

The 2,077-room New York Hilton is undergoing a $100 million renovation to its facade and entrance, as well as its lobby. The hotel is adding two new dining venues, two lounges, a spa, and more than 15,000 square feet of new meeting space, bringing total space to more than 82,000 square feet.

Financing has been secured for the Hyatt Regency Penn's Landing Hotel in the waterfront marina at Penn's Landing in downtown Philadelphia. The 350-room hotel will include 21,500 square feet of meeting space. An opening date has not been set.

The Hotel Hershey in Hershey, Pa., is building a $7 million, 17,000-square-foot spa, set to open in fall 2000. The Spa at The Hotel Hershey will incorporate the Mediterranean style of the hotel with views of the formal gardens, and will include a full fitness center. The 215-room Hotel Hershey offers nearly 24,000 square feet of meeting space.

The Adam's Mark Buffalo recently completed a renovation and expansion, making it the largest hotel in Western New York. The 486-room property now offers 72,000 square feet of meeting space, a remodeled lobby, and completely renovated guest rooms.

The Hyatt Regency Chesapeake Bay Resort in Cambridge, Md., has begun construction, with a scheduled opening of December 2001. The $152 million project will include the 400-room hotel, an 18-hole championship golf course, and a 150-slip marina. Also planned is a 24,000-square-foot conference center as well as a 15,000-square-foot health spa.