If you get the feeling that I've been trying to push Charleston, SC in this column, you're right. I want as many of you as possible to enroll for the Society of Incentive & Travel Executives' (SITE's) first University of The Americas, which I'm chairing in Charleston from June 22 to 26 at Charleston Place, a particularly elegant and charming Orient-Express Hotel, with exciting off-site events at Wild Dunes and Kiawah Island Resort. All three properties will pull out all the stops for SITE, as will the city of Charleston, which has some first-time events up its sleeve.

I visited Charleston last month and was enthralled by its Old World/new '90s sophisticated lifestyle. Our educated caleche driver gave an in-depth spiel on the beautiful old houses of Charleston. Attendees are going to love taking one of these horse-drawn tours on their free afternoon--if they can resist playing the Ocean Course at Kiawah. What a combo: antebellum history and ocean beaches.

We're not asking you to spend your time and money to have fun (but you will). Our education program is designed to address the needs of incentive buyers and sellers. For the first time, SITE is making a big investment in a separate buyers-only program, where users will learn essential lessons: selecting an incentive house as well as a destination, budgeting for a program, doing a meaningful site inspection, and monitoring what you should expect and what you get. For years, SITE membership has been supplier top-heavy, partially because you senior-level buyers of incentive travel are usually too busy to come, or, when you have attended our programs, you've found the courses that were offered too seller-oriented. This year's buyers-only track will answer your needs, but you have to be there to provide a forum to share information with your peers. SITE has developed a Corporate Buyers Council, which has met quietly over the past two years, and some of its members will be on hand to form the nucleus of the Buyers' Forum. You just have time to enroll by calling Elyse Henry at SITE, (212) 575-0910. Registration fee is $500 for members, $600 for non-members, plus hotel fees and transportation. It'll be worth every cent to make sure you're getting the most out of your motivational dollars.

For the sellers, there will be: finding incentive business in this hemisphere and learning how to sell, service, and deliver it; finding more business overseas; developing programs that meet new needs with new components, including merchandise, cash, and personnel perks. One of our most interesting programs will be a plenary session for both buyers and sellers alike: a mock Court of Ethics, where we will present some international cases of ethics in incentive travel and have them judged by the audience as jury.

Think About It Chicago's Fire Department and the Hotel-Motel Association of Illinois have made a new, five-minute Hotel Safety video for hotels' information channels. It instructs guests on proper procedures to protect themselves during a fire: what to look for when they arrive at the hotel, examples of fire suppression systems, and when and how to evacuate a guest room in case of fire. It has already been ordered by many major Chicago and suburban hotels.

Outside of Philadelphia, in King of Prussia, PA, the Park Ridge Conference Center and Hotel at Valley Forge did a disaster recovery simulation in January, going beyond merely having a crisis management plan in place. The intensive exercise was planned by Strohl Systems, a global supplier of business recovery software and services, in cooperation with local police, fire, and emergency services, and tested every aspect of the hotel's operations. It started with an anonymous call warning that a bomb was about to go off. Hotel staff began the search for a suspicious package and local police were alerted. Alarms were sounded, and 300 (Strohl System) conferees were evacuated. At 12:30 the package "exploded," and emergency vehicles--police, fire, ambulance--converged on the hotel and a police helicopter landed on the grounds. General Manager Jim Lattin hurried to the crisis command center to answer questions from journalists covering the emergency as well as from relatives of guests in search of family members. Each department set up a separate center to ensure a flow of accurate information and deal with immediate problems. Hotel staff was divided into teams with extensive checklists to deal with the immediate crisis and work toward recovery and resumption of business. Security and engineering departments were pivotal, driving the entire recovery process. Food and beverage service was severely impacted by the following power outage, but planners of a major event scheduled for that evening were reassured that power would be restored. Telephone operators worked with security to handle calls from anxious families and were also trained to deal with threatening calls, while the front desk team took reservations manually and coordinated plans to accommodate guests at other hotels if needed. Sales and marketing team members now keep the hotel's information base secured at all times, with daily backup of all data systems, and survival kits with diskettes and booking sheets to assure business continuity. The hotel is stronger for the experience. Don't you hope that your hotel has done the same?

Conference Centers Conference centers keep getting bigger, stronger, broader all around the world. Charles (Chuck) Ocheltree, formerly director of sales and marketing for Peachtree Conference Center in Georgia, has become general manager and a partner of owner Rudy Bowen of Gold Creek Resort & Conference Center. An hour north of Atlanta, the resort sits on 1,500 acres at the foot of the Georgia mountains ("Georgia has mountains," Chuck assures me) in Dawsonville, near the famous old mining town of Dahonega. The 18-hole (nine more to come) golf course's clubhouse has a beautiful view of the Appalachians, and the hotel itself is an English manor house with guest rooms in eight villas. The huge pool has a 60-foot waterfall that flows into a lake with a gazebo beside it for outdoor functions. Even the conference rooms have lake views, as does the ballroom.

Crystal Mountain Resort, a year-round golf, ski, and conference destination 28 miles southwest of Traverse City, MI, has become a member of the International Association of Conference Centers (IACC). The resort has 184 lodging units, 27 holes of golf, 25 downhill slopes, tennis, indoor and outdoor pools, a fitness center, and conference facilities for up to 300 persons. It is also the site of Michigan Legacy Art Park, a non-profit, 30-acre park blending art with nature.

Benchmark Hospitality will operate J.P. Morgan's new nonresidential conference center next to the firm's headquarters in Manhattan. The 65,000-square-foot facility is the original J.P. Morgan landmark headquarters building directly across the street from the New York Stock Exchange. (Benchmark opened the CNA Conference Center in Chicago for CNA Insurance Company last December.)

Meanwhile, the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre in London was named "Best UK Conference Centre" for the ninth time in ten years and was honored for "Best Conference and Banqueting Staff" for the third time, and its caterer, Leiths, was voted "Best Food & Beverage Supplier." The awards were given by the UK publication Meetings & Incentive Travel.

O, Marriott Marriott has to have a separate heading all its own. It manages 28 conference centers, including Chateau Elan Winery and Resort, which recently hosted the Gene Sarazen World Open Championship Golf Tournament. It's Marriott's intention to include golf as an amenity at all new conference center developments or conversions, if possible. The President's Cup was held at Marriott's Westfields International Conference Center outside Washington, DC, and the new MeadowView Conference and Convention Center in Kingsport, TN, which opened last fall, offers The Cattails, a 6,700-yard championship golf course. This center has 196 guest rooms and extensive meeting facilities, including a 10,000-square-foot ballroom, a 3,500-square-foot junior ballroom, a 35,000-square-foot exhibit hall, a 96-seat amphitheater, and other boardrooms and meeting rooms. Marriott's Hickory Ridge Conference Center in Lisle, IL is getting a $3.2 million renovation, upgrading the 55 meeting rooms, and adding high-resolution AV screens, projectors and LCD panels, and individual work stations with PCs for the business center. Two new Marriott Conference Centers just announced will be in non-golfing locations: downtown Trenton, NJ, next to the 2,000-seat War Memorial amphitheater, and at the University of Cincinnati. Stand by, because Marriott has plans for more.

Must mention this one, too: Marriott's Orlando World Center Resort has a program called the Tee One UP Challenge, an ongoing challenge at the fourth hole of the hotel's 18-hole championship golf course. It is a par-3, 100-yard shot from the ladies' tee and plays up to 150 yards for men. It uses a video recording system that is activated when the player swipes a complimentary card at the console on the tee box prior to teeing off. Two concealed cameras are activated and record the entire shot sequence. Golfers who hit a hole-in-one at hole four win $2,500 and have a videotape of their shot to show their friends and family. More than 40,000 golfers have tested their skills and their luck since the challenge began in January 1996. But as much as ten months has passed between winners.