If you read this before June 22 (well, at least a week before), there might still be room for you to attend the Society of Incentive & Travel Executives' first University of The Americas in Charleston, SC at the beautiful Charleston Place Hotel. We have a really good, practical program planned, with a separate corporate users track for the first time. Call SITE quick at (212) 575-0910 to register.
Tourism is setting new records everywhere, with U.S. hotel figures for 1996 at their highest in tracking history. Worldwide, the World Tourism Organization (WTO) reports that international tourism grew by 4.6 percent in terms of arrivals and 7.6 percent in terms of earnings. Europe is still the world's top tourism region, and France the most visited destination in the world, but the U.S. is the top earner from international tourism. Spain showed the steadiest growth, and China was moving up fast.
An important campaign has been initiated by a WTO task force, which includes Ghana, Egypt, India, Venezuela, Germany, Sri Lanka, Brazil, and Thailand, against child prostitution. One million children in Asia alone are involved in the sex trade worldwide, and many of them are exploited by foreign tourists. Brazil says such tourists will wind up in jail. Thailand has stiffened laws on child prostitution, which it says is against its laws and the precepts of the Buddhist religion. Group leaders are being asked to cancel theiranywhere that there is evidence of child prostitution on the premises.
Hotels are doing well, but that doesn't mean they aren't competitive. Clarion Hotels' new Explore the World meetings program actually guarantees your 100 percent satisfaction with all aspects of your meeting at "a stated level of service as contracted," including banquet service, meal quality, and room set-up. If they can't fix it to your satisfaction in a timely manner, you will not be charged for that item or service. Their hotels will offer standardized meeting packages for themed breaks, room rentals, amenities, and services on a scale from basic to executive, though prices will vary by location. Their new Meeting Planners Club offers a variety of benefits, including discounts and the possibility of winning a trip for two around the world. Each of their participating hotels will be certified after being visited by consultants, who are training banquet and service staff directors to train their fellows. They're going to train the planner, too, with new checklists that will prompt you to ask the right questions to assure your own best interests. Clarion's new International Meeting Services Department promises one-stop shopping at (800) 426-2121. John Onorio, Clarion's new vice president and brand manager, says, "We are prepared to put our money where our collective mouths are: to talk the talk and walk the walk."
Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts of Asia has just made its extra privileges and services standard for guests who book rooms at nondiscounted rates at all its city hotels. These automatically include free round-trip limousine service, American breakfast, dry cleaning and laundry service, local telephone calls, all fax and IDD calls at cost, and late checkout to 6 p.m.
Wyndham Hotels & Resorts has introduced The Fun's on the House group package for its resorts in Jamaica, St. Lucia, Aruba, Puerto Rico, St. Thomas, and Breckenridge, CO. Good for meetings booked through December and held by the end of 1998, it lets you choose a complimentary reception or comp buffet dinner (depending on group size and requiring a four-night minimum stay). All Wyndham Hotels & Resorts now offer free long-distance phone access, complimentary copies of USA Today, data ports, voice mail, and irons and ironing boards, at no premium price.
Marriott's Meeting Planner Bonus promotion that started at its Casamagna Mexico resorts in Cancun and Puerto Vallarta last year, has been expanded to include six more Marriott resorts in Aruba, Bermuda, Nassau, San Juan, and Kauai and Maui, HI. The first 45 planners who book a group of 125 or more room nights at each property will get a free seven-day, six-night vacation including airfare on American Airlines. The meetings have to be booked by December 15; call Marriott's Resort Desk at (800) 223-6388. . . . Hilton International gives planners who book meetings at any of its properties for 50 room nights a HI Performance Award Certificate good for a five-day/four-night vacation for two at any of its hotels worldwide, but the air's on you for this one.
Las Vegas has become the first destination in the United States to surpass the 100,000 mark for hotel and motel rooms, with visitors in 1996 surpassing the 30 million mark, double that of ten years ago. Now, Paramount Parks and the Las Vegas Hilton are opening Star Trek: The Experience at the Las Vegas Hilton, where visitors to the "24th century" will experience a motion simulator that uses a six-axis motion platform and a movie that surrounds the participants; a full-scale re-creation of the promenade from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine[superscript](R); a full-service Starfleet restaurant; and, of course, the largest collection of Star Trek merchandise in the universe.
"Happy New Year" to Hong Kong as it makes its new start as a Special Administrative Region (SAR) of China on July 1. The first 100 days will be marked by promotions, parties, and special events, while the fantastic new Chek Lap Kok Airport (built out of the sea) will open next April. Hong Kong's SAR Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa has pledged his full support to the further development of the tourism industry in Hong Kong, which is one of the area's most important service industries as well as one of its biggest foreign exchange earners. Many new attractions are planned for the area. Those of us who have visited the "most popular travel destination in Asia" over the years and love many people there wish them a good new year in every way.
Got to be a visitor in New York City this month to moderate a program on international meetings for Meeting Professionals International of Greater New York (MPIGNY), at the invitation of Kerstin Nordin of the Finnish Tourist Board, MPIGNY's International Relations Committee chair. Thanks to Michael Chang of the Hong Kong Tourism Association, Ann Boehme, CMP, of Meetings & Management Techniques, and Richard Kaback of Don Jagoda & Associates for a lively and interesting discussion. The audience had lots of questions, particularly about customs (the import kind, not cultural) and using audiovisual presentation methods abroad. A lot of the technical answers were supplied from the floor by Keith Goldstein of Merrill Lynch.
Got a special invite to try Inagiku, the renewed Japanese restaurant at the Waldorf-Astoria, which had always been a favorite of mine. (Your guests can eat the raw stuff, but there's plenty of authentic cooked stuff for sissies like me.) The interior has been redesigned by Adam Tihany (in New York, that's the magic name, and it cost $1 million) and the new-style Japanese cuisine was developed by Chef Haruo Ohbu after a culinary tour of Japan. Try the Kagomori lunch, served in a beautiful basket decorated with orchids and containing shrimp whose veins have been replaced by a mixture of avocado and wasabi, lobster tempura, tuna sashimi, California roll, steamed asparagus, and beef negima. At $28 at the Waldowf, in New Yawk, it's a bah-gan. The private tatami rooms designed by Tihany with Japanese architect Hirokazu Kominami are classic and lovely; two combine to seat up to 18 people while three smaller rooms accommodate four to six.
Stayed at the former Tudor Hotel on East 42nd Street, which just became the Crowne Plaza East (it was completely redone very attractively a few years ago). I'll bet Crowne Plaza doesn't even know yet what it has in Enid, the pianist and singer in its uncrowded lobby lounge, an elegant oasis of quiet charm in the maelstrom that New York can be. She throws in a little Debussy, a little sentimental classics, a little show tunes.
Luncheon at the Rihga Royal Hotel in New York was hosted by Kentucky, the city of Looaville, and Brown-Forman (they make whiskey) and prepared by Louisville superchef Kathy Cary, of Lilly's Restau-rant. Got my first taste of grits, honest to God, a little Kentucky Derby information, and a funny speech by Louisville and Jefferson County Convention and Visitors Bureau President Ron Scott. The Kentuckians told us about the Kentucky Horse Park, showplace of the Bluegrass; the opening of a lodge at Dale Hollow Lake State Resort Park; the more than 250 public, private, and semi-private golf courses that provide playable, challenging greens throughout the state; the country music; the huntin' and fishin'; and last of all, about Ken-tucky's famous bourbon whiskey (they produce 80 percent of it in the world) and the reopening of 200-year-old Labrot & Graham Distillers, dormant for nearly 35 years, by Brown-Forman. Then, listen to this: They gave each of us a gorgeous presentation bottle of Labrot & Graham Woodford Reserve bourbon in a sueded felt case, and I had to leave it in New York as a gift for a friend. After five days in New York, with five days in Houston to follow before I returned to Florida with a monster suitcase, there was just no way! Damn!