Let me describe the setting of the SITE (Society of Incentive & Travel Executives) International Conference, Vienna (Wien, Wien): impressive avenues; beautiful buildings with marble staircases leading to ornately decorated rooms with priceless paintings; cozy coffees at Cafe Central or dinners at Griechenbeist, the historic Vienna inn; dining with wiener lieder, opera, and Viennese folk music at Grinzinger Heurigen; grand hotels such as the Hilton, the Imperial Vienna and the Bristol (both members of ITT Sheraton's Luxury Collection), and the new ANA Vienna, as well as Crowne Plaza, Inter-Continental, Renaissance, and Radisson; and an evening in the Palais Pallavicini, replete with Viennese waltzes performed by men in tails and women in white waltz gowns, opera, and a good rock band. We won't even talk about the Sacher torte, Linzertorte, or Hotel Sauerhof's stollen (this from the nearby spa town of Baden, where the SITE board meeting took place and a lively casino keeps late hours, too). I kept hoping the food in Prague (to follow) would be bad, but it wasn't.
CZECH IT OUT Prague is filled with clusters of tourists listening intently to their guides (and waiting for a moment to break away to buy Czech crystal). Thirty-eight SITE attendees went on to the Hotel Diplomat; others took pre- and post-trips to Salzburg, Munich, and Budapest. To put it simply, Prague is a candy box, in colors and in flavor (still largely untouched by commercialism-but not for long). The food is good and cheap, though the service and maintenance are sometimes a little lacking. The Royal Castle (which could have been the model for Cinderella's castle) is gracious and elegant, not an overwhelmingly opulent display of power. We had a private tour of the castle, a special honor; I'm not sure if our destination management company, Welcome Touristic Praha (fax 42 2 231 44 26), can pull this off for you, but you could ask Claudia Shafer to try. If you have an incentive group or corporate meeting to bring to this Golden City and would like to meet in the palace's glorious halls with their ormolu and crystal chandeliers, she may be able to work miracles.
SIGH-T Farewell, SITE Board of Directors. This was the end of my sixth year (the limit and surely enough), but I've been hooked again. I have the honor of chairing SITE's first University of the Americas at Charleston Place in Charleston, SC from June 22 to 26. Charleston Place is an Orient-Express Hotel, sister property to Italy's Cipriani in Venice and Splendido in Portofino, The Lodge at Vail (CO); New Orleans's Windsor Court; New York City's "21" Club; and the new Road To Mandalay cruise ship in Asia, as well as the legendary, luxuriously refurbished trains.
This is the first year SITE has planned separate "universities" for Europe, Asia, and The Americas because of its extensive membership overseas, and my plan for the event specifically addresses the needs of The Americas to know each other better, do more business with each other, and find more business opportunities around the world. The curriculum that the SITE headquarters staff and I are developing will be hard, not soft, with advanced courses in how to make money by motivating the workforce with travel as part of an overall performance improvement program. For the first time this year, there will be a separate track of courses for corporate buyers, including how to choose an incentive house, how to budget for an incentive program, and what to look for on a site inspection trip. It will be a superb opportunity to network with other corporate incentive travel users and find out what they're doing right and how. Joint sessions with incentive travel marketers will include a court of ethics and the latest reports on how effective travel is in performance motivation. It will also be a place to get the skinny on the newest destinations (Costa Rica, for example, which is coming on like gangbusters with properties such as Melia and Herradura; is the destination ready for incentives?) and to learn more about using a mix of merchandise, employee privileges, and travel to motivate. You don't have to be a SITE member to attend; we'll get you later. Call SITE at (212) 575-0910 and say, "Connie sent me."
YO, PHILADELPHIA Just before I moved south to Sarasota, I spent a weekend in my hometown, Philadelphia. The stunning new Pennsylvania Convention Center is a showcase for Pennsylvania artists, while the building works and the catering is superb! The combination on Market Street of the center, the nearly new Marriott (1,200 rooms and more than 85,000 square feet of meeting space with possible enlargement already in its future!), and the Reading Terminal Market has created a new city out of a declining one, though Ritz-Carlton, Rittenhouse, and Four Seasons Hotels' joining the existing Wyndham, Holiday Inn, and Society Hill Sheraton helped, as well. Broad Street is becoming increasingly an Avenue of the Arts, with the new Wilma Theater open and plans for a modern addition to the Academy of Music, home of the world renowned Philadelphia Orchestra. Philly has excellent transportation from New York City, Atlantic City, Boston, Baltimore, and Washington, DC (think Amtrak; they have convention fare discounts and group travel services), and there is finally (I never thought I'd live to see the day) a rail line from the airport to center city that runs every half hour and costs $5; the trip takes 25 minutes. Or, take a cab for a flat fee of $20. USAir is big here and getting $260 million bigger over the next two years with plans for a new ticket counter with 50 check-ins, a transatlantic business-class lounge, consolidated baggage claim areas, and its largest USAir Club.
A major asset is Philadelphia's caring, knowledgeable convention and visitors bureau. It'll steer you to good times and famous places (Liberty Bell, Independence Hall, Betsy Ross House, Rodin Museum, and Philadelphia Museum of Art-one of the world's best) and some super special venues. For major sports, Philly can't be beat for variety (four pro teams) and facilities. Its CoreStates Spectrum and new, high-tech, 21,000-seat CoreStates Arena make Philadelphia a contender for a national political convention when we get over the last ones. Stick around for some new hotel names: a Loews across from the convention center, a Hyatt at exciting Penn's Landing (lotsa clubs), maybe another Marriott right across the street from the present one, and a nearby Westin. In spring 1988, a new, high-tech, $160 million Constitution Center will open to explain our U.S. Constitution and its effect on our daily lives.
HAVE YOU HEARD? USA Hosts, the New Orleans-based destination services company with offices all over the country has not only won environmental awards, but it has put 25 sample green itineraries in an attractive (recycled) book. Good source of program ideas: (504) 524-6687. . . . Raul Bustamante, general manager of The Caribe Hilton, San Juan, PR, just became president of the Puerto Rico Hotel and Tourism Association and a member of the executive committee of the Puerto Rico Convention Bureau. When I lunched with him recently, he was enthusiastic about his hotel's new Executive Ladies Program, which allots 39 rooms and suites to businesswomen. (They even have a salon-style hair drier and an Action Stepper fitness machine.) Is this any way to treat a lady? Yes! . . . The Forrestal at Princeton (NJ) has had a $7 million renovation that retained its quality construction, but added a warmth that many felt it lacked as the Scandinavian-influenced Scanticon. Management firm Benchmark Hospitality just won the Arthur Andersen Enterprise Award for Best Business Practices for its Woodlands Executive Conference Center and Resort in Texas. . . . The Renaissance New York Hotel opened Foley's Fish House overlooking Times Square with a surprise guest performer, Wynton Marsalis. (It was a surprise to Marsalis, too, who came to hear a protege play, but took over when he got sick). . . . In September, The Ibis Amsterdam Airport was the first hotel in the 410-property European chain to issue a daring challenge: If a guest is not pleased with any aspect of his or her stay-and the hotel is unable to find an agreeable solution within 15 minutes-that service will be provided free of charge, immediately. With the program now expanded to all of the hotels, management must be praying that its extensive employee training worked.
WHEN YOU'RE IN THE RITZ You've gotta keep it Ritzy. But today, that's not just new "soft goods." The Ritz-Carlton, Marina del Rey near LAX has also added voice mail, double phone lines, computer access for modems, and new card keys that keep a record of anyone who goes in or out. (They've also got a user-friendly yoga program with private, in-room instruction.) New Ritz-Carltons just opened in Bali, Indonesia, and St. Thomas and another opens soon in San Juan, PR, with R-C's first casino. Now overseas in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia; Jakarta, Indonesia; Singapore, and Osaka, Japan; they are looking at Lisbon as well.
R-C's hotel in Laguna Niguel, CA has installed a 4,800-square-foot permanent tent on a terra cotta floor, which lends itself well to theme parties such as Cirque de Ritz. The hotel does off-site catering to ritzy Orange County, besides. Business at the R-C in Houston is, happily, not all from the oil business anymore. They get lots of financial and energy accounts using their meeting space (not to mention their bar, which offers 25 wines by the glass).
LAST Hats off to Mike Benton, head of the Arlington, TX Convention and Visitors Bureau, who has been named president-elect of the Texas Travel Industry Association and will take office in about half a year.