Richmond, Va.’s tourism and destination-marketing organization has updated its name and launched an incentive program to lure more convention business. The Richmond Metropolitan Convention & Visitors Bureau last week announced it was changing its name to Richmond Region Tourism and debuted a new logo featuring a stylized outline of the state. The organization last updated its name in the mid-’80s. In addition, the CVB launched Recommend Richmond Region, a program designed to get local residents to promote the area as a meetings destination for regional, state or national nonprofit organizations or charitable foundations that they belong to. The program offers a $2 rebate for each hotel room used for a meeting. In addition to the city of Richmond, the organization represents surrounding Chesterfield, Henrico, Hanover and New Kent counties. timesdispatch.com
Taxi customers in Las Vegas were charged $14.8 million more than necessary for trips to and from McCarran International Airport last year, according to a report released Monday by the Nevada Legislative Counsel Bureau. Drivers took indirect or roundabout routes to run up their meters on 22.5 percent of the 2,730 trips that state auditors reviewed. The Nevada Taxicab Authority, which oversees 16 cab companies in Clark County, has until July 17 to come up with a response to the audit that will detail plans to prevent so-called longhauling. State law already fines drivers for the practice, as well as employers who require or permit it. A bill was introduced earlier this year that would have increased penalties and created a system of flat-rate fares between certain zones, but it failed in the legislature. Base fares from the airport to casinos on The Strip range from about $12 for the MGM Grand Hotel & Casino to about $18 to the Stratosphere Casino, Hotel & Tower, although meters continue to assess a 50-cent-per-minute charge in slow-moving traffic that can add an additional $5–$10. usatoday.com
Details are still emerging around the horrific explosions at today’s Boston Marathon, but most media outlets are reporting at least two people are dead and more than 90 injured. There were two blasts in quick succession near the race’s finish line on Boyleston Street more than two hours after the first racers finished but while thousands were still running.
The explosions happened in the heart of Boston’s Back Bay, about two blocks from the John B. Hynes Veterans Memorial Convention Center and near many of the city’s major hotels. Authorities found a third device outside the Mandarin Oriental Hotel on Boyleston Street and disposed of it with a controlled detonation. The hotel was evacuated, as was the Lennox Hotel, the closest hotel to the main blasts. Although the explosions occurred on the other side of Boyleston Street, a reporter for The Huffington Post interviewed a spectator who said glass from the Lennox Hotel fell on the stands where she was watching the race.
In addition, many hotels in the area are locked down and admitting only registered guests, including The Westin Copley Place Boston Hotel and The Fairmont Copley Plaza, Boston. Barbara Delollis of USA Today’s Hotel Check-In blog said via Twitter that some Boston hotels have stopped taking reservations, and so far Starwood Hotels and Resorts Worldwide, Hilton Worldwide and InterContinental Hotels Group are all waiving penalties for cancellations and early departures. The Federal Aviation Administration briefly halted flights into Boston Logan International Airport to help establish a no-fly zone over the site of the explosions.
UPDATE, April 16, 2013: Contrary to reports on Monday, public officials including Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick now say that no explosive devices have been found in addition to the two that went off. All suspicious packages, including one reported outside the Mandarin Oriental Boston hotel, turned out not to be bombs.
A large portion of Boston's Back Bay remains closed today, and likely will remain closed for days. The current crime scene perimeter forms a triangle that is generally bounded by Boyleston Street, Massachusetts Avenue and Huntington Avenue. Buildings within that area include the John B. Hynes Veterans Memorial Convention Center, Prudential Center and Hilton Boston Back Bay, Courtyard by Marriott Boston Copley Square, Mandarin Oriental Boston and Lennox hotels.
On Monday, it became illegal to smoke at seven popular public beaches and parks in Honolulu, although the city can’t actually enforce the ban until the City Council addresses a legal technicality with a separate bill. The ban covers Kapiolani Park and surrounding areas, Kuhio Beach Park, the beach side of Ala Moana Regional Park, Sandy Beach Park and Duke Kahanamoku Beach Park. Language in existing ordinances still needs to be tweaked because the parks are on land owned by the state. In the meantime, City Councilman Ikaika Anderson has introduced another bill that would extend the ban to all city parks and beaches. Fines are $100 for a first offense, $200 for a second offense within one year and $500 for each subsequent offense. eturbonews.com
Hotel workers in Boston voted to authorize a strike of properties that fail to agree to a new citywide contract. So far, 15 of 24 unionized hotels in the city have agreed to the five-year agreement, which includes a 4 percent annual increase in wages and benefits. The previous contract expired Feb. 28. Holdouts include the Sheraton Boston Hotel; The Westin Copley Place Boston Hotel; the Hotel Commonwealth; the Ames Hotel; The Ritz-Carlton, Boston Common; Renaissance Boston Waterfront Hotel; W Boston Hotel; and The Westin Boston Waterfront Hotel. The vote also authorized union leaders to organize picketing and boycotts. Union representatives said the main obstacle in negotiations has been the contract’s strengthened job-security protections if a hotel is sold or enters bankruptcy. Similar strike authorizations were approved during the last two contract negotiations in the city, but workers never actually went on strike. bostonglobe.com
Casino operator MGM Resorts International and sports and entertainment company AEG plan to jointly develop a 20,000-seat arena just off the Las Vegas Strip. The privately-financed venue will be the main component of a revitalization of land between MGM’s Monte Carlo and New York-New York casinos, with new shops, restaurants and other entertainment stretching from Las Vegas Boulevard to Frank Sinatra Drive. The indoor venue would be capable of hosting boxing matches, concerts and other large events. The announcement comes less than a month after MGM backed out of a pledge to invest $20 million in another large stadium, the University of Nevada Las Vegas’ UNLV Now project, which could accommodate events for as many as 60,000 people. In 2007 AEG announced a deal with Harrah’s Entertainment, now Caesars Entertainment, to develop a similarly sized arena behind Bally’s Las Vegas Hotel and Casino, but the recession put those plans on hold. aegworldwide.com
For the seventh consecutive year, Spain has taken top honors as the cheapest destination in Europe, according to the U.K. Post Office’s annual Holiday Money Report. Factoring in holiday purchases, like hotel rooms, restaurant meals, coffee and tanning cream, Spain topped Turkey as Europe’s premo, cheap-o place to visit and meet. The Post Office noted that only Sri Lanka offers a better value worldwide. eturbonews.com
A record number of visitors came to Las Vegas in 2012, the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority announced Friday. The destination welcomed 39.7 million people, about 500,000 more than its previous record set in 2007. Meeting attendance represented 4.9 million of those visits, an increase of just 1.6 percent compared to 2011; however, the number of events grew 13.6 percent to more than 21,000 conventions, trade shows and meetings—the most since 2008—indicating a trend toward more, smaller meetings. Average hotel occupancy for the year was 84.4 percent, an increase of 0.6 percent over last year. lvcva.com
As expected, 2012 turned out to be a good year for Hawaiian tourism. In fact, the state set records both in terms of the number of visitors and the amount of money they spent, according to preliminary numbers from the Hawaii Tourism Authority. Nearly 8 million people visited Hawaii in 2012, surpassing the previous record set in 2006 by more than 300,000 visitors. Visitor expenditures increased to $14.3 billion, a 19 percent increase over 2011. There was growth across the board, but much of it was driven by Asia. There was a 17 percent increase in arrivals from Japan and a 42 percent increase in arrivals from China, which is still a developing market for Hawaiian tourism. hawaiitourismauthority.org
Atlantic City, N.J.’s public safety director reports that “most of the city is underwater” with Hurricane Sandy still about 200 miles offshore and expected to make landfall in southern New Jersey late tonight. Officials gave evacuation orders for the city, anticipating the storm to be worse than even the Ash Wednesday Storm of 1962—the strongest and most destructive nor’easter to strike the mid-Atlantic in the 20th century. The city’s casino resorts all closed at noon Sunday and will remain closed at least until the evacuation is lifted. The city’s historic boardwalk remains mostly intact, although one older section broke up and washed away.
The storm has tropical storm-force winds extending out 500 miles from its center, affecting cities from Washington, DC, to Boston. Parts of West Virginia are bracing for as much as 3 feet of snow. New York City is preparing for an 11-foot storm surge, prompting officials to close tunnels and the city’s mass-transit system. Airlines have canceled nearly 10,000 flights for today and Tuesday, affecting travelers around the globe who had been scheduled to travel to or connect through airports in the Northeast. huffingtonpost.com
A Dallas Fire-Rescue dispatcher described the excitement this morning at the State Fair of Texas as follows: “Got a rather tall cowboy with all his clothes burned off.” A few days after his 60th birthday, Big Tex, an iconic 52-foot statue at Dallas’ historic Fair Park, caught fire and was destroyed in about 10 minutes. Only his hands, metal frame and belt buckle remain. No one was in danger during the incident, which happened on the final day of the annual fair. A fair spokeswoman said the conflagration was the result of an electrical fire that started in Tex’s boot.
Big Tex has served as the symbol of the state fair since 1952 (in fact, the fair’s website is bigtex.com). With assistance from an announcer broadcasting in character from a nearby trailer, the motorized statue greeted guests and made announcements played throughout the park. The current voice of Big Tex, Bill Bragg, was reading from a script when he saw the flames. He told The Dallas Morning News it was “a very sad day” and “we were all just hoping that it would be a bad dream and we’d wake up and everything would be OK.” He also vowed Big Tex would be back, better than ever. dallasnews.com
For all the attention that Republicans got for having to adapt their convention schedule due to a potential hurricane, a forecast for simple thunderstorms is causing an equally big, or perhaps even bigger, logistical headache for officials responsible for the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C. Planners have decided to move President Barack Obama’s Thursday night speech indoors, from Bank of America Stadium to the smaller, covered Time Warner Cable Arena. More than 65,000 people had signed up for tickets to watch Obama accept his party’s nomination for president at the outdoor stadium, but the arena will accommodate only 15,000. Officials said the president will speak to those who are unable to attend on a national conference call on Thursday afternoon, and the campaign will work to make sure they will be have a chance to see Obama between now and Election Day. Republicans were quick to accuse Democrats of using the weather as an excuse for moving to a smaller venue, following reports that campaign officials were having trouble filling the stadium. npr.org
Officials in Tampa, Fla., are preparing contingency plans for the Republican National Convention if Tropical Storm Isaac strengthens to a hurricane and continues on a track that threatens Florida’s central Gulf Coast. The storm is currently south of the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, moving west with maximum sustained winds of 40 mph, but it is expected to reach hurricane strength as it approaches Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Though it is still too early to predict where it might make landfall in the United States, many forecasts show it could reach Florida on Monday, the first day of the convention, which is expected to bring 50,000 visitors to Tampa. Local authorities have raised the possibility of postponing or relocating the event, but a Republican National Committee spokesman said cancelation was not an option. Speaking on CNN this morning, Sean Spicer said the committee has plans in place that will ensure the safety of attendees while still allowing Mitt Romney’s nomination for president to proceed. Florida Gov. Rick Scott said emergency management officials are having briefings with RNC officials twice daily. huffingtonpost.com
Mexico’s tourism secretary said the country will start offering high-end travelers the opportunity to pay for exclusive access to cultural attractions. Speaking at luxury travel network Virtuoso’s conference in Las Vegas, Gloria Guevara said the programs would debut within the next few months. For example, small groups could sign up for after-hours museum tours or view areas of archaeological sites, such as Chichen Itza, closed to the public because they can’t handle large volumes of visitors. It’s all part of an attempt on the part of the Mexico Tourism Board to strengthen its promotional efforts within the luxury market. Virtuoso honored the government’s tourism department with its inaugural award for Tourism Board of the Year in a ceremony during Virtuoso Travel Week, a revamped version of the network’s annual travel mart that debuted this week at the Bellagio in Las Vegas. travelpulse.com
A new highway providing access to the Dominican Republic’s Punta Cana resort region officially opens to motorists today. The Autopista El Coral, or Coral Highway, is a four-lane, 43-mile road between Punta Cana on the country’s eastern coast and the city of La Romana on its southern coast. There it connects with the existing DR-3 highway, creating a direct route all the way from Santo Domingo to Punta Cana. Designed for speeds of up to 110 kilometers per hour (almost 70 mph), the Coral Highway should make it possible to travel from the Santo Domingo’s Las Americas International Airport to the resort region in less than two hours. dominicantoday.com
If you’re booking a meeting in Las Vegas for 40 people or less after 2013, you could have it on a Ferris wheel offering views of the Strip from 550 feet. Nevada's Clark County this week granted a permit for construction of the High Roller, which Caesars Entertainment Corp. plans to build as part of its $550 million open-air Linq development between Harrah’s Las Vegas Imperial Palace and Famingo Las Vegas casinos. It would be the largest observation wheel in the world, surpassing the 541-foot Singapore Flyer that opened in 2008. The design calls for 28 air-conditioned cabins, each with a capacity of 40 people. A full revolution would take 30 minutes. Another giant wheel, the 500-foot SkyVue, is under construction about 3 miles south across from Mandalay Bay Hotel & Casino. msnbc.msn.com
The Tropicana Las Vegas has a meeting space you can’t refuse. An interactive exhibit at the casino focusing on Vegas’ history of organized crime reopened earlier this year with a new name—Mob Attraction Las Vegas—and a new focus on catering to meeting planners. The attraction was closed for five months during bankruptcy proceedings. Part of the new business plan included turning a portion of its exhibit area into a new 5,000-square-foot event space. Another space is expected to open in August, based on a Prohibition-era speakeasy. The attraction will also work with planners to customize events, prepping the actors who populate the venue’s alleyways and shops with details about the group or preparing special labels for the booze they serve.
The attraction uses a combination of live actors and technology—including holograms of famous actors who have played mob characters, such as James Caan and Mickey Rourke—to guide visitors through an interactive storyline. It also features a number of authentic artifacts from the lives of such historical figures as “Bugsy” Siegel. mobattraction.com
Hawaii is anticipating a record number of visitors in the next three months, as airlines schedule more flights to the state. Thanks in part to new flights by Hawaiian, United, Alaska and Allegiant airlines, the Hawaii Tourism Authority expects airlines will offer almost 2.7 million seats to Hawaii during the third-quarter period of July, August and September. That is 12.6% more capacity than the same period last year and slightly more than a third-quarter peak in 2007. International flights, led by South Korean and China, are also contributing, with a combined increase of 18%. staradvertiser.com
Strong winds caused the Waldo Canyon Fire to grow and surge toward Colorado Springs on Tuesday, jumping containment lines, engulfing homes and prompting officials to order the evacuation of 32,000 more people. Among the property damaged by the fire was the Flying W Ranch in the city’s Mountain Shadows neighborhood. The ranch, which had been used for private events since its founding in 1953, burned to the ground, according to its website.
Hotels within the evacuation area include the Colorado Springs Marriott and Hyatt House Colorado Springs, though both are on the eastern side, farthest from the fire. The Colorado Springs Convention and Visitors Bureau is maintaining a webpage on the fire in an effort to prevent the spread of misinformation and fight the perception that the entire city is shut down. The Gazette of Colorado Springs reports that the region could be losing $1 million a day due to canceled hotel rooms during the lead up to the busy July 4 holiday.
The Glen Eyrie Conference Center, a Christian retreat that includes a castle built by the founder of Colorado Springs, remains threatened. The center’s website says that initial reports indicate the property remains untouched, but the campus will be closed through July 5.
Though not the largest fire burning in Colorado, the Waldo Canyon Fire has been given top priority because of the population it could affect. It has burned more than 24 square miles, primarily within the Pike National Forrest, and remains only 5% contained. reuters.com
UPDATE June 29, 2012:
President Obama signed a Coloradio Disaster Declaration and ordered federal aid to supplement state and local recovery efforts in the areas affected by the High Park and Waldo Canyon Fires, which have resulted in at least one death, more than 360 homes destroyed and 16,750 acres burned. The president is set to assess the region today.
Los Angeles Times
Orlando has broken its own tourism record. Orange County, Fla., Mayor Teresa Jacobs announced Tuesday that 55.1 million people visited the Orlando area in 2011. That’s more than 3.6 million more than 2010, when Visit Orlando declared that the city was the first U.S. destination to attract more than 50 million tourists in one year. New York officials challenged that claim, and similar objections are already being raised to the 2011 numbers. NYC & Company counted 50.6 million visitors in 2011, but a spokeswoman for New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg told The New York Times that the comparison isn’t fair because New York counts only visitors within the city limits. Orlando’s number includes 36 communities outside its borders in three different counties. visitorlando.com