Controversy continues to swirl around federal agencies’ spending on travel and conferences. On Tuesday, the Treasury Department’s inspector general will release an audit that found the already beleaguered Internal Revenue Service (IRS) spent $50 million on conferences during a three-year period. The report, titled Collected and Wasted: The IRS Spending Culture and Conference Abuses, covers 200 employee conferences between 2010 and 2012. That means the average bill per event was $250,000, but costs ranged as high as $4 million for one 2010 meeting in Anaheim, Calif. The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee is already planning an investigation on Thursday based on the audit. The IRS’ new acting commissioner, Danny Werfel, has apologized for the spending, calling it, “an unfortunate vestige from a prior era.” The IRS previously apologized for improper spending on a Star Trek parody video produced for a training and leadership conference. thehill.com
In part to stem these scandals and prevent future ones, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) recently issued additional guidelines to federal agencies. The OMB adopted many suggestions offered by the Center for Association Leadership (ASAE). Officials from OMB and ASAE met in March to discuss protocols that the association developed with advice and best practices for planners organizing conferences attended by federal employees. Suggestions include ensuring that hotel costs fall within the price limits set by government per-diem rates and being mindful of the costs associated with social events. In a memo to agencies’ chief financial officers, OMB conceded that recent budget cuts will reduce government participation in conferences, but it recognized the importance of meetings and stressed that the Obama administration does not want a moratorium on travel or conferences attendance. asaecenter.org
Starwood Hotels and Resorts Worldwide says 85 percent of its luxury guests are rich travelers from Generation X and Y, and is repositioning itself to cater to this emerging influential segment. Part of the brand’s focus will be on delivering tailor-made and personalized experiences to these tourists and attendees.
Starwood is approaching this new audience in a less formal, more personal way, defined more by interests and mindset than by geography and demographics. Luxury makes up 15 percent of Starwood’s total portfolio, and 90 percent of its future luxury hotels will open in emerging markets, including the first W Hotel in mainland China, the W Guangzhou; and the first St. Regis hotel in Africa, The St. Regis Mauritius Resort.
According to the latest UNWTO World Tourism Barometer, international tourism receipts hit a new record in 2012, reaching an estimated $1.075 billion worldwide, up 4 percent in real terms from $1.042 billion in 2011.
By regions, the Americas (+7 percent) recorded the largest increase in receipts, followed by Asia and the Pacific (+6 percent), Africa (+5 percent) and Europe (+2 percent). Receipts in the Middle East were still down (-2 percent), but there’s been a steady improvement compared to the decline recorded in 2011.
According to a new survey released by Room Key, vacationing Americans age 25 and older are expected to book an average of slightly more than seven room nights this summer, with an average spend of $1,134. This translates to an estimated national spend of $84 billion on hotel rooms.
Not surprisingly, nearly three-quarters (72%) said price will drive their hotel decision, but location (66%) and hotel amenities (58%) will also play a significant role. The hotel brand (43%) and the ability to earn and use loyalty points and rewards (31%) are two more important factors that will influence hotel choice, according to the survey.
The Big Game Experience on Wednesday, May 22, at the Meadowlands Expo Center in Secaucus, N.J., is designed to offer planners a chance to learn about meeting space in the region prior to the 2014 Super Bowl. Additionally, those needing MPI credits can do so at two seminars, “The Big Game Pros,” with a panel that includes Al Kelly, CEO of the NYNJ Super Bowl Host Committee; and “You Are the Big Game.” This event is being hosted by the Meadowlands Liberty Convention and Visitors Bureau, a division of the Meadowlands Regional Chamber that serves as the marketing agency for travel to the metropolitan New Jersey region.
“We wanted to capture the frenetic energy that we anticipate will take over the region leading up to the Super Bowl,” says Jim Kirkos, president for the Meadowlands Regional Chamber. “The diverse mix of vendors, activities, food and learning experiences will help us create that intense vibe.” The expo will feature hundreds of booths and exhibits, including a Super Bowl tailgate party and demonstrations of events such as a disco party with DJ and a casino night. There will be food and drink samplings throughout the trade-show floor from 20 restaurants and caterers and four wineries.
Event planners can also rest their feet while viewing virtual venue tours and other experiences in the video lounge. An after-party begins at 7 p.m. and includes food and drink, a performance of songs from the Broadway show Jersey Boys and a keynote address from a senior government official. For more about The Big Game Experience, including an expo floor map and event agenda, go to thebiggameexperience.com or call 201-605-1058. meadowlandslibertycvb.com
A Canadian private equity firm will purchase trade-show organizer Nielsen Expositions for $950 million. A division of Nielsen Holdings NV based in San Juan Capistrano, Calif., the business is responsible for about 65 expos and conferences each year, including apparel, health, interior design, jewelry, military, photography and sports shows, attended by about 335,000 buyers and sellers annually. It employs about 240 people at four U.S. offices and generated about $183 million last year, accounting for about 3 percent of the parent company’s total revenue. Nielsen operates a number of business units related to data services, measurement and consumer behavior, including, most famously, television ratings. Analysts said the sale of the expositions affiliate to Onex Corp. of Toronto will give Nielsen cash that it can spend on its planned acquisition of radio ratings company Arbitron Inc. Essentially, the company is trading in its exposition business for a bigger foothold in media ratings. nielsen.com
Here is a roundup of some more of the week’s news from the world of meetings, conventions, hospitality and travel:
–Airlines got the go-ahead to resume operating their Boeing 787 Dreamliner aircraft once they make modifications to the battery systems. usatoday.com
–The Courtyard Oakland Downtown in Oakland, Calif., completed a renovation project that updated its lobby, restaurant and public spaces. prweb.com
–Hoteliers in the United States sold a record number of room nights during the first quarter of 2013. traveldailynews.com
–Everett, Mass., announced a deal with casino operator Wynn Resorts Ltd. for a $1.2 billion resort on the Mystic River, one of three proposals vying for a single casino license available for eastern Massachusetts. bostonglobe.com
–Springfield, Mass., reached a similar deal with MGM Resorts International for an $800 million casino project, one of three proposals under consideration for the license available for western Massachusetts. boston.com
– El Celler de Can Roca in northeast Spain was named the best restaurant in the world by Restaurant magazine, which released its “World’s 50 Best” list. huffingtonpost.com
–Wolfgang Puck will open a restaurant at the Honda Center arena in Anaheim, Calif. ocregister.com
–Red Lion Hotels will rebrand a Hampton Inn in Tempe, Ariz., marking the chain’s entry into the Phoenix market. bizjournals.com
–Hyatt Hotels Corp. launched a redesigned website. hotelnewsresource.com
–Meet Minneapolis released a feasibility study that showed it would cost more than $300 million to build a downtown convention hotel. bizjournals.com
–ASAE rescheduled a women’s leadership event that was canceled due to Hurricane Sandy for May 29. asaecenter.org
–The Sioux City Hotel & Conference Center in Iowa was put on the market. hotelnewsresource.com
–Carlson Rezidor Hotel Group opened the Radisson Aquatica Resort Barbados following an $8 million renovation. hotelnewsresource.com
–The Peadbody ducks in Little Rock, Ark., made their final appearance, as the Peabody Little Rock completed its conversion to a Marriott hotel. arkansasbusiness.com
On Wednesday, the International Association of Exhibitions and Events (IAEE) released its fourth annual survey of event organizers. The 2012 Public Events Industry Report surveyed professionals in 22 event sectors and compared it to data the organization has collected since 2009. The report shows an industry gaining strength, with steady attendance and continued growth in exhibit-space sales. For example, in 2009, 50 percent of respondents reported canceling an event due to economic circumstances, but only 6 percent did so in 2012. Among the other key findings: 90 percent of respondents said business was better or as good as 2011, with only 10 percent reporting worse results. The travel, boating/marine, automotive, RV, and food and beverage industries all reported strong signs of recovery. The full report is free for IAEE members and $99.95 for nonmembers. iaee.com
The Professional Convention Management Association (PCMA) will invite senior meeting professionals and association CEOs to a new event focused on medical meetings. The inaugural PCMA Global Medical Meetings Summit will take place July 17–20 at the ExCeL London Exhibition and Convention Centre in England. The invitation-only event is intended to bring together global leaders in the field to analyze and discuss issues related to medical meetings, including revenue streams and government regulation. Speakers will include futurist Magnus Lindkvist. The event takes PCMA back to its roots: It was originally founded as a medical meetings organization in 1956. pcma.org
The International Association of Exhibitions and Events (IAEE) has teamed up with another industry group, the organization’s third such announcement this year. IAEE, which represents organizations and individuals who conduct and provide support for exhibitions, today announced an alliance with the International Association of Venue Managers (IAVM), a professional association for managers of arenas, stadiums, convention centers and other major venues. The two associations will market each other’s educational programs and networking events to their members, allow their members to access both groups’ resources and endorse each other’s certification programs. For example, IAVM members will be able to register for IAEE’s Women’s Leadership Forum on May 30 at The Fairmont Washington, D.C. hotel at the discount rate offered to IAEE members. IAEE previously announced that it would team up with the Center for Association Leadership (ASAE) to coordinate a pair of August events in Atlanta, as well as produce educational content for the Americas Incentive, Business Travel & Meetings Exhibition (AIBTM) trade show in June in Chicago. iaee.com
The Global Business Travel Association has made a modest upgrade to its forecast for business travel in 2013, driven in part by an expectation of increased spending on meetings. In its Business Travel Index Outlook report for the first quarter of 2013, the Alexandria, Va.-based organization says it expects meeting spending to increase 6 percent this year to $115.9 billion. That’s 0.8 percent more than the forecast it made in its previous quarterly report. The overall forecast for business travel in 2013 was upgraded from a 4.6 percent increase to a 5.1 percent increase. Either number would represent a significant improvement over the 1.8 percent growth that business travel spending saw in 2012. In spite of the uncertainty caused by political debates over the tax increases and budget cuts, the report cites growing business and consumer confidence, stronger corporate profits, increasing job development and improvements in certain export markets as reasons for the forecast revisions. gbta.org
The International Association of Exhibitions and Events (IAEE) announced the formation of a Mexico chapter on Monday. The board of directors approved a petition from a group of IAEE members interested in forming a chapter. Patricia Farias Barlow, CEM, who served as IAEE board chairwoman in 2000, was named interim chairwoman of the chapter. Horacio Vazquez, president of the Expo Guadalajara convention center, will take over as chairman within a few months. The chapter’s goals include planning education, networking and professional-development events for exhibition organizers and suppliers and serving as a voice for the events industry in Mexico. iaee.com
Conference spending has landed yet another government agency in hot water, and an apology has already been issued at warp speed. This time it’s the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) boldly going where the General Services Administration has gone before. Back in February, Rep. Charles Boustany Jr., a Louisiana Republican, learned of Star Trek parody video the IRS produced for a 2010 training and leadership conference, and ever since he has been clinging to the issue like a Tiberan bat, as Mr. Spock might say. The video, which portrays IRS workers aboard a starship orbiting the planet Notax, cost about $60,000 to produce. Once news of the video became public late last week, the IRS decided that resistance was futile, admitted that the video was a poor use of taxpayer money and announced the agency was taking steps to make sure that—barring some anomaly in space-time continuum—it won’t ever happen again. Of course, the IRS is such a popular agency, the public will probably be willing to overlook a little frivolous spending just as everyone is mailing off their tax returns. latimes.com
Last year’s fiscal cliff crisis hurt the exhibition industry, causing growth to slow in the second half of 2012. That’s the conclusion reached by the Center for Exhibition Industry Research (CEIR) based on its newly released CEIR Index, a quarterly report that uses a combination of metrics to gauge the overall health of the industry. With fourth quarter results now on the books, the index grew at a rate of 1.5 percent in 2012, down from 2.7 percent growth in 2011. Based on the first half of the year, the center had been predicting that the industry would outperform the economy as a whole, but instead the index fell short of the country’s estimated 2.2 percent growth in GDP for last year. Compared to the third quarter of 2012, growth rates slowed for all four factors the index tracks: net square footage, revenue, exhibitors and attendees. In a press release, CEIR Economist Allen Shaw blamed the slump on the budgetary negotiations in Washington, D.C., which “substantially hurt business sentiment and willingness to incur travel expenses.” ceir.org
The U.S. Senate today passed a stopgap spending bill that will continue funding the federal government through September. Absent from the text of H.R. 933 that the Senate sent back to the House for consideration was an amendment proposed by Sen. Tom Coburn that would have limited the ability of federal employees to attend conferences within the United States. The Oklahoma Republican has repeatedly introduced legislation designed to reduce federal agencies’ spending on travel and conferences, even before last year’s revelations about wasteful spending on a U.S. General Services Administration conference near Las Vegas in 2010. Coburn’s latest amendment included language that would have prohibited agencies from sending more than 25 employees to any meeting or conference. The Center for Association Leadership (ASAE) mounted a campaign against the amendment, circulating a letter that urged senators to vote against it. More than 200 associations signed the letter, which was delivered to Senate offices on Monday—in the middle of ASAE’s annual legislative fly-in, which brings members to Capitol Hill to voice their concerns. As passed by the Senate, H.R. 933 does contain provisions that limit agencies from sending more than 50 employees stationed within the United States to a conference occurring outside the country. The House is expected to quickly approve the bill in order to avoid a government shutdown on March 27. politico.com
The International Association of Exhibitions and Events (IAEE) will help produce educational content for the Americas Incentive, Business Travel & Meetings Exhibition (AIBTM), Reed Travel Exhibition’s trade show for event professionals that meets June 11–13 at McCormick Place in Chicago. Announced this week, the partnership will include IAEE-hosted sessions at the show’s Learning Theater. IAEE President and CEO David DuBois will also take part in a panel on the event’s first day, which is devoted to education. Session details will be announced at a later date. It’s the latest educational collaboration for IAEE. The world’s largest association of the exhibitions and events industry recently announced it would team up with Center for Association Leadership (ASAE) to coordinating a pair of August events in Atlanta, letting members of both groups attend IAEE’s education sessions and ASAE’s trade show. iaee.com
Two top Republicans in Congress have suggested the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) ought to eliminate all spending on conferences before it closes any air traffic control towers. The agency now plans to close more than 200 towers nationwide, as well as potentially imposing unpaid furloughs on employees, in order to cut about $600 million from its budget as required by the austerity policy commonly known as sequestration. The Obama administration has been warning for weeks that cuts will lead flight cancelations and delays across the country. In a letter to Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, the ranking Republicans on the House and Senate’s transportation committees said that they were “disappointed” the FAA decided to reduce staff rather than looking for other cost-saving options that would not directly affect travelers. “We know that FAA spends millions of taxpayer dollars to send employees to conferences. Has all conference spending been eliminated under the sequester?” wrote Sen. John Thune of South Dakota and Rep. Bill Shuster of Pennsylvania in the letter. Other suggestions for cuts included reducing the agency’s spending on travel and looking for waste in contracts. FAA Administrator Michael Huerta has testified that the sequester offers limited flexibility in how cuts are made, and the agency must reduce all areas of its budget in proportion. thehill.com
GIBTM is set to deliver a series of education sessions focused on the global business travel, after a successful run of their partnership with the Association for Corporate Travel Executives (ACTE). From March 25–27 in Adnec, Abu Dhabi, GIBTM will host its annual show and will look to educate with three sessions, delivered in conjunction with ACTE: (1) a reading by Chris Pouney, director of Severnside Consulting, who will discuss his research on ways that corporations leverage their managed travel spending; (2) a panel discussion on how business travel buyers and suppliers can maximize managed travel output in the Middle East; and (3) a discussion by travel expert Thomas Grundner on how business travelers and meetings managers can consolidate travel expenditures.
Seabourn has announced the sale of the line's original three vessels, Seabourn Pride, Seabourn Spirit and Seabourn Legend, to Xanterra Parks & Resorts, owner of Windstar Cruises. There will be no disruption in service or changes in operations on any currently published Seabourn voyages, according to the cruise company. Seabourn Pride will be transferred after its schedule ends in April 2014. Seabourn Spirit and Seabourn Legend will be transferred to Windstar in April 2015 and May 2015, respectively. Pride and Legend have voyages mainly in Asia, Africa and Europe; Spirit docks mainly in the Caribbean, with some Atlantic Ocean and European trips. seabourn.com
The Center for Exhibition Industry Research this week released a new report that reveals What Attendees Want from Trade Exhibitions. The study found that primary reasons people attend business-to-business expos is to see new technology, interact with experts and gain industry insight. Attendees are almost equally motivated by the ability to shop as by the ability to learn, with those factors cited by 69 percent and 66 percent of respondents, respectively. Many look to trade shows to serve both personal and organizational needs. The report is available for $49. Members of the International Association of Exhibitions and Events can download it for free. ceir.org