Category Archives: Meeting Destinations

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International Travel Safety Tips

It’s been more than nine years since 9-11, and Americans are accustomed to “threat levels” and warnings of potential terrorist attacks.

But what should people do if they hear that the threat level is elevated, particularly for international travel?

When vague warnings were issued late in 2010 about potential terrorist attacks in Europe, travelers generally carried on as usual.  Europe is a big place, some reasoned, and the risk to any one individual seemed rather low.

“U.S. citizens should take every precaution to be aware of their surroundings and to adopt appropriate safety measures to protect themselves when traveling,” the U.S. State Department said.

That’s probably good advice to follow anytime.  Regardless of the threat level, here are some common-sense precautions that all Americans should take when traveling abroad:

  • Register with the U.S. State Department. It allows you to record your trip information so the government can help you and your family in case of an emergency.
  • Stay vigilant and keep your eyes open: pay closer attention to public areas that do not have a large amount of formal security.
  • Beware of unattended packages and loud noises: and move away quickly if anything unusual begins to occur.
  • Do not dress in a way that could mark you as an affluent tourist.  Expensive-looking jewelry, for instance, can draw the wrong attention.
  • When attending a meeting, don’t wear your badge outside the hotel or convention center since it identifies you as a visitor and a potential target for crime.
  • Always try to travel light.  You can move more quickly and will be more likely to have a free hand.  You will also be less tired and less likely to set your luggage down, leaving it unattended.
  • Carry the minimum number of valuables, and plan places to conceal them.  Your passport, cash and credit cards are most secure when locked in a hotel safe.
  • When you have to carry valuables, put them each in a different place rather than all in one wallet or pouch.  Avoid handbags, fanny packs and outside pockets that are easy targets for thieves.  Inside pockets and a sturdy shoulder bag with the strap worn across your chest are somewhat safer.  One of the safest places to carry valuables is in a pouch or money belt worn under your clothing.
  • If you wear glasses, pack an extra pair.  Pack them and any medicines you need in your carry-on luggage.
  • To avoid problems when passing through customs, keep medicines in their original, labeled containers. Bring copies of your prescriptions and the generic names for the drugs.  If a medication is unusual or contains narcotics, carry a letter from your doctor attesting to your need to take the drug.  If you have any doubt about the legality of carrying a certain drug into a country, consult the embassy or consulate of that country before you travel.
  • Bring travelers’ checks and one or two major credit cards instead of cash.  Leave a copy of the serial numbers of your travelers’ checks with a friend or relative at home.  Carry your copy with you in a separate place and, as you cash the checks, cross them off the list.
  • Pack an extra set of passport photos along with a photocopy of your passport’s information page to make replacement of your passport easier in the event it is lost or stolen.  Also make two photocopies of your passport identification page, airline tickets, driver’s license and the credit cards that you plan to bring with you.  Leave one photocopy of this data with family or friends at home; pack the other in a place separate from where you carry the originals.
  • Put your name, address and telephone numbers inside and outside of each piece of luggage.  Use covered luggage tags to avoid casual observation of your identity or nationality.  If possible, lock your luggage.
  • Leave a copy of your itinerary with family or friends at home in case they need to contact you in an emergency.
  • When you leave the United States, you are subject to the laws of the country you are visiting.  Learn as much as you can about the local laws and customs of the places you plan to visit.  Check with embassies, consulates or tourist bureaus of the countries you will visit.
  • Avoid public demonstrations and other civil disturbances.
  • Keep a low profile and avoid loud conversations or arguments.
  • Do not discuss travel plans or other personal matters with strangers.
  • Avoid scam artists by being wary of strangers who approach you and offer to be your guide or sell you something at bargain prices.
  • Only take taxis clearly identified with official markings.  Beware of unmarked cabs.

Diversity Programs Make Sense – For the Community and the Bottom Line

Hotel properties across America are implementing diversity programs because doing so is an important social responsibility…and because it’s good for the bottom line.

Diversity initiatives in the hotel industry take on many forms:

Some programs are aimed at providing training and awareness to employees, hiring people of diverse backgrounds at all levels within the organization, or establishing guidlelines for increasing dollars spent with minority suppliers.

Other hotel companies are encouraging and assisting minorities to become hotel owners. There are hotels that are implementing in-room accessibility kits to help guests with dwarfisim and other physical limitations experience a safe stay.

A number of hotels form committees of employees who volunteer to provide education and awareness to other employees on topics of multiculturalism.

Certified for Growth

With African Americans and Hispanic Americans representing over $900 billion in purchasing power, companies that fail to recognize the growth in minority and other emerging segments will be at a significant disadvantage within just a few years. Looking to capitalize on that growth, the Radisson Fort McDowell Resort in Scottsdale, Arizona has joined the Grand Canyon Minority Supplier Development Council (GCMSDC), the regional chapter of the National Minority Supplier Development Council (NMSDC), as a certified Minority Business Enterprise (MBE).

The MBE certification offers the resort an opportunity to meet one-on-one with corporate buyers who are interested in working with certified and qualified MBEs. Other benefits for the resort include access to a larger pool of qualified suppliers and a $1.6 trillion dollar market, greater savings and higher quality goods and services as a result of increased competition. The resort hopes the MBE certification will expand its corporate and government business prospects and offer new avenues for business growth through partnership with other minority-owned and operated businesses.

Diversity By the Sea

For the Berkeley Hotel in Asbury Park, New Jersey, part of the Amsterdam Hospitality group, diversity is in its DNA. Asbury Park is a very multi-ethnic community with a large African American and Hispanic population. It is also a very popular destination for the gay and lesbian community. A gay community existed in Asbury Park as far back as the 1940, and it flourished discretely even during the Mcarthy era in the 1950s.

Diversity at the Berkeley comes naturally, and is reflected both in the hotel staff as well as the guests. The hotel’s workforce reflects the community’s diversity and is not restricted to the hourly staff. The hotel’s executive housekeeper is Hispanic, the front office manager is African American, and other department heads are gay.

The groups that visit the Berkeley Hotel also reflect a broad spectrum of life. Kosher groups enjoy observing Passover at the historic hotel as do Baptist church groups and the New York Gay Men’s Choir.

The hotel’s managment strongly believes that it only makes good busienss sense to pursue potential revenue from all markets. And they are aggressively pursuing those markets. The Berkeley recently hired a sales manager to exclusively solicit business from SMERF (social, military, ethnic, religious and fraternal) organizations by attending industry trade shows specific to the SMERF markets and advertising in publications that cater to those organizaitons. It also helps that the hotel’s mid-Atlantic resort location allows the property to offer competitive rates in the low and shoulder seasons that attract SMERF groups.

Diversity from Top to Bottom

The MGM Mirage group of resorts is very serious about working with minority-owned firms. The company has a purchasing division dedicated to supplier diversity and requires minority business participation on all contracts and purchases exceeding $1,000. During 2008, the latest year for which audited numbers are available, MGM Mirage spent more than $414 million in biddable goods and services with businesses owned by minorities, women, and the disadvantaged.

What puts teeth in the MGM Mirage supplier and other diversity programs is that executive management walks the walk. Each of the MGM Mirage resorts has a Property Diversity Council consisting of both executives and employees. Each council is responsible for planning its diversity agenda and addressing the specific needs of its property as they relate to diversity. In addition, the company’s board of directors has a longstanding diversity committee which serves as a powerful force signaling to managers and employees how important diversity is to MGM Mirage.

Hilton Washington Takes Meetings to New Heights

Outfitted with state-of-the-art technology and exceptional learning surroundings, HiltonWashington’s new Heights Executive Meeting Center opened its doors in April as part the hotel’s $140 million landmark restoration.

With a focus on facilitating conferences and training sessions, the Center provides a distraction-free learning environment in a dedicated area of the hotel, located away from convention space and high-traffic guest areas. It is comprised of nine rooms, with features that are unmatched in Washington, D.C., including a large outdoor courtyard with impressive skyline views of Washington and a central refreshment area with continuous food and beverage service – all available to planners with affordable per-person, per-day inclusive package pricing.

“Rather than react to planners’ needs, our goal was to create a center that anticipates and exceeds their expectations,” said Hilton Washington General Manager Steve Cowan. “Heights Executive Meeting Center is the answer for those planners in search of a venue that offers a collaborative approach to meetings that are easy to plan and customize.”

Strategically created for both planners and their conference attendees in mind, the meeting rooms have wide range of features that extend beyond the traditional hotel setting. In place of banquet chairs and tables with linens, conferees will find a setting conducive to all-day learning, including hard-top tables with easy laptop connections, wireless Internet access, ergonomic chairs, tackable walls, mounted boards, recessed electronic projection screen, blackout shades, individual meeting room climate controls and large floor-to-ceiling windows that provide garden views.

The new meeting center is part of Hilton Washington’s landmark $140 million restoration project, and was completed in June 2010.

The Heights Executive Meeting Center was named to honor the hotel’s location within the historic Washington Heights area of the city and is a reference to its “Temple Heights” location, a name given to the surrounding blocks of the neighborhood in 1930, when plans were brought forward to build a Masonic Temple on the parcel of land where the Hilton sits today. Original plans for the Templeultimately failed, but the neighborhood within the greater Washington Heights area is still called “Temple Heights” today. The Heights name is also a nod to the hotel’s location atop one of the highest elevations in the city, and its expansive skyline views that can be enjoyed from the meeting center corridor, refreshment break area and outdoor networking courtyard.

Learn more about the Hilton Washington.

A World of Golf and Excellent Meeting Options

The Renaissance Resort at World Golf Village recently underwent an extensive renovation.

The World Golf Hall of Fame, located at World Golf Village in St. Augustine, Florida, and the Renaissance Resort at World Golf Village, are becoming an increasingly popular meeting destination.

To learn more about it, we interviewed Scott Selvaggi, Director of Sales and Marketing for the Renaissance Resort at World Golf Village.

St. Augustine is a major golf destination with the World Golf Village and the World Gold Hall of Fame. How has this changed the city and what is it doing to enhance it as a meeting destination?

World Golf Village and the World Golf Hall of Fame give St. Johns County another enhancement for leisure travelers and groups. In addition to the World Golf Village, St. Johns County also offers travelers the Historic District in downtown St. Augustine, a variety of beaches, and beautiful Ponte Vedra. World Golf Village offer visitors an opportunity to enjoy the PGA Tour Academy, the PGA Tour Stop (Florida’s Largest Golf Store), and various activities for golfers and non-golfers. The World Golf Village offers exceptional lodging including the Renaissance Resort at World Golf Village.

Tell us about the $10 million property-wide renovation that the Renaissance Resort at World Golf Village completed last year.

This project captured the “Best Renovation of the Year Award” for a franchised property at the recent 2008 Marriott International National Association (MINA) conference. Located next to the impressive World Golf Hall of Fame, The Renaissance Resort at World Golf Village remodeled all 301 guest rooms and suites, dramatically changed the lobby atrium and entry area, remodeled all guest room corridors, expanded and enhanced its fitness center with state-of-the-art equipment, remodeled its billiard room, enhanced its meeting space with new carpet, and renovated its business center. In addition, the resort also remodeled its restaurant and bar, which opened in April 2008 as a new restaurant and bar called 500 South, An American Grill.

What type and size of meetings are best for your property?

We cater to all groups and sizes. In addition to meetings and conferences, we also cater to weddings, bar/bat mitzvahs, anniversary and birthday parties. We can cater up to a 1,500 person sit-down dinner and one group may occupy all 301 guest rooms. We have 14 meeting rooms and our St. Augustine Ballroom is very large at 26,880 square feet. It is the largest hotel/convention center combination between Orlando and Atlanta.

What type of golf experiences are near your resort and how can they enhance meetings?

Featuring a wealth of recreational offerings that appeal to golfers and non-golfers alike, the resort enables you to play golf on two of the country’s finest golf courses (King & Bear, and Slammer & Squire), experience the renowned PGA TOUR Golf Academy, and explore the wonders of America’s oldest city, St. Augustine. On-site offerings at The Renaissance Resort include a professional golf simulator, a sauna, pool, and hot tub. Guests also are an easy walk to The World Golf Hall of Fame’s 18-hole putting course, the 132-yard Island Challenge Hole, an IMAX® Theater, and the Walk of Champions. Onsite meetings may take advantage of team-building activities through tournament play on one of our golf courses. Additional team-building activities may be organized at our 18-hole putting course or the 132-yard Island Challenge Hole.

What other attractions does your resort and the surrounding area offer that most people don’t think of when they are considering your property for a meeting?

One will find that beautiful historic St. Augustine offers everything from upscale boutiques and historic antiques to fine art and Florida kitsch. If you have a passion for the old-fashioned – including blown glass and handmade chocolates – St. Augustine is the spot for you. In addition to perusing clothes, shoes, household goods, and unique gifts from around the world in St. Augustine, there are more than 160 outlet stores within minutes of the resort. You’ll find upwards of 85 stores at the Premium Outlets and 75+ stores at the nearby Prime Outlet Center, both within five miles of The Renaissance Resort at World Golf Village. Likewise, World Golf Village has the 30,000 square foot PGA TOUR Stop – the world’s largest golf merchandise store – perfect for gifts, equipment and apparel for the avid golfer. You’ll find more than 60 of the world’s top manufacturers of equipment and apparel featured in interactive “concept shops” and themed areas throughout the store.

Your hotel is part of the John Q. Hammons Hotels group. What is the defining feature of this group and how is it positioning itself in the meetings market?

Since developing his first hotel in 1958, John Q. Hammons has carried out his vision of creating a hotel experience that exceeds every expectation. Over the past 50 years, he has become a true innovator within the hospitality industry, from his ambitious style of property development to setting the standard for excellence in property management. Today, John Q. Hammons Hotels Management, LLC, maintains Hammons’ long tradition of quality with a renewed passion. We’re building upon his legacy of success and focusing on the future of the company – developing new properties that are sure to excel while continuing to outperform our competitors at the properties we manage. John Q. Hammons Hotels are consistently awarded the highest honors in guest satisfaction and overall excellence. Our new atrium-style developments continue to lead the industry in both meeting space and guest experience. With extraordinary associates and an experienced management team, we remain the nation’s premier independent builder, developer, owner and manager of upscale, full-service hotels.


Have a Blast with Cocoa Beach Rocket Launching Program

Every hotel tries to capitalize on its location to  create experiences for its guests and meeting  attendees.

For the Hilton Cocoa Beach Oceanfront, a  unique blend of nearby attractions and  exceptional creativity has created some  learning, teambuilding, and recreational options  that have been a hit withmeeting professionals.

For starters, the hotel is located just a few  miles from Cape Canaveral and the Kennedy  Space Center, launch site for the Space Shuttle  and many other space missions. Just south of  the hotel is one of largest nesting grounds for sea turtles. And of course the hotel is adjacent to miles of pristine Atlantic seaboard beachfront.

So what does this mean for meeting professionals? Jason McKee, Director of Sales and Marketing for the Hilton Cocoa Beach Oceanfront, explains that the hotel has developed a rocket launch team-building program, a remote-control dune buggy racing program, and partnerships with the nearby Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge to offer meeting experiences unique to the hotel.

He reports that many engineering organizations meet at the hotel, which was part of inspiration for creating the rocket launch program, where teams of 4-5 meeting attendees work together to build and launch model rockets.

“It is very competitive as far as designs go,” McKee says. “Engineers with multiple advanced degrees get so enthusiastic about building these kids’ toys and launching them. It really is a team-building exercise and has been a tremendous success for us. But it’s not just for engineers – we have had every type of organization do it. They take a real sense of pride in building the rockets, recovering them, and relaunching them. It builds a real sense of camaraderie, increases the competition level, and it is fun to watch adults turn into kids again.” The experience is often enhanced by a session with an astronaut who talks about the team-building required to make a Shuttle space launch happen.

“We always ask what the mission of the group is to help tailor the presentation,” McKee explains. “In a space launch there is always a mission. We convey the organization mission to the astronaut who comes to speak.”

Several teams around the world work together to make a space launch happen, so the astronauts always have many perspectives and lessons to talk about. Besides the team at the Kennedy Space Center, there is a support team in Houston, teams in Spain, France, and Australia for potential emergency landings, and a team in California in case weather in Florida or other factors require an alternate landing site.

“Tens of thousands of people work together to get six people in space and back again,” McKee says. When he joined the hotel a few years ago, he knew nothing about the space program, but is now well-versed in many aspects of it after listening to astronauts speak and visiting Cape Canaveral.

Another exciting option is for meeting attendees to witness a Space Shuttle launch. McKee has his own personal experience with this, watching a launch from a spot two miles away (the closest you can get to witness a launch) with his four-year-old son.

“He talks nonstop all the time,” McKee says, “but after we watched the launch and had our clothes blown back by the noise, all he could say for the next 15 minutes was ‘whoa.’”

Only a few more Shuttle launches are scheduled before the National Aeronautic and Space Administration moves into its new Constellation program, but he notes that 24-26 unmanned launches are planned in 2010-11, and the hotel can arrange VIP tours of the Kennedy Space Center if a launch is not happening.

When meeting professionals, inspired by the rocket launch program, began asking for more activities, McKee and his team partnered with a local hobby shop and created the remote-controlled dune buggy racing competition, where attendees race dune buggies through an obstacle course on the beach.


“Each team has to complete at least one lap,” he says. “They get points based on speed, traversing all the obstacles, and having the fewest crashes.”

“Our hotel is also a phenomenal place for ecology tourism and ecological groups,” McKee says, since one of largest nesting grounds for sea turtles is only a few miles south of the property.

Tours include many nature preserves with wildlife and walking trails. Turtles, bald eagles, and osprey are just a few of the wildlife that can be seen. The hotel partners with the Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge to conduct private tours during the turtle nesting season. The Caribbean Conservation Corporation, which works to protect the turtles, explains the life cycle of sea turtles and how humans affect them and how the seacoast community has helped them.

Airboat rides and kayaking are also available near the hotel.

The Hilton Cocoa Beach Oceanfront also offers guests a chance to earn a deluxe breakfast by volunteering to go out and do early-morning beach cleanup, offering meeting attendees a chance to support green initiatives.

The hotel is located 45 miles from Orlando International Airport. “It’s a one-hour trip from baggage claim at the airport to our front desk,” McKee says. The hotel also provide hurricane insurance in case an event is affected by a named storm – groups can rebook within 12 months with no penalties.


Memphis: A Cool City with a Warm Welcome

What’s the most surprising thing about Memphis?

Most meeting planners recognize Memphis, Tennessee as a cool city with a great vibe, but many say they don’t realize how much the city offers. The city has more than 50 attractions that are unique to Memphis, including Graceland, Beale Street and the National Civil Rights Museum. Plus it has a sizzling nightlife and live blues music can be heard in most every bar/club throughout the city. The central location of Memphis makes it easy to reach from anywhere in the United States.

A High-Value Destination

Memphis offers strong value in this tough economy – it’s a Southern city offering costs and rates that average half of nearly all first-tier and many second-tier cities. With a the state-of-the-art 300,000 square-foot Cook Convention Center located in the heart of downtown partnered with first-class guest accommodations, unrivaled attractions, world-class performing arts, multi-cultural festivals/events and excellent restaurants, Memphis is an impressive overall convention package.

Hotels and More

Celebrating its 140th anniversary in 2009, the Peabody Hotel, hailed as the South’s Grand Hotel, is adding 163 upscale suites – 2 office suites, 152 standard suites, 7 upgraded suites and 7 presidential-type suites – on the second and third levels of the entertainment complex at 150 Peabody Place. This will give the Peabody Hotel over 600 hotel rooms.

The 600-room Memphis Marriott Downtown, the largest hotel in the city, recently underwent a $5 million guest room update. The hotel has an indoor connection to the convention center, offering excellent convenience for large meetings.

Another major property, The Crowne Plaza Memphis is within walking distance of the shopping, dining, and legendary blues entertainment of Beale Street and is also close to the convention center, the Pyramid, Mud Island, the Orpheum Theater, and Graceland.
The Grade Hotel is a new 30-room boutique hotel conveniently located on South Front Street.

Elvis says thank you very much to Memphis

Starting this month, Delta Air Lines is adding three daily nonstop, round-trip flights between Memphis International Airport and Dallas’ Love Field. Customers flying between Love Field and Memphis will have connecting opportunities to 237 peak-day flights with 90 worldwide destinations.

Memphis is also a place that welcomes visitors with genuine warmth and charm. If you want to capture the true essence of Memphis, if you want to define its true character, you’ll find it in the welcoming smiles of its people. In fact, if the city’s most famous resident – Elvis Presley – could revisit Memphis, he would have just six words: “Thank you! Thank you very much!”