Monthly Archives: December 2010

Marriott's $46 million tax abatement still a hot topic

Public debate continues over the D.C. Council’s decision to grant a $46 million dollar tax abatement to Marriott for a luxury hotel planned in Adams Morgan. The abatement, which exempts the hotel from paying real estate taxes for 20 years, has drawn the ire of many concerned about the District’s $440 million budget shortfall and deep cuts in services.

San Francisco Hotel Laundering Money

A San Francisco hotel is laundering money — literally.

The Westin St. Francis hotel in Union Square is continuing a 72-year-old tradition of washing all the coins it handles.

Every nickel, penny, dime and quarter is cleaned with soap and water at the hotel before being dried and rolled.

The San Francisco Chronicle reports that money was first washed at the St. Francis in 1938 after coins dirtied a woman’s white gloves.

While other San Francisco hotels abandoned the practice, it continued at the St. Francis.

Rob Holsen, the hotel’s current change washer, says the practice dates back to a time when coins were used more than bills. He estimates he has cleaned $1.5 million in change in the past 20 years.

Teens Deaths In Florida Hotel Appear To Be Accidental

Five teenagers were found dead in a Florida motel room on Monday, apparently killed by carbon monoxide poisoning.

The five teens had reportedly gathered for a birthday party at the Hotel Presidente. The deaths are believed to be accidental.

According to reports, a Kia Optima used by the group was found running in a garage located underneath the room, perhaps left on to preserve the battery after a jump start. A door was slightly open and high levels of carbon monoxide were found inside.

The teens had gathered to celebrate the 19th birthday of Juchen Martial, one of the victims. Also dead are Evans Charles, 19, Jonas Antenor, 18, Peterson Nazon, 17, and Jean Pierre Ferdinand, 16.

Drug Cartel Violence Spills Into Cancun

Three people were fatally shot Wednesday in the Mexican resort city of Cancun.

According to Mexican authorities, the three men were tortured before being shot.

An 8-month-old boy was also killed Wednesday when he was caught in the middle of a gunfight between federal police and drug cartel hit men in El Alcalde.

The Michoacan Attorney General’s Office said the boy was in a taxi with his mother Wednesday night when he was struck by stray bullet. The boy’s mother was not injured.

Authorities said six federal police officers have been injured during the confrontation with gunmen.

Nearly 30,000 people have been killed in drug-related violence in Mexico after President Felipe Calderon took office in Dec. 2006.

Tom Costello is the CEO, Partner & Co-Founder of Groups International, a company that provides marketing, consultative services, and technology solutions to the group and leisure travel markets.  Connect with him on TwitterLinkedIn, and Facebook or contact him by email.

U.S. suffers from 'bureaucratic malaise' in promoting travel & tourism

Since terrorist attacks in 2001, the government has made it far more difficult for foreigners to travel to the U.S., costing the nation tens of billions in lost revenue and hundreds of thousands of jobs, according to J.W. Marriott, Jr., the longtime CEO of Marriott International Inc. 

“We’ve become a risk-averse country,” said Marriott, speaking at an event in Washington on Tuesday on how to restore U.S. economic growth. Marriott manages about 3,500 hotels around the world, with about 80% still in the U.S.

The 78-year-old executive acknowledged the necessity of tighter security measures, but he said the U.S. does a poor job in promoting travel and tourism, suffers from bureaucratic malaise and is not very hospitable.

Nor does he expect much change anytime soon. Marriott said he has met repeatedly with officials at the State Department and other government agencies, but they have been largely unresponsive.

“We keep talking and they look at us and say, ‘We’re protecting the country,’ ” Marriott said.

Although Congress passed a travel promotion act earlier this year, Marriott said neither party has shown great interest in helping the tourism and travel industry. He also faulted the Obama White House for its reluctance to help U.S. companies.

“This administration doesn’t have anyone with business experience,” he said.

The cost of such inattention, Marriott said, is high since travel and tourism accounts for about 8% of all U.S. exports. The U.S. lost around $450 billion in exports and about 440,000 jobs over the past 10 years — what Marriott called the lost decade — because of a plunge in foreign travel.

Instead, the money went to other countries where travel restrictions are less burdensome and customs officials more helpful. The U.S. makes people from most countries wait at least 90 days for a visa and also requires a personal interview from short-handed Embassy staff. Other places such as Europe make it much easier for people to visit even while maintaining tight security procedures.

“More Chinese visited Paris last year than the U.S.,” noted Marriott, who said each Chinese traveler spends about $7,000 per U.S. visit compared to $1,200 for each domestic traveler.

By boosting tourism and travel by just 10% annually, the nation could add 100,000 jobs a year, Marriott said. He also argued that foreigners who visit the U.S. leave with a more positive view, helping to improve relations with other countries.

“This is really low-hanging fruit,” he said.

Marriott said Democrats and Republicans have to work harder to help businesses if the U.S. wants to resume global economic leadership. He said lawmakers should lower corporate taxes, pass more free-trade deals, give more Visas to talented foreign students, streamline regulations and provide permanent incentives for research and investment, among other things.

Above all else, he said, businesses need more certainty about government policy before they’ll have the courage and confidence to start investing heavily again. He pointed to the recently passed health-care law as one example of legislation that has clouded the ability of companies to plan for the future because of unknown costs.

“Businesses are waiting for government to say: here is the green light.”