*L.A. Inc. Opens China Office
*Hawaii Remains Unshaken
*Kerzner Dies in Crash

Los Angeles entered the history books Oct. 9 by becoming the first city in the world to open a tourism office in Beijing. A proud Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa personally opened the office during a multi-city Asian trade mission in which he cited the importance of tourism to the City of Angels. “The tourism industry is critical to the economic health of Los Angeles employing hundreds of thousands of Angelenos and pumping billions into our local economy,” said Villaraigosa. “With the opening of the new tourism office in Beijing, Los Angeles is putting down a permanent welcome mat for the tens of millions of Chinese tourists who will visit our great city in the coming years. More tourism means more jobs and a healthier economy.”

The city’s tourism office in Los Angeles also plans to redouble its efforts to entice both business and leisure travelers from China.

Presently, China is Los Angeles’ fastest-growing overseas visitor market, generating an estimated $78 million in visitor spending. Although the majority of Chinese travel to Los Angeles is for business purposes, the number of leisure travelers is expected to surge when restrictions on group travel are lifted in the next year.

By 2010, an estimated 50 million Chinese are expected to visit the United States. And that number is projected to reach 100 million annual travelers by 2020, according to the World Tourism Organization.

By opening the new office, Los Angeles hopes to gain an advantage in the quest for tourist dollars from China. The L.A. Inc. tourism office will focus on attracting visitors from China’s three largest cities of Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou. The tourism office will partner with Chinese airlines to promote the Los Angeles International Airport and will also work with travel agents to develop tour packages.

After being rocked by a 6.8-magnitude earthquake on Oct. 15, Hawaii officials want to let the world know that the state is open and ready for business. The effects of the quake continue to appear minimal. All major highways statewide are open. Airports are operating normally, officials said, and airlines are arriving and departing as scheduled.

Although some have reported light damage, all hotels across the state are open for business, including hotels and resorts in the Kona-Kohala area of the Big Island closest to the epicenter, which sustained superficial damage.

In addition, all hotels and resorts along the Kohala Coast Mauna Kea Beach Hotel, Hapuna Beach Prince Hotel, Mauna Lani Bay Hotel, Fairmont Orchid, Hilton Waikoloa Village, Waikola Beach Marriott, Kona Village and Four Seasons Resort Hualalai are operating normally and honoring reservations.

The earthquake was centered under the ocean off the northwest coast of Hawaii’s Big Island and was felt on all the major islands. A 5.8-magnitude quake followed seven minutes later and numerous smaller aftershocks were registered over the next few hours.

No one died or sustained serious injuries because of the quake, according to reports.

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Howard “Butch” Kerzner, CEO of Kerzner International Holdings, was killed along with three others in a helicopter crash in the Dominican Republic on Oct. 11. Kerzner International includes the flagship Atlantis resort on Paradise Island, the Bahamas, the One&Only luxury hotel chain and a number of casino and gaming operations.

Kerzner, 42, the son of Sol Kerzner, chairman and founder of the company, was in the Dominican Republic to survey potential development sites.

The crash occurred near the tourist resort area of Sosua on the island’s north coast. Kerzner was on board with one additional passenger and two pilots. There were no survivors.

Prior to his appointment as CEO in January 2004, Kerzner served as president for eight years. He joined Kerzner International (then called Sun International) in 1992.

Kerzner International, based in the Bahamas, will complete a $1 billion expansion of Paradise Island next spring, an initiative directed by Kerzner, who also spearheaded a joint venture in the United Arab Emirates to develop Atlantis, the Palm, in Dubai, set to open in 2008.

He also expanded the firm’s luxury hotel portfolio, including its five hotels on Mauritius that are part of the One&Only Resorts’ global brand. Within Kerzner International’s casino operations, Kerzner developed Mohegan Sun, a $330 million casino resort in Uncasville, Conn., which opened in 1996. The casino’s recently completed $1 billion expansion took place on Kerzner’s watch, as well.

Paul O’Neil, former CEO of the company’s Paradise Island operation and a current member of the company’s board of directors, has been appointed acting CEO, effective immediately.

Kerzner is survived by his wife and two young children.

As government heads of tourism, travel agents and other members of the Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO) gather for their annual conference, the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (commonly known as the passport regulation) has taken center stage.

Congress’ recent ruling gave an extension until June 2009 for returning cruise ship passengers to present passports, while those returning by air must do so by Jan. 8, 2007.

In another push to have that latter deadline also moved to June 2009, CTO and the Caribbean Hotel Association have been joined by the airlines and cruise lines to make their voices heard at the highest levels of Congress and Homeland Security.

Other measures may include an advertising and public relations campaign to alert the 75 percent of U.S. citizens without passports. In addition, hotels have been offering incentives and payment for passports. Officials hope this combined strength will have some effect, as the rule strongly impacts on tourism in the region.

Many delegates will see an increase in business appointments as the National Tour Association introduced two enhancements to its signature Tour & Travel Exchange. At the 2006 NTA Annual Convention in Salt Lake City, NTA incorporated Direct Request options and Consecutive Appointments to their scheduling system this year. According to delegates’ pre-scheduled appointments, the average number of appointments has increased by 11 percent within the last year. The Direct Request scheduling feature helps delegates secure more appointments before arriving in Salt Lake, as well as allowing them to see other attendees’ schedules and request appointments.

The new Consecutive Appointments option provides tour operators more time for product development, and during the appointment-scheduling process, tour operators are also able to book consecutive appointments.

Airbus has confirmed a further delay to the deliveries of the A380 aircraft ordered by Singapore Airlines. The first A380 will now be scheduled for delivery in the fourth quarter of 2007, and deliveries of 18 subsequent aircraft will occur in 2008 and beyond.

Despite setbacks, the flight test and certification program is proceeding well, officials said, and the delays are because of production issues. The first of 19 Boeing 777-300ER aircraft will be delivered to the airline in November. Six of these aircraft will be delivered before the end of 2006; 10 will be in service by mid-2007.

Singapore Airlines will remain the first to fly the new super-jumbo, and, as was the case under the former delivery schedule, will receive the first four aircraft.

Preferred Boutique, a member of the Preferred Hotel Group family of brands, has selected six new member properties to add to its roster of hotels and resorts. “We will continue to grow globally and uncover exceptional hotels and resorts that discerning travelers have come to associate with Preferred Boutique,” said spokeswoman Lindsey Ueberroth.

The recent additions to Preferred Boutique’s portfolio include: The Lodge at Sea Island in Saint Simmons Island, Georgia; Los Alamandas in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico; Sherry Netherland in New York City, N.Y.; Fifteen Beacon in Boston, Massachusetts; Egerton House Hotel in London, England; and The Alchymist Grand Hotel and Spa in Prague, Czech Republic.

I’m writing to let your readers know that Mario D’Amato, a longtime travel agent to the Italian community in Los Angeles, recently died at age 72.

D’Amato started his career in Italy as a fighter pilot in the Italian Air Force. He arrived in L.A. in 1960 and went to work for Alitalia as a sales rep. In 1963, he opened his own travel agency that specialized in travel for the Italian community of Los Angeles.

He died on Sunday, Oct. 8, of heart failure. He leaves behind a wife and three children, as well as many friends.

Ariel Shapiro, Global Network Travel, Los Angeles