Starwood Finalizes Le Meridien Acquisition

*Riverwalk Opens in New Orleans
* Funjet Presents Virtual Fam
*Classic Name Change

Last week, Starwood Hotels and Resorts completed the $225 million acquisition of the Le Meridien hotel brand, including the related management and franchise business of the chain’s 130 hotels and resorts around the world.

Starwood said the acquisition, first announced in August, will “significantly increase” its presence particularly in the Asia-Pacific region as Le Meridien has at least 10 new hotels in India, Thailand and China, among other places, slated to open in 2006.

Starwood will continue to operate the Le Meridien flag.

“Le Meridien is a perfect complement to the Starwood portfolio, with its international footprint and unique guest culture,” said Steven Heyer, Starwood’s CEO in a statement. “Le Meridien represents both a great growth opportunity, alongside Starwood’s W and Westin brands, and extends the number of destination choices of travel” to the 24 million members of the Starwood Preferred Guest loyalty program.

“In addition, we have great plans to expand the brand particularly in the U.S., Latin America and Asia-Pacific to enhance the brand itself, and build on its great reputation and people,” Heyer said.

Starwood Hotels and Resorts has more than 850 properties in more than 95 countries worldwide. Its brands include St. Regis, The Luxury Collection, Sheraton, Westin, Four Points by Sheraton, W, Le Meridien, Aloft and Starwood Vacation Ownership.

Riverwalk Opens in New Orleans

New Orleans’ Riverwalk Marketplace, reopened for business as the city took another step toward restoring a tourism infrastructure that remains largely ravaged three months after the massive flooding caused by Hurricane Katrina.

Riverwalk Marketplace, one of the Big Easy’s top attractions, is home to a variety of shops and eateries on the downtown New Orleans riverfront.

“The reopening of Riverwalk is an important step in the journey New Orleans faces to rebuild the vital tourism industry,” said John Bucksbaum, CEO of General Growth Properties, in a statement. General Growth Properties owns and manages Riverwalk.

The marketplace, which will feature live entertainment every weekend by the Riverwalk Jazz Band, will be open seven days a week from 11 a.m.-7 p.m.

Riverwalk joins other attractions that have resumed operations over the past several weeks, however, the city still has a long way to go before it is fully recovered. For instance, in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, about 70 percent of the city’s 35,574 hotel rooms were closed, according to Lodging Econometrics, a firm that tracks hotel real estate. New Orleans reports that currently only about 17,000 hotel rooms are open, but it expects to add another 9,000 early next year.

Funjet Vacations Presents Virtual Fam

Funjet Vacations is presenting a fast-paced, 45-minute interactive online broadcast that will show post-Wilma footage of 15 hotels and several attractions in the Riviera Maya, as well as allow agents to ask questions to a panel of experts about tourism and hotel conditions.

In addition to these updates, agents will also receive promotions and offers from the Riviera Maya that are specific to their selected gateways during each live broadcast.

There will be two live shows daily from Dec. 6-9. The schedule for the broadcasts is (all times, PST):

Dec. 6, Show A: 10 a.m.; Show B: 3:30 p.m.

Dec. 7, Show B: 9 a.m.; Show A: 2:30 p.m.

Dec. 8, Show A: 11 a.m.; Show B: 4 p.m.

Dec. 9, Show B: 9 a.m.; Show A: 1 p.m.

Agents who view both shows will automatically be registered to win all-inclusive trips to the Riviera Maya.

The Virtual Fam is offered to agents free of charge. Registration can be done through VAX at or the Web site:

Classic Name Change

As part of a broader brand initiative that included updated logos and a new graphic identity system, Classic Custom Vacations has changed its name to Classic Vacations. The new 2006 product brochures for Hawaii, Mexico, Europe and the Caribbean are the first major pieces to feature the revised name and brand.

According to Classic president Gregg Brockway, the change reflects the company’s current momentum and builds on its reputation for excellence.

“We’re modifying the name, but we’re not changing what the company stands for,” Brockway said.

Trisept Adds Cruise Engine

Trisept Solutions will debut a new cruise booking engine in December on its VAX VacationAccess system that will enable agents to book 10 lines.

The engine will permit real-time bookings in a five-step process for Carnival Cruise Lines, Celebrity Cruises, Costa Cruises, Cunard Line, Holland America Line, Princess Cruises, Norwegian Cruise Line, Royal Caribbean International, the Yachts of Seabourn and Windstar Cruises.

Specials offered by the cruise lines also will be available, and agents will be able to search for cruises by lifestyle or interests.

Tauck Launches New Web Site

After over a year in development, Tauck World Discovery has launched a new and expanded Web site, with enhancements that include the ability to sort trips by type rather than just destination.

Visitors to the site can choose from over 10 trip categories, such as cruises, U.S. National Parks, premium events, fall foliage journeys, family travel and best sellers. Expanded information is also available for each journey, including an itinerary map, image slideshow, FAQ, travel tips and more.

Ensemble Travel Group raises Funds

During its 2005 International Conference in Anaheim, Calif., Ensemble Travel Group members and suppliers raised nearly $11,000 for the Tourism Cares - Gulf Coast Restoration Fund through the sale of Tourism Cares for the Gulf wristbands.

Part of Tourism Cares for Tomorrow’s mission for the fund is to rebuild the tourism infrastructure of the Gulf Coast which is vital to the area’s economy through the repair and restoration of natural, cultural and historic sites.

Sceptre Tours Celebrates 25

In celebration of its 25th anniversary, Sceptre Tours which focuses exclusively on Ireland and specializes in independent travel to the Emerald Isle has created a special 2006 brochure, adding several itineraries with added sightseeing and amenities.

The company’s signature seven-night Treasures tour includes accommodations in four- and five-star hotels and castles, and features a luxury motorcoach with a professional Irish chauffeur/tour guide.

The 2006 Treasures tour is priced from $999 net per person, double occupancy.

Americans Plan to Travel for the Holidays

An American Express survey recently sampled 278 Americans who plan to take a vacation from November until the end of this year, gauging their thoughts on travel costs and major concerns.

Results show that one in four Americans, roughly 27 percent, and a third of those aged 18 to 24, plan to take a leisure trip before the end of the year, with an average estimated holiday travel budget of $1,267.

Concerns that top travelers’ minds are financial planning, trip costs and payment. Also, 37 percent of consumers point to convenience as a major factor influencing how they book travel. Other factors include price (33 percent) and discounts and deals (23 percent).

Large family gatherings are popular this season, with 57 percent of those surveyed planning to visit family or friends at home or take a vacation with family or friends (37 percent). Though more than half will stay with relatives and friends, nearly four in 10 of those planning to travel will stay at a hotel, motel or resort.

The survey was conducted via telephone Oct. 14-18.