Villas in paradise Orlando, Fla.-based Vistana Inc. and Sun International Hotels Ltd. have teamed up to develop Harborside Resort at Atlantis, a 198-unit vacation ownership resort in the Bahamas. The resort will be adjacent to Atlantis Paradise Island, which recently underwent a $650-million expansion.

The joint venture agreement calls for Sun International, a subsidiary of White Plains, N.Y.-based Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide Inc., to oversee the development and construction phases of the resort, and for Vistana Inc. to manage timeshare operations.

Consisting primarily of two-bedroom lock-off style units, the Harborside's accommodations will include master bedroom suites with whirlpool tub, a kitchen, and living and dining areas. Guests will have access to Atlantis Paradise Island's many amenities, including a deep-water marina and beach, pools, waterfalls, and 38 restaurants and lounges.

MainStay Suites opens first hotel in Big Apple market MainStay Suites has opened a 132-unit hotel in Secaucus, N.J., five miles from New York City. The hotel, the first MainStay in metro New York, features studio, one-bedroom and two-bedroom suites. Owned by Silver Spring, Md.-based Sunburst Hospitality Corp., the hotel is located off Route 3 of the New Jersey Turnpike, one mile from the Meadowlands sports complex.

A self-serve, automated system called the Mariner Express Services Kiosk enables guests to check in and out 24 hours a day. The hotel also features an indoor pool, exercise room, guest laundry services, on-site parking and valet service.

Candlewood Suites opens hotel near busy O'Hare A seven-story, 160-room Candlewood Suites in Schiller Park, Ill., has opened its doors one mile form O'Hare International Airport. Located at 4025 North Mannheim Road, the hotel is owned by Chicago-based Newcastle Ltd. and was developed by affiliate Contract Development LLC.

Consisting of 118 studio suites and 42 one-bedroom suites, the hotel features an exercise room and laundry facilities. In addition to the Candlewood brand, the Wichita, Kan.-based Candlewood Hotel Co. also owns the Cambridge Suites brand.

Four Points Hotels debuts in 13 markets simultaneously Four Points Hotels by Sheraton, a brand of White Plains, N.Y.-based Starwood Hotels and Resorts Worldwide Inc., converted 13 properties simultaneously recently, increasing its portfolio of hotels by 10%. Owned by Washington, D.C.-based Barcelona Hotels USA, the 13 hotels are managed by Starwood Hotels & Resorts, and are called Four Points Barcelo Hotels. The hotels were converted from Wyndham and Wyndham Garden Hotel brands under a management contract.

The new Four Points Barcelo Hotels are in Kansas City, Mo.; Denver; Phoenix; Pittsburgh; Newark and Piscataway, N.J.; Burlington and Waltham, Mass.; Oakbrook, Ill.; Lexington, Ky.; and Monrovia, Culver City and San Rafael, Calif. By the end of May, Four Points also plans to open hotels in Sydney, Australia; Washington, D.C.; and Dresden, Germany.

With the 13 new properties, Four Points increases its franchises to 132 properties worldwide, adding 2,691 rooms for a total of 25,317. The company expects to close the year with approximately 160 properties worldwide.

Crestline & STDC team up to boost industry profile Bethesda, Md.-based Crestline Hotels & Resorts Inc. and Atlanta-based Stormont Trice Development Corp. (STDC) have teamed up to boost their hotel operations. Under the agreement, Crestline Hotels & Resorts, a subsidiary of Crestline Capital Corp., has the option of managing and co-investing in STDC hotels, while STDC is given the option of providing development and major renovation services at certain Crestline-managed hotels. STDC has developed 22 projects in 10 cities valued at more than $500 million; Crestline Hotels manages and leases 27 hotels and resorts.

Canada's biggest franchiser gets a little bit bigger Toronto-based AFM Hospitality Corp. has acquired exclusive franchise rights to the Hawthorn and Best Inn brands. AFM, Canada's largest hospitality franchiser, acquired the franchising rights from Atlanta-based U.S. Franchise Systems Inc. The acquisition brings the number of brands in AFM's Canadian lodging portfolio to seven.

The Hawthorn properties include Hawthorn Suites, which feature one-and two-bedroom suites, and Hawthorn Inn & Suites, featuring a mix of suites and efficiency units. Best Inn properties feature single, double and suite accommodations.

By 2005, AFM plans to open between 50 and 75 Canadian locations of the two brands, according to company executives. In addition to the two new brands, AFM is the Canadian franchiser for ASTON, Howard Johnson, Knights Inn, Ramada and Villager Lodge.

Wyndham drops Sierra Suites to focus on other properties Dallas-based Wyndham International Inc. has sold its Sierra Suites hotel brand to focus on its upscale properties. Wyndham sold the brand to Sierra Suites Hotel Co., a partnership owned by Rolf Ruhfus and B. Anthony Isaac, two of the founders of the Sierra Suites Hotel brand. Ruhfus also sits on the board for Wyndam International.

The company will concentrate on the Summerfield Suites Hotel brand, an all-suite hotel that competes in the upscale extended-stay market. Terms of the Sierra sale were not available.

There also have been several changes in Wyndham's executive roster. Fred Kleisner has been promoted from COO to CEO, while former CEO James Carreker has decided to limit his duties to the chairman position, according to the company. Ted Teng, former president of White Plains, N.Y.-based Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide Inc.'s Asia Pacific market, has been named COO.

PH Casino bets on $91 million merger with Pinnacle In a merger worth nearly $91 million, PH Casino Resorts, a newly formed subsidiary of Lake Tahoe, Nev.-based Harveys Casino Resorts, has acquired Glendale, Calif.-based Pinnacle Entertainment Inc.

Under the terms of the merger, Pinnacle will contribute $50 million of its shares to PH Casino Resorts. Upon the deal's closing, PH Casino Resorts will acquire all the outstanding stock of Pinnacle for $24 per diluted share, with a value of at least $40.75 million.

Pinnacle's assets include eight casinos (with four hotels) in Nevada, Mississippi, Louisiana and Argentina. The company also is constructing the Belterra Resort and Casino, in southern Indiana, about 35 miles southwest of Cincinnati. Harveys Casino Resorts owns and operates Harveys Resort and Casino in Lake Tahoe; Harveys Casino Hotel in Council Bluffs, Iowa; and Harveys Wagon Wheel Hotel/Casino in Central City, Colo.

In this case, no growth is good news In 1994, a customer paying a bill at a New York City hotel probably felt a bit ripped off. The city levied a 19.25% hotel tax at that time, which meant a person staying in a $200 room had nearly $40 added to the bill.

The hotel tax in New York City is now 13.25%, so travelers are less likely to feel sticker shock when they get their bills. New York City's hotel tax is now on par with what's charged in many other cities. While hotel tax rates across the United States aren't on the decline, Rick Webster, head of government affairs for the Washington, D.C.-based Travel Industry Association of America, (TIA) says he has noticed a welcome trend.

"The trend I have seen is a slowing in the [tax rate] growth. In 1993 to 1994, there was lots of activity," he says. The decrease in the New York City tax rate, which was by far the highest in the nation, was the best thing that could have happened, he adds.

"When they lowered their tax rate, it froze a lot of other cities," he says. "They couldn't look to New York and say their rate was that high, so we have room to increase ours, too."

TIA conducted surveys in 1994 and 1998, and Webster says the organization hopes to conduct another within the next few years. Hotel tax rates from 1994 to 1998 remained stable in major business destinations such as Chicago, Dallas and Phoenix, but 1% or 2% increases were more common.

According to TIA, at least a portion of each municipalities' hotel tax goes into a general fund budget. Some cities, such as Detroit, are using the money to pay for new stadiums, a practice which TIA staunchly opposes. Using hotel taxes to fund these projects is unfair, says Webster, because they're paid by out-of-town customers who will not regularly use the facilities.

"I'm happier that hotel tax increases have slowed, but I'm not happy that hotel taxes are being used to fund stadiums," says Webster. TIA would rather see local sales tax revenues pay for stadiums.

"These taxes should be dedicated to services that benefit the payer," he says, adding many cities levy hotel taxes that do just that. In these cities, a high percentage of revenues goes toward tourism-related items.