Arizona is the kind of meeting destination that if you haven’t been there lately, it’s time to schedule another site inspection trip. No matter how many times you may have brought a group to this sunny Southwestern state, there is always something new and exciting to discover.
Patrice Trusdell, CMP, vice president of the meeting planning firm Boggs Chung Incorporated in Norristown, PA, kicked off the new year by planning an internal business meeting in Arizona for one of her clients. The venue chosen for the 80-attendee event was The Wigwam, an iconic 400-acre resort west of Phoenix that was built in 1918 as a retreat for the Ohio-based executives of the Goodyear Tire & Rubber company. Times have changed a bit, though. Back then, guests were given a horse along with their room key when they checked in.
Trusdell hadn’t been to The Wigwam (331 casitas and suites; more than 100,000 sf of meeting space) for about 10 years, and she was very pleased with what she found. Last year, the luxury resort, which is under new management, unveiled a $7 million rejuvenation project. “All of it was well spent,” she comments. “They have a new entrance approach. They completely reconstructed and reconfigured the lobby. They’ve made it more like a living room would be when you walk in. It’s much more approachable and sets the tone for what the property is.
“The meeting space is outstanding,” she continues. “They have a lot of it. Their rooms-to-meeting-space ratio is phenomenal for a planner, and it’s in very good shape. The guest rooms are so large comparative to the square footage in most guest rooms. For standard rooms, they’re oversized, and they’re in the process of renovating all of their bathrooms. The guest rooms are all in pods laid out around the property around landscaped gardens and paths and pools, and the beautiful Red Door spa, which is just amazing.”
She also commented on the resort’s beautiful landscaping and gardens. “As you come up the front drive, it’s lined with huge, stately palms, but then they also have citrus trees. Off the front lobby, they have an enormous display of oranges that are there for guests to take that are grown on-property. It’s just a nice touch.”
Her client’s all-business agenda didn’t leave any time for the spa or the resort’s 54 holes of golf, but she did plan a special evening. “We took over Litchfield’s, their fine-dining restaurant on the last night of our program, and they did an excellent job. People walked out of there saying “That was such a great meal!’ It was a complete fine-dining experience.”
Trusdell had high praise for the entire staff, from the efficiency of the sales team to the attentiveness of the bell staff to the high service standards of the food and beverage team. She gave the example of an attendee who requested a brand of soft drink that wasn’t on the drink display. Not only was the requested drink delivered with a smile, but that particular brand was automatically made available at every meal thereafter. She also made a point of complimenting the resort’s front desk and housekeeping staffs. “They are phenomenal. Truly everything went so smoothly for our guests at check-in and checkout, and the housekeeping staff was superb. Since these departments don’t often get mentioned, I wanted to give them a shout out.”
The Sheraton Phoenix Downtown (more than 1,000 guest rooms, 47 suites; more than 80,000 sf of meeting space) located near the Phoenix Convention Center, is offering two special services for groups: A link to e-dmc, a Web-based destination management service and “Onsite Specialty Events,” budget-friendly activities that eliminate the need to arrange (and pay for) transportation to offsite venues — ideal for planners looking to reduce their meeting’s carbon footprint.
Also located near the Phoenix Convention Center, the Renaissance Phoenix Downtown Hotel (428 guest rooms; 60,000 sf of meeting space) is offering special incentives for groups requiring 10 or more nights on peak nights for meetings that are booked by the end of the year. Qualifying groups can choose three incentives from a list that includes free Internet access in attendees’ guest rooms, triple Marriott points, VIP amenities and 30 percent allowable attrition.
The Pointe Hilton Tapatio Cliffs Resort (584 suites; more than 65,000 sf of meeting space) in Phoenix makes it easy to plan offsite tours and teambuilding activities, thanks to the resort’s partnership with Southwest Conference Planners. The offsite activities offered are as diverse as desert hikes, shopping tours and visits to Wrigley Mansion, the 16,850-sf, 24-room estate once used as a winter home for the chewing gum magnate’s family. Some of the choices for Southwest-style teambuilding activities include a chili cook-off, Wild West olympics (such as cowboy hat frisbee) and covered-wagon building.
The JW Marriott Phoenix Desert Ridge (950 guest rooms; 240,000 sf of meeting space), which just celebrated its 10th anniversary, is an earth-friendly resort. Its long list of initiatives for green meetings includes extensive recycling (including in-room bins), the use of recycled paper products, electronic invoices for group events, water and energy conservation, and chemical reduction practices.
Sheraton Wild Horse Pass Resort & Spa’s (500 guest rooms; 100,000 sf of meeting space) signature fine-dining restaurant, Kai, was recently honored with its seventh AAA Five Diamond designation. The restaurant is renowned for its innovative, Native American-inspired cuisine that incorporates locally grown ingredients from the Gila River Indian Community.
One of the newest and most unique special event locations in Phoenix is the Musical Instrument Museum, a 200,000-sf venue filled with nearly 350 interactive exhibits showcasing musical instruments from around the world. The museum offers multiple areas for private events, including courtyards, the MIM Café and a 299-seat music theater equipped with state-of-the art acoustics and projection capabilities.
As a meeting destination, Scottsdale never stagnates. New additions include the $20 million, 52,330-sf conference center recently unveiled at The Fairmont Scottsdale Princess (649 guest rooms). The new venue, which includes the 23,000-sf Palomino Ballroom, brings the property’s total meeting space to approximately 150,000 sf. In January, The Fairmont launched its new spa concept Well & Being at Willow Stream Spa, created by Trilogy Spa Holdings. As the first of its kind in the nation, the program draws from a wide range of health, wellness, nutrition, integrative medicine, fitness and spa offerings to create customized wellness programs.
Several Scottsdale properties are also sporting fresh new looks. Last summer, The Scottsdale Plaza Resort (404 guest rooms; 40,0000 sf of meeting space) completed a $3 million property-wide renovation project, which included updates to all guest rooms and suites.
The Westin Kierland Resort & Spa (732 guest rooms; 100,000 sf of meeting space) recently invested approximately $5 million to enhance its meeting space. The resort’s newest venue is the 11,300-sf Trailblazer Ballroom, which overlooks the golf course. The Westin also recently added the Flowrider, a new water-sport activity that looks like surfing but mimics the moves and ride of snowboarding. Group competitions can be arranged at the new water attraction.
Montelucia Resort & Spa (253 guest rooms and 40 suites, 100,000 sf of meeting space), a luxurious Mediterranean-style resort located in the shadow of Camelback Mountain, helps planners envision their next meeting setting with an “inspiration gallery” on its website, www.montelucia.com. The site also offers interactive floor plans to help planners visualize the flow of their meetings.
Scottsdale Resort & Conference Center (326 guest rooms, casitas and suites and 50,000 sf of meeting space) simplifies the budgeting process by offering the Benchmark Conference Plan. The all-inclusive package includes deluxe guest room accommodations, three meals per day, morning and afternoon breaks, standard audio-visual services, conference space and the services of a professional conference planner. The resort also has all of the elements needed to stage themed events such as a Polynesian evening complete with Tiki torches, a Tiki hut façade, carved wood artifacts and fishing nets. Another popular choice is the country-western theme, which features jail, hotel, livery stable, and saloon facades and props that include hay bales, saddles and split-rail fencing.
By day, Scottsdale’s Talking Stick Resort (497 guest rooms, more than 100,000 sf of indoor and outdoor function space) offers plenty of space for taking care of business, and when it’s time for leisure, the resort offers so many options that attendees won’t have to leave the property unless they really want to. There’s a 240,000-sf casino, a 14th-floor spa offering panoramic views of the Valley of the Sun, 36 holes of Troon-managed golf, and multiple dining and entertainment venues including a 650-seat showroom; and the Orange Sky restaurant and lounge on the 15th floor featuring outdoor patios with panoramic views of the surrounding desert landscape.
Scottsdale has long been called the “West’s Most Western Town,” and the city offers plenty of Western-themed activities to boot. Planners who want to help their attendees channel their inner wranglers can head ’em up and move ’em out to the Arizona Cowboy College for lessons on roping and herding cattle. Fort McDowell Adventures, located in nearby Fountain Hills, is a versatile indoor and outdoor special event venue offering multiple scenic settings, including the mission-style La Puesta del Sol (Spanish for “the setting sun”). Fort McDowell Adventures, which is conveniently located just four miles from the Radisson Fort McDowell Resort & Casino, also offers a wide range of outdoor activities, including trail rides, jeep tours, campfires and kayaking.
The Scottsdale Convention & Visitors Bureau has released its 2013 Discover Scottsdale meeting planners guide, which includes details on accommodations, activities and amenities as well as a list of offsite venues, sample itineraries and incentive ideas. The new guide is available at www.MeetinScottsdale.com.
Karen Birch, administrative assistant for Cobham Aerospace Communications, toured several properties to find the ideal location for the 10-person executive leadership team meeting she was planning. But once she toured Enchantment Resort in Sedona, she knew she had a winner. “There’s no other place like it up there,” she says. “The scenery is just gorgeous. Sedona is beautiful no matter where you are, but this kind of took your breath away when you drove in there.”
Birch was referring to the extraordinarily beautiful setting the resort occupies. Enchantment Resort (218 guest rooms; 13,000 sf of indoor meeting space plus 20,000 sf of outdoor event space) is set on 70 acres at the base of a secluded canyon and is surrounded by breathtaking red rock formations. Sedona is located just two hours north of Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, and while Birch’s attendees simply rented cars, limousine service is available that will bring guests right to the resort’s front door.
Of course, it takes a lot more than breathtaking scenery to pull off a successful meeting, and Birch was also impressed with the service her group received. “I’ve got to tell you, Enchantment was just terrific in working with us. Everyone was very professional there, very helpful.
“They have all different sizes of conference areas,” she explains. “They could cordon them off for whatever size you needed. Our people had their own small building, actually. We had breakfasts there and had lunches brought in so they could work through their lunch.
“Everyone loved it,” she continues. “They thought it was the best thing since sliced bread! Everything ran very smoothly. I can’t say enough good things about the resort.”
Just last year, Enchantment wrapped up a $25 million renovation that included a $4 million expansion of the resort’s Meeting Village and an $11 million refurbishment of all 218 guest rooms. Improvements were also made to the clubhouse, pool, restaurants,zz and indoor and outdoor public spaces. The resort also recently introduced a service where guests are checked-in curbside by attendants using electronic tablets.
Another option for groups that want to bask in Sedona’s scenic beauty is the Hilton Sedona Resort & Spa (219 guest rooms and 20,000 sf of meeting space). The resort can host golf tournaments onsite at its championship golf course or attendees may prefer to indulge in the menu of re-energizing services offered at eforea spa at Hilton.
“Oh, my gosh. They loved, loved, loved it!” says Karen Moody, event planner for the consumer foods sales division of General Mills. She was referring to Tucson as the site of a recent sales meeting she planned in this southern Arizona city. “We survey our people at the end of every meeting and the results were phenomenal in terms of the destination.”
General Mills chose the Omni Tucson National Resort (129 guest rooms; 15,000 sf of meeting space) as the meeting venue. “We had about 120 attendees, and so we pretty much took over the place,” she explains. Omni was fabulous every step of the way. Their service is just bar none. I’ve been to a few meetings like this, and this, by far, was best service I’ve ever received.
“What was really fun was that the golf course was very popular among our team and also the spa,” she adds. “The resort’s Catalina and Sonoran golf courses, which offer beautiful views of the Santa Catalina Mountains, have hosted many PGA championships.” The spa is huge, much bigger than some of the other resorts that were much larger as far as room size. There’s quite a few treatment rooms. It was nice seeing 10 people waiting around to have a massage, fitting comfortably in there. They weren’t crammed in by any stretch of the imagination. That was by far our most popular choice in recreation over the golf. I think we had 60 people that actually signed up for a spa treatment, so almost half of our people. There’s an equal amount of men and women attending.
“The meeting space was great,” Moody continues. “The conference services manager was spot on, had everything arranged perfectly, just the way we wanted it, and on time. We didn’t have any complaints.”
Also located in Tucson, The Westin La Paloma Resort & Spa (387 guest rooms) completes a top-to-bottom, resort-wide $30 million renovation this month, adding modern upgrades and a contemporary flair to the iconic elegance the resort is known for. Enhancements to the resort’s 60,000 sf of meeting space include new floor coverings, chandeliers and state-of-the-art AV equipment. All 27 holes of La Paloma Country Club’s Jack Nicklaus Signature design links have been rejuvenated as well.
Location, amenities and beautiful views all can play important roles in making a meeting a success, but it’s great service that brings it all together. As Moody notes, “As an event planner, service is on top of our list. If you don’t have good service, you’re kind of sunk. Working with managers like Dan and Caroline (at Omni Tucson National Resort) was just a wonderful experience. They just made it so easy.” She had a few words of advice for other planners considering the resort. “I would say, ‘Book your group. Just do it!’ ” C&IT