Sometimes, a healthy dose of Southwest sunshine can go a long way toward setting the stage for a successful event. When officials at PayneWest Insurance, headquartered in Missoula, Montana, searched for a destination for their 2014 Network Builder sales event, they found the ideal fit in Scottsdale, Arizona.
“The majority of our attendees are located in the Northwest, so the primary reason for selecting Scottsdale was the weather,” explains Courtney Imhoff, travel and event coordinator for the company. “In April, most of our attendees are looking to get away from cold weather. Scottsdale offers the sunshine they are very much needing at that time of year. We are also looking for unlimited options for both onsite and offsite activities. Scottsdale and the resort offer that as well.”
“The majority of our attendees are located in the Northwest, so the primary reason for selecting Scottsdale was the weather.” — Courtney Imhoff
The property chosen for PayneWest’s sales event, which attracted 390 attendees, was the 326-room Scottsdale Resort & Conference Center, which offers nearly 80,000 sf of indoor and outdoor event space. Imhoff says there were several reasons for choosing the resort, but the biggest reason was its distinctiveness. “From the front circle with its stunning fountain to Sangria’s lounge, the resort is full of surprises. The minute you pull up to the resort, it feels as if it’s hugging you…clean, quiet and comfortable, and the staff is utterly amazing.” She adds, “Did you know they have one handyman whose sole responsibility is touching up paint? This, to me, says they take great pride in their product!”
Imhoff also appreciated the flexibility of the staff. “I am a ‘think outside the box’ event planner. The staff is knowledgeable with regard to what’s been done before, but also allows you to take full creative control and is willing to go along for the ride. They are forward thinkers that aren’t afraid to try something new.
“Lastly, it was the size,” she adds. “We look for properties that can accommodate the size of our group but where we don’t get lost. With 326 rooms, The Scottsdale Resort allows us to take over the majority of the property, which, in turn, means we don’t have competition for rooms, meeting facilities, service, etc.
“Our entire program is based on networking,” she continues, “(so) we are continually looking for creative ways for our attendees to spend time with others in the same line of business (personal insurance, benefits or commercial) and form lasting relationships.” One of the activities Imhoff organized for her event was a pop-up restaurant event. “Pop-up restaurants are becoming very popular among caterers or chefs who have thought about opening a restaurant but aren’t comfortable going all in,” she says. “Instead, they create a pop-up restaurant for one evening where they can showcase their skill with little risk and receive feedback to assist them in making a decision on whether they are ready to open a restaurant.”
Imhoff explains how her program worked. “We divided attendees into three ‘restaurants’ based on the line of insurance they sell, provided a private chef who offered customized menus, and we named each ‘restaurant’ after the chef or his style of cuisine.” In addition to the resort’s in-house chef, a chef from a local venue and a local restaurant owner participated.
Over the course of the networking event, attendees also were offered a choice of three activities: a four-person scramble at McCormick Ranch Golf Club (guests of Scottsdale Resort enjoy guaranteed tee times at McCormick Ranch Golf Club’s two adjacent championship golf courses, the Palm and Pine Courses), a build-a-bike program for charity and a soapbox derby. Imhoff worked with a local company, Event Inventors, to plan the latter two. “We changed the build-a-bike by requesting to have the children receive their bikes at our awards banquet, allowing all event attendees to share in the experience and see the impact we had made when the children were receiving their new bikes. This was a heartwarming moment and one that our conference attendees won’t soon forget.
“For the soap box derby, we wanted to make the event more competitive and an event that our more thrill-seeking attendees could enjoy,” she continues, “so we created pit stop challenges. These challenges consisted of everything from trivia to attendees having to eat something like fried mealworms — it was just the added touch the activity needed.”
The Scottsdale Resort and Conference Center, which just recently joined Destination Hotels & Resorts’ growing portfolio, will undergo a series of renovations beginning in 2015, including the development of a lobby bar and restaurant, reviving the resort’s existing restaurant outlet and refreshing the resort’s pools and amenities.
Kevin Dern of St. Louis-based Kevin Dern Travel has also met with success in Arizona for his insurance clients. “Phoenix/Scottsdale is an excellent option for incentive and corporate groups because you can get a resort-like experience and warm weather without having to go too far south or west,” he explains. “Scottsdale has great golf, restaurants and outdoor activities…plus the fantastic Taliesin West (Frank Lloyd Wright’s school and studio). Scottsdale offers great shopping on Camelback Road and dozens of galleries on Fifth Avenue. Phoenix has the Desert Botanical Garden and Heard Museum (Native American art and history).
“Two hotels I’ve used extensively have been The Westin Kierland and The Ritz-Carlton, Phoenix. The Westin is a huge property with experience handling large incentive groups. It’s also directly adjacent to an outdoor shopping area with a variety of dining options. They have large pools and waterparks that make it a great family incentive destination. I operated a large incentive program (2,000 attendees) from a large insurance company there a few years ago and it was a favorite location for both the attendees and management.”
The Westin Kierland Resort & Spa features 732 guest rooms, including 55 suites, and more than 50,000 sf of meeting space. It also offers a variety of recreational activities including 27 holes of golf, Agave, The Arizona Spa, and the Adventure Water Park, which contains a 110-foot water slide, a 900-foot lazy river and the Kierland FlowRider boardsport simulator.
“For a smaller or more business-oriented group I like The Ritz-Carlton, Phoenix, located on Camelback Road,” Dern adds. “It’s right across the street from the large Biltmore Fashion Park shopping center.” Containing 281 rooms and more than 20,000 sf of indoor and outdoor event space, The Ritz-Carlton, Phoenix offers convenient access to dining and entertainment options. Golfers in the group also can take advantage of “preferred partner rates” The Ritz-Carlton has arranged at the Arizona Biltmore and JW Marriott Camelback Inn golf courses.
“Both The Westin Kierland and The Ritz-Carlton allow attendees to reach shopping and restaurants without needing a car or taxi, which makes VIP dine-arounds easy as well,” Dern notes. “Both hotels are experienced with handling groups, which makes it easier for the planning team.”
Scottsdale is one of those evolving destinations that always has something new to offer each time a group gathers there. In June, a new venue called Topgolf Riverwalk opened near the 497-room Talking Stick Resort on the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community (SRP-MIC). The 65,000-sf facility, which offers private event space as well as partial and full buyouts, allows guests to test their golf skills by hitting microchipped balls toward various targets on a 215-yard field. The venue also features a rooftop terrace with fire pits, plenty of sports bar-style food and beverages and 250 HDTVs so no one has to miss a big game.
This summer also will mark the groundbreaking for the OdySea Aquarium which will be the largest aquarium in the Southwest when it opens in the fall of 2015. Also located on SRP-MIC land, it’s part of the $170 million OdySea in the Desert complex that already includes Butterfly Wonderland and OdySea Mirror Maze. Future plans also call for the addition of an IMAX theater, a Ripley’s Believe it or Not Museum and a “Taste of the World” culinary experience.
In late September, the former Radisson Fort McDowell Resort located east of Scottsdale will be re-launched as the We-Ko-Pa Resort Conference Center. The 246-room property, which is located near the award-winning We-Ko-Pa Golf Club, will operate as an independent golf resort.
Excitement is building as downtown Phoenix prepares to become the “epicenter” for activities related to Super Bowl XLIX, which will take place on February 1, 2015 at the University of Phoenix Stadium in the Phoenix suburb of Glendale. The Phoenix Convention Center will be home to the interactive theme park called the NFL Experience as well as the NFL Media Center, which will serve as the headquarters for the 5,000 members of the media expected to attend. The nearby CityScape shopping and entertainment complex will be the site of NFL House, which will serve as hospitality central for Super Bowl VIPs.
The Arizona Biltmore, A Waldorf Astoria Resort, is undergoing a multi-million dollar renovation of its Paradise, Garden, Valley, Cottage and Terrace Court accommodations. One of the most notable changes will be the new embossed metallic wall coverings that mimic the historic Frank Lloyd Wright design of the “Biltmore Blocks” used to construct the iconic resort.
Travelers who find themselves facing a layover in Terminal 4 at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport now can put that time to good use. They can grab a free brochure and follow the PHX Fitness Trail, a two-mile walking circuit that stretches from the terminal’s A concourse to its D concourse. Travelers can complete the circuit without going back out through security while they take in views of the mountains, parks and man-made wonders of Phoenix.
The 563-suite Pointe Hilton Squaw Peak Resort recently unveiled an expanded outdoor event space: The Anasazi Courtyard doubled in size to 8,000 sf, and now accommodates up to 800 guests.
Just 15 miles west of downtown Phoenix, The Wigwam recently completed a $16 million, multiphase renovation — including new interior décor, a new pool complex, new restaurants and bars featuring al fresco dining and entertaining areas, and a variety of new social areas. The resort, designated as a “Historic Hotel of America,” features 331 casita-style guest rooms and boasts more than 100,000 sf of flexible indoor and outdoor meetings and event facilities that can accommodate groups of up to 1,000 people. The recent renovation added several new outdoor spaces, including private gardens, an al fresco poolside terrace, and a grand lawn with new lighting and staging areas.
When one of an event’s goals is to wow attendees with the saguaro-studded beauty of the Sonoran Desert, one option is the 398-room Loews Ventana Canyon resort in Tucson. The resort also features 37,000 sf of flexible meeting space, two Tom Fazio-designed PGA golf courses and the 7,000-sf Lakeside Spa.
Loews was the site of the 2014 Safety Works Plus Expo presented by CopperPoint Mutual Insurance Company in May. The event drew approximately 200 attendees and 15 exhibitors. “The number of attendees was about the same as usual for our southern Arizona event, but the number of exhibitors was down a bit,” explains Bruce Trethewy, communications manager for CopperPoint. “I believe it is because the venue is not really centrally located within the city. However, the venue was very nice and had great views.”
He described the factors that made Loews Ventana Canyon a good choice for the event. “We were able to keep everything contained in a small area,’ he notes. “The classroom sessions and exhibitors were close together, so exhibitors were pleased. All classrooms were down one hallway next to the larger general session (ballroom) area. The year prior, we had to use two floors, which was inconvenient. Our space at the Ventana was all on one floor, and it was large enough to accommodate all our needs.”
He explained another advantage of holding the event at Loews. “The staff was very accommodating and always close by, so we didn’t have to go looking for anyone when we needed something.”
The AAA Four Diamond Lodge at Ventana Canyon in Tucson recently announced a multimillion-dollar renovation. The first phase, set for completion in January of 2015, will update all one-bedroom suites while the second and third phases will debut revamped dining areas, a pool and Jacuzzi spa, and an expanded Golf House and Golf Academy. The all-suite property has completed a renovation to the common areas, including the lobby, fitness center, patios and a portion of the grounds.
Last year, The Westin La Paloma Resort & Spa in Tucson completed a $35 million resort-wide renovation that encompassed all of its 487 guest rooms, which include 25 suites. The resort’s 60,000 sf of conference space was redone as were its fitness center, tennis courts, and the greens and bunkers of its 27 holes of Jack Nicklaus Signature golf. In addition, the resort’s lobby, five pools and its 177-foot “SlideWinder” waterslide also received updates.
The Metropolitan Tucson Convention & Visitors Bureau is continuing its “Tucson on Us” promotion whereby qualifying groups can receive a credit for new meetings booked in 2014–15 and actualizing in 2014–16. For example, a meeting with 101 to 200 peak room nights could be eligible for a $2,500 credit, and multiyear meetings (for two or three consecutive years) can receive the credit for each year. More details are available at www.tucsononus.com.
When it comes to delivering iconic Southwestern views, it’s hard to beat the setting of Enchantment Resort in Sedona, 110 miles north of Phoenix. Nestled at the base of a box canyon, Enchantment is surrounded by stunning red rock formations. The 218-room luxury resort offers a variety of accommodations, including casitas, junior suites, haciendas and casas as well as The Meeting Village, which offers more than 13,000 sf of event space. The resort also is home to Mii Amo Spa, which was recently recognized as one of the top destination spas in the world in Travel + Leisure’s World’s Best Awards.
Enchantment Resort offers meeting groups exclusive access to Seven Canyons golf club nearby. The par-70, 6,746-yard championship course was designed by Tom Weiskopf amid a stunning landscape bordering Coconino National Forest and red rock canyons. The resort’s golf pro can assist in arranging a golf tournament or other teambuilding activity at the course. Seven Canyons also has a new venue, the Range House, which offers indoor and outdoor spaces for banquets.
Albuquerque has invested more than $300 million in recent development projects and those planned for the future. One of these projects is well underway at the Albuquerque Convention Center, which is currently wrapping up phase two of a $22 million facelift. The newest phase includes a 6,600-sf addition, which includes a new entrance vestibule, retail space and an outdoor deck. The interior of the convention center is receiving new floor, wall and ceiling finishes; new LED lighting; and the installation of a gas fireplace in the atrium.
Heritage Hotels & Resorts is building a new 118-room hotel in the heart of Old Town Albuquerque scheduled for completion in spring 2016. The property will be built adjacent to Hotel Albuquerque and will share Hotel Albuquerque’s pool, ballrooms and chapel. Guest room terraces will overlook the Sandia Mountains and downtown skyline, or gardens and pool. The hotel’s design is inspired by Native American culture.
The Albuquerque Convention & Visitors Bureau is offering meeting planners a new incentive to help “spice up” their meetings. Named “Your Recipe for Success,” the incentive program features a culinary theme and offers four different packages, or “recipes,” based on the group’s number of peak room nights. For example, the Medium or “Mediano” package is based on 201–399 peak room nights and includes one comp per 35 rooms booked, an airport welcome banner and complimentary transportation for a group dine-around. Complete details are available at www.itsatrip.org/RecipeIncentive.
After more than two years of renovations, two historic Santa Fe buildings, Marian Hall, dating back to 1910 and St. Vincent Hospital, which opened in 1953, have been transformed into the Drury Plaza Hotel. The 182-room property debuted in July as the first large, new hotel to open in downtown Santa Fe in 18 years. It will offer a 3,800-sf ballroom and a year-round heated rooftop bar and pool offering view of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.
The Grand America Hotel, Salt Lake City’s only AAA Five Diamond property, recently announced that it is partnering with The Road Home, a social service agency that operates the state’s largest homeless shelter. The hotel will create hygiene kits from unused toiletries from its guest rooms to be given to the organization and leftover food and linens the hotel no longer uses will also be donated. The Grand America, a 24-story luxury property, contains 775 guest rooms, including 396 suites, and 75,000 sf of meeting space.
The Utah Legislature recently passed a bill that moved the construction of a new convention hotel in downtown Salt Lake City one step closer to becoming a reality. According to Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams, “With a headquarters hotel, Utah will soon be the Rocky Mountain destination for more large conventions, tens of thousands of new visitors and millions of dollars in new revenue. This privately built hotel will also bring us the overdue meeting space that convention planners need and that will help keep the Salt Palace Convention Center bustling more weeks of the year.” Construction plans and a hotel brand have not yet been announced.
Located just 35 minutes from Salt Lake City International Airport, Park City is an upscale, alpine resort area offering a wide choice of activities in every season. In the winter months, the area is famous for its skiing, snowboarding, snowmobiling and other mountain sports, and in the summer, meeting or incentive participants can choose from fly fishing, hiking, horseback riding and other outdoor adventures.
The Park City Convention & Visitors Bureau reports that planners have a choice of more than 30 top-tier lodging and conference facilities and that the area can accommodate groups of up to 700 with its 125,000 sf of meeting space.
One example of the luxury lodging available in Park City is the Grand Summit Hotel located in the Canyons Resort area. The 350-room hotel offers a variety of accommodations, including hotel rooms, studios, suites and luxury penthouses.
Canyons Resort also offers unique venues for private events. The Red Pine Lodge, located at an elevation of 8,000 feet, is accessed via a scenic gondola ride and can accommodate up to 350 guests indoors or a private event for up to 100 outdoors. For smaller events with 40–80 guests, Lookout Cabin provides a secluded, mountaintop setting that delivers 360-degree views of the Wasatch Mountains.
Park City is also home to Utah Olympic Park, site of the 2002 Winter Olympics. Today, it is used as a venue that features free museums, performances by athletes, adventure courses, ziplines, an alpine slide and the Summer Comet Bobsled ride. The Utah Olympic Park also offers event facilities that include a theater, day lodge, two ski museums, a conference room, and a café and patio.
Planners who are looking for a refreshing change of scenery (and weather) for their next event may very well want to follow in the footsteps of their colleagues — those who have met with success by heading southwest to Arizona, New Mexico or Utah. I&FMM