| Destinations - February 2007|
The Grand Canyon provides stunning views of colorful canyons, rock formations and riverbeds. Sedona, AZ, makes a great “home base” for groups who want to make a quick side trip to visit this wonder of nature.
Photo courtesy Grand Canyon Railway
Sun, Scenery And Sensational Meetings
By Karen Brost
Some meeting destinations offer the same familiar experience every time a group returns. And there’s something to be said for that. But the more exciting destinations are those that always manage to surprise and delight planners and their attendees, no matter how many times they visit. Arizona is definitely one of those destinations.
Meet Me In Phoenix
Angie Roberts, event manager for LexisNexis, Dayton, OH, recently planned a meeting at the JW Marriott Desert Ridge Resort & Spa in north central Phoenix for 1,200 sales and marketing representatives from across the U.S. “This was our ‘sis-boom-bah’ awards meeting,” she explained.
In 2002, LexisNexis worked with the sales and incentive firm MotivAction to negotiate a four-year meeting contract with Marriott headquarters. “It was the first time they had ever done that. Marriott came back with some new properties and one of them was the JW Marriott Desert Ridge Resort & Spa. This is our second time at the property,” she stated. In fact, the four-year arrangement with Marriott worked out so well that LexisNexis entered into a second four-year deal.
The JW Marriott Desert Ridge Resort & Spa offers more than 200,000 square feet of flexible indoor and outdoor function space. The resort also claims the two largest ballrooms in the state of Arizona, the 33,000-square-foot Grand Canyon Ballroom and the 26,000-square-foot Grand Sonoran Ballroom. The impressive amount of meeting space is one factor that hooked Roberts. “Our sleeping room to meeting room ratio is like apples to oranges,” she explained. “On the average first night we use about 750 sleeping rooms, but we try to grab all the meeting space that we can. We can have up to 22 breakouts going on at one time.”
She appreciated the flexibility and attentiveness of Marriott’s meeting staff. “We give them our meeting grid,”
she commented. “If the meeting is over at 10:15, they have hotel staff waiting there to clean the room so it’s ready for the next group at 10:30. I never once had to go find hotel staff. For me, that’s a huge issue.”
The Phoenix Convention Center’s West buildling and Atrium (foreground) were completed last year. Work on the North building (background) is underway.
Rendering courtesy of the Greater Phoenix Convention & Visitors Bureau
With its four acres of pools and waterways including a lazy river, the JW Marriott Desert Ridge Resort & Spa also offers the welcome surprise of finding water features in the desert. The sprawling, 950-room resort includes 81 suites, 10 restaurants, 36 holes of championship golf and a 28,000-square-foot spa.
Roberts also liked the resort’s location right across the street from the Desert Ridge Marketplace, a 110-acre shopping and entertainment complex featuring more than 100 stores and restaurants. Many of Roberts’ attendees, however, didn’t feel the need to venture outside of the resort. “They never left,” she said. “We’ve been there twice and they’ve asked ‘When are we coming here again?’ I would recommend the facility to any meeting planner.” Roberts summed up her experience at the JW Marriott Desert Ridge in one word — times four: “It’s awesome, awesome, awesome, awesome.”
One of the most exciting new developments on the horizon in the Phoenix area is the new InterContinental Montelucia Resort & Spa, which is on schedule for an anticipated opening in early 2008. The resort, which is situated in the upscale town of Paradise Valley, between Phoenix and Scottsdale, will feature 292 high-end hotel rooms and suites, a signature restaurant with terrific views of Camelback Mountain, a 30,000-square-foot luxury spa with 22 treatment rooms, five pools and multiple fountains. The resort will offer 31,000 square feet of indoor meeting and banquet space, including a 9,450-square-foot grand ballroom and 4,650-square-foot junior ballroom, and 70,000 square feet of outdoor function space. Set on 28 prime acres near Phoenix’s legendary Camelback Mountain, the resort’s design is inspired by the architecture and ambience of hillside villages in southern Spain’s Andalusia region.
In other news, the new $600 million Phoenix Convention Center is entering its final phase: the construction of the North building. When completed in late 2008, the project will triple the facility’s size to more than 900,000 square feet of meeting and exhibit space and more than two million total square feet. The first phase — the West building and atrium — was completed last year, and provides 158,000 square feet of rentable space. The facility’s impressive size will enable it to host nearly 80 percent of all of the conventions in North America.
The new 1,000-room Sheraton Phoenix Downtown Hotel, set to open concurrent with the completion of the Phoenix Convention Center’s North building in 2008, is now accepting group inquiries. The hotel will include a 6,500-square-foot fitness center and spa and more than 80,000 square feet of flexible function space. High-speed Internet and videoconferencing capabilities will be available in the hotel’s two ballrooms, 16 meeting rooms and two boardrooms.
Planners in search of a suite experience in Phoenix may want to consider the 640-suite Pointe South Mountain Resort. The resort offers 10 presidential suites and 27 executive boardroom suites, a factor that could help minimize any bickering about who got the best room. With 117,000 square feet of meeting space and 58 meeting rooms to choose from, there’s plenty of room to spread out. And when it’s time to play, the resort offers The Oasis, nearly six acres of water recreation in a mountainside setting. Planners might even want to take bets on who heads down the 225-foot Free Fall Slide first. For attendees who don’t want to get wet, the Pointe South Mountain Resort also offers the Phantom Horse Golf Club’s championship par-71 golf course, five tennis courts, horseback riding and the Phantom Horse Athletic Club and Spa.
Known for its historic estate ambience and luxurious accommodations, Royal Palms Resort and Spa in Phoenix just wrapped up a $12 million project that created the Montavista Courtyard and Suites. The new addition adds 70 rooms to the property and brings the resort’s total room count to 119. Included in the addition are six spa suites and a two-bedroom spa villa. Royal Palms Resort and Spa provides more than 20,000 square feet of indoor meeting space with oversized windows for natural light, and intimate garden and patio venues. The resort is also home to T. Cook’s, which was voted the number-one Phoenix restaurant by Zagat’s “Top U.S. Hotel and Restaurant Guide.”
You’d think that a meeting destination which is already blessed with amazing desert views, world-class hotels and resorts with state-of-the-art meeting space, 25 spas, 600 restaurants and 200 golf courses within an easy drive would be content to maintain the status quo. Not so, Scottsdale. This perpetually sunny Phoenix suburb never fails to come up with something new and different.
With 200 golf courses within an easy drive of Scottsdale, links-loving attendees enjoy spectacular courses like this one at the Boulders Resort and Golden Door Spa.
Photo courtesy of Scottsdale Convention & Visitors Bureau
One thing that surprised Cara Luft, CMP, about Scottsdale, is how well the old and new can coexist. Luft is senior manager, executive briefings, for Gateway, the Irvine, CA-based computer technology company. “Scottsdale represents the Old West,” she said. “While I enjoy this theme and the venues built to reflect its history, it’s not something I can easily incorporate into my meetings. Since I work for a technology company, I prefer a theme that symbolizes cutting-edge and innovation. After recently visiting Scottsdale, I discovered several themes that I could incorporate such as GEO Teaming, which is a high-tech scavenger hunt, Bondurant Racing School and a digital photography session capturing the beauty of the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix.” She lauded the Scottsdale Convention & Visitors Bureau for helping her simplify the research and planning that went into her meeting and narrow down what fit her group best.
Luft chose Scottsdale for practical reasons as well. “First and foremost, I like Scottsdale because of its easy access. My meetings are typically of short duration, so I don’t want ground transport time to exceed 30 minutes. Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport offers several direct flights and is within 15 to 30 minutes of several fabulous properties. Secondly,” she continued, “the weather is ideal. Even in the summer months, it’s a dry heat that truly isn’t unbearable, and, of course, the hotel rates are the best value during this time.”
There’s one more thing that travelers who have never been to Scottsdale might be surprised to find in the middle of a desert — a waterfront. Scottsdale Waterfront is a new $250 million dining, entertainment and shopping district set along the canal system in downtown Scottsdale.
The city’s urban experience will expand even further with the opening of the SouthBridge complex on Scottsdale’s waterfront later this year. Planning for the project began 10 years ago when developer Fred Unger set out to create “a one-of-a-kind urban village that would bring together exclusive, high-fashion boutiques, independent shops, internationally renowned cuisine, lively cultural festivals, art and the romantic charm of a waterfront park.” Plans call for the development to create the bustling atmosphere of open-air European-style courtyards, another surprising element that will add to Scottsdale’s appeal as a meetings destination.
Meeting attendees who love to shop find it easy to get their “day in the sun” in Scottsdale. One example is the AAA Four Diamond Westin Kierland Resort & Spa, which is located just steps from Kierland Commons, an upscale shopping center with 38 acres of shops, boutiques and restaurants. Built on a theme of “Treasuring the Essence of Arizona,” the 732-room resort reflects regional cuisine, art and music. Meeting facilities are superb with 175,000 square feet of flexible space, including two ballrooms, 38 meeting rooms — the largest of which is 24,644 square feet — a private executive boardroom and seven outdoor function areas and courtyards that can accommodate groups of 25 to 1,500 people. Outdoor venues maximize the Arizona experience for attendees, and The Westin’s are extensive, including a 27,000-square-foot lawn perfect for dining; a 4,000-square-foot pavilion for cowboy cookouts and barbecues; and a 15,000-square-foot terrace situated above the ballroom that offers views of the Kierland Golf Course, north Scottsdale and the McDowell Mountains. Speaking of golf, the world-class Kierland Golf Club features a par-72 course sculpted out of the dramatic desert landscape with three distinct nine-hole courses. Other amenities include the Agave Spa with 19 treatment rooms, a 900-foot lazy river and 110-foot waterslide.
Other new Scottsdale happenings include the Camelback Inn, a JW Marriott Resort & Spa, which is celebrating its 70th anniversary by breaking ground on a $35 million renovation and expansion project this spring. The changes will include two new restaurants, additional outdoor seating near gardens and fireplaces, and a complete redo of the ballroom. The award-winning resort features 453 casita-style accommodations, 40,000 square feet of meeting space and a 32,000-square-foot spa.
Set in the heart of Old Town Scottsdale is the former James Hotel, another “happening” place that was once one of the city’s trendiest places to see and be seen. This hip property has now been reborn as another trendy spot, the Mondrian Scottsdale. The newly revamped property features 200 oversized rooms, each equipped with a 42-inch plasma TV and an iPod-friendly CD sound system. More than 10,000 square feet of meeting space along with the rooftop Skybar, a new place to see and be seen, are among the innovative property’s offerings.
Neela Johnston recently brought a conference/incentive program for 500 attendees of a retail franchise company to the 651-room Fairmont Scottsdale Princess. This Spanish colonial-themed resort is set in the shadows of the McDowell Mountains and offers 72,000 square feet of meeting space and 36 holes of championship golf. “They wanted to go local, but stay out of California since they’re located in California,” explained Johnston, who is vice president of events and client services for Chicago, IL-based OnSite Events Inc. “They wanted something out-of-the-box, and Arizona came to mind. They loved everything from the ease of getting into Arizona to the proximity of the hotel. You’re not riding on the bus for hours, but you feel that you’ve come to a faraway location and you’re removed from everything so that you can focus on education and networking and everything that it has to offer.”
In addition to being a prime meetings destination in its own right, Sedona is a popular pre- or post-trip choice for groups that hold meetings in the Phoenix metro area. Sedona is conveniently located just a two-hour drive north of Phoenix, which is why the city recently partnered with Scottsdale to market the two cities together.
Planners who bring attendees to Sedona for meetings will find enchanting environs, premier accommodations, state-of-the-art meeting space and incomparable opportunities for outdoor adventure.
Fiery flamenco dancers celebrate Fiesta del Tlaquepaque, Mexican Independence Day, in Sedona.
Photo courtesy of Sedona Chamber of Commerce
The Hilton Sedona Resort & Spa is surrounded by red rock formations and the tree-lined fairways of the Sedona Golf Resort, so each of the resort’s 219 guest rooms comes with a view. For meetings, the property offers more than 16,000 square feet of conference facilities in addition to two covered outdoor patios and six conference suites. The resort’s full-service spa is complemented by more than 20,000 square feet of indoor fitness facilities. For outdoor exercise, guests can choose from three pools, three lighted tennis courts, and a sand volleyball court.
World-class luxury awaits guests at the 220-room Enchantment Resort and Mii Amo Spa in Sedona. Set amid the inspiring red rock vistas of Boyton Canyon, the resort offers a variety of accommodations, including Casa Suites, Haciendas, Casitas, and Junior Suites. A total of 20,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor meeting space is available. The largest room, the Pow Wow Pavilion, can accommodate up to 600 guests theater-style. And the Manzanita House, the largest of the resort’s three private meeting houses, features two breakout rooms and a living/dining room.
Stephan Block, who is president of Conference Travel, a destination management company based in Sedona, said, “We work all over the state, but our primary focus is Sedona. Those coming to Sedona and northern Arizona are surprised that we’re not all sand dunes and cactus. Generally, I think most people are blown away by the spectacular natural beauty. Some are surprised at the combination of green forests and red rocks. Most are pleased with the emphasis on quality infrastructure in Sedona — really good restaurants, lodging, art and activities for a destination of this size.
“In the Sedona area, we work with a lot of activities that include Native American culture,” he continued, offering Native American art, music and tours of the ruins at the Tuzigoot and Montezuma Castle National Monuments as examples. “We also lead custom hiking and walking activities in the Sedona backcountry. Custom events in Jerome are another one of our specialties.” The mile-high city of Jerome is an historic copper mining town that bills itself as “the largest ghost town in America.”
Block also commented on the popularity of jeep tours in the Sedona area. Pink Jeep Tours, the oldest continuously operating jeep tour company in the U.S. offers groups the opportunity to go on unforgettable off-road adventures. One of their most popular choices is the Broken Arrow Tour, which bumps and bounces its way over the red rocks and through spectacular canyons.
Sedona also makes a great “home base” for groups who want to visit the Grand Canyon. “It’s possibly the single most spectacular sight and most well-known natural feature on the face of the Earth,” Block commented. He once worked as a park ranger at the Grand Canyon, so he knows what he’s talking about. “We work just about every conceivable angle at the Grand Canyon, rim tours, hiking, rafting, air tours and meal functions, all customized.”
Donna Tschiffely, president of Conference Incorporated, Reston, VA, favors Tucson among Arizona destination cities. Her top choice there is the 540-room JW Marriott Starr Pass Resort & Spa. Offering spectacular views of scenic Tucson Mountains, the resort features 88,000 square feet of meeting space.
“The hotel is situated in the middle of the Sonoran Desert which is absolutely beautiful,” Tschiffely enthused, adding that the overall ambience of the resort and attitude of the staff create a welcoming and relaxing atmosphere for attendees. Another factor that’s important to her is that Tucson has not turned into another cookie-cutter town. “Tucson has not yet been overwhelmed by chain stores and restaurants. You can still find unique things to do and places to see. It has a restriction on building and street lights so that the sky can stay dark for seeing the stars, an astronomer’s heaven. I just love it!”
To help planners learn more about Tucson as a meeting destination, the Metropolitan Tucson Convention and Visitors Bureau is staging a series of events in partnership with Meeting Professionals International this spring. The events, which combine education with some rejuvenating mini spa treatments, are slated to be held in Columbus, Philadelphia, Houston, Seattle and Phoenix at various dates in the spring.
Planning a successful meeting is all about making the right choices, and there’s certainly no shortage of them at the 428-room Hilton Tucson El Conquistador Golf & Tennis Resort. For starters, planners have a choice of 28 different meeting and event venues at this spacious resort, which offers more than 100,000 square feet of indoor/outdoor meeting space and occupies a prime location in Tucson’s scenic Catalina foothills. Groups that like to pack in plenty of recreation are likely to run out of time before they run out of things to do here. The resort provides 45 holes of championship golf, a multimillion-dollar water complex, hiking, biking, horseback riding, a spa, fitness center and the largest resort tennis facility in the West.
Kathie Kirchsteiger, event planner for Pearson Education in Don Mills, ON, recently staged a sales meeting for 100 attendees at The Westin La Paloma Resort & Spa. The 487-room resort offers seven restaurants, 59,000 square feet of flexible indoor function space, 27 holes of Jack Nicklaus Signature golf and the Red Door Spa. In addition, five pools, four spas and Tucson’s longest resort waterslide offer a refreshing respite when meetings are over for the day.
“I can’t say enough about the resort,” she said, adding that the scenery inspired her group’s enthusiasm for the venue with its stunning mountain views and centuries old Saguaro cacti that were carefully preserved when the resort was built. “The service is incomparable,” she continued. “ I’ve been doing this off and on for 23 years, and this was by far – by FAR – the best-run event I’ve ever been to, and I do four or five of these a year.” She lauded the staff’s attention to detail as playing a key role in her event’s success. “The banquet event orders were spot on. They treated our VIPs like royalty. It was a very positive experience. We will certainly think about going back in the future.”
While most of the activities for her five-day program took place at The Westin La Paloma Resort & Spa, Kirchsteiger took her group offsite for an awards dinner. She chose Rancho de los Cerros (Ranch of the Hills), an elegant Spanish mission-style venue that offers an ideal vantage point for viewing Arizona’s legendary sunsets. All arrangements, including transportation, dinner and a live band, were handled by Destination & Conference Services (DCS), a destination management company based at The Westin.
“It’s a gorgeous spot,” Kirchsteiger commented. “We started off with a cocktail hour in the main house. The only drawback, really, was that the cobblestones made it a little hard for the women to walk. We had a wonderful time and people didn’t seem to mind that it was a half-hour bus ride from the hotel.”
The “White Dove of the Desert,” the Mission San Xavier del Bac, is a classic example of 18th century Spanish architecture. The mission, a Catholic church served by Franciscan Friars, is 10 miles southwest of Tucson and open every day for visitors.
Photo by Gil Kenny © Metropolitan Tucson Convention & Visitors Bureau
The Westin La Paloma Resort & Spa recently completed its new Sonoran Room, a 4,300-square-foot space that accommodates small- to medium-sized meetings. The room, which is on the lobby level and convenient to existing function space, has an outdoor patio and also divides in half for more intimate affairs.
This summer, the Omni Tucson National Golf Resort & Spa will embark on a $40 million renovation with a mission of creating the Southwest’s premier, boutique-style resort hotel. The project will add 72 luxury guest rooms, bringing the resort’s total offerings to 239 rooms. An enhanced 15,000-square-foot spa, two championship golf courses, a new 7,500-square-foot ballroom and new restaurants will be among the amenities offered when the project is completed in 2008.
Everything Under The Sun
“If I had to try and nail down just one element that makes Arizona such a singular, attractive and special place, I’d say it just might be the indescribable quality of the natural sunlight,” Block said. “There’s just something about the quality of the natural light in this state that is just spectacular. Arizona Highways photographers have been taking advantage of that for years.”
Arizona’s sunny disposition affects meeting attendees in another way, as well. In winter months, it’s not unusual to find them sitting by the pool or driving along in their golf carts, talking on their cell phones and casually “mentioning” to those left back at the office in colder climes, just how great the weather is.
As Johnston’s group departed their first event in Arizona, she got the response every planner dreams of. “They were 100 percent happy,” she said. And that’s the one thing that’s never surprising about holding meetings in Arizona. C&IT