When Brenda Baker, president at ATD Management, had to plan the organization’s semi-annual meeting, she selected Tucson, Arizona — and she did it for good reason. From the spectacular scenery of Tucson to the relaxing atmosphere of Scottsdale, to the hip urban vibe of Phoenix, Arizona offers a plethora of options for meetings and events.
“The warmth is a big draw for our attendees, but they enjoy that Tucson has been very welcoming and relaxing, and there are a lot of activities for attendees to enjoy while they are visiting,” Baker says. ATD Management, a nonprofit trade association in the business of manufacturing and packaging petroleum and petroleum-based products, had approximately 175 attendees plus spouses at their recent meeting. The group meets twice a year in various cities throughout the U.S.
“We held our first meeting in Tucson in 2015, and everyone loved the location and the resort. Our members come from all over the country and Canada,” Baker says. The meeting included a trade show, technical sessions, networking and private meetings with current and potential customers without having to travel to each of their plants or offices.
During ATD Management’s most recent trip, the group’s activities included hiking, horseback riding, trap shooting, golf and a hoedown on-site at the Loews Ventana Canyon Resort. “I am a firm believer that outdoor activities are important for attendees after sitting indoors all day during sessions. The resort was very flexible with me and my group, which made it easy,” Baker says.
Baker would advise other planners to set up outdoor fun events for attendees to enjoy the beautiful terrain, clear skies and fresh air Tucson offers. “I am a believer that attendees should leave a meeting with more knowledge and contacts, and want to attend again because they also had a fun time,” Baker says. “I would also recommend working with [Visit Tucson]. I don’t always work with CVBs in the cities we visit, but they made me feel welcome.”
For meeting planners, Arizona offers some very high-end and high-quality hotels and resorts. This translates into successful meetings and incentives when you mix a quality product and exceptional service. As Deven Crane, director of travel services with Incentive Solutions, explains, Arizona is a great location for off-site meetings because of the beautiful weather and the abundance of high-quality hotel and dining options to host meetings and learning sessions. “Additionally, the fantastic outdoor options available when the meetings are over is a bonus offering, as attendees will look forward to exploring in their downtime,” Crane says. “Planners should consider Arizona for all these reasons, and also note the ease with which planners and attendees alike can get to the state.”
Incentive Solutions has done both large conferences and smaller incentives in Arizona. As Crane explains, the conferences have been especially memorable because of the quality of high-capacity hotels that enable the team to put on a seamless meeting. “We recently partnered with a client that chose Arizona for a meeting of more than 350 attendees. This event generated rave reviews for the quality of the hotel, the friendly, helpful service and, of course, the amazing weather that Arizona has, which offered an ‘escape’ for most of the attendees coming from other parts of the country,” Crane says.
Indeed, Arizona has a plethora of activities for attendees from near and far to enjoy. The state boasts some amazing golf courses that even the most seasoned golfers likely still have on their “bucket lists.” “And while the cities themselves offer outstanding amenities, planners can consider a day excursion for their group to make it even more memorable. There are many great attractions within driving distance from Phoenix or Scottsdale, which allow planners to break up the schedule from traditional meetings and offer something unique for their attendees,” Crane says. These options include Jeep tours, guided hikes, or even water/boat/rafting tours of some renowned parks, such as the Grand Canyon, Devil’s Bridge, Tombstone and more. Places such as Sedona offer unique art-based experiences, and there are a multitude of shopping and dining experiences for all tastes, which always is a hit on attendees’ agendas.
When looking at Arizona for an event, Crane advises planners to keep in mind the seasonality of the area. In winter months, attendees will most likely be looking to escape their cold climate and will look forward to the getaway. As such, prices will be higher than they would in the off season. “However, those higher prices are likely comparable to locations in larger cities, but your attendance rate is likely to be higher when you choose a location that your attendees look forward to visiting,” Crane says.
Lisa McGowan, president of AWA Meetings, recently chose Loews Ventana Canyon in Tucson for a fitness retreat due to the physical proximity to the hiking trails, the mountains directly behind the resort, and the ease at which guests could take off and hike on their own without the need for extra transportation. “The property provided a nice array of amenities for my audience, great food and beverage service and quality, and a top-notch convention services manager who gave perfect practical advice regarding the use of event space within,” McGowan says. “I liked the utilization of the outer terrace for our afternoon yoga classes and the use of the Ventana Room overlooking the golf course for our morning workouts; windows are everywhere. Had I entertained a larger group, the Coyote Corral space outdoors would have also been perfect.”
According to Cindy Aguilar, PR and communications manager with Visit Tucson, the city of Tucson is surprisingly accessible. Take off from Tucson International Airport (TUS) to 19 nonstop destination airports on any of eight airlines with convenient one-stop connections to more than 345 cities around the world. “We have top-rated destination resorts, full-service meeting properties and a wide range of other event venues to choose from, including new and renovated properties,” Aguilar says. “Tucson provides 325+ days of sunshine a year, so planners and attendees are guaranteed some pretty great weather. Did I mention we have some amazing food? After all, Tucson was named a UNESCO City of Gastronomy — the first in the U.S. — for a reason.”
Tucson strives for continuous growth and renovation in the meetings and events arena. The latest and greatest development is Tucson’s “Destination Downtown.” As Aguilar explains, over the past couple of years, more than 500 new hotel rooms have become available, featuring brands such as DoubleTree, Hampton Inn/Home 2 Suites and Graduate. This new inventory joins the existing AC Hotel Tucson Downtown and Tucson Marriott University Park, along with several boutique properties, adding a premium lodging component to Tucson’s hottest entertainment district. “Supporting this development, the Tucson Convention Center [TCC] recently completed a $65 million renovation and expansion, so groups considering Tucson now have a unique ‘urban’ option for their meetings,” Aguilar says.
Tucson properties and venues that have recently been updated include the Hacienda Del Sol Guest Ranch Resort, which completed a property expansion in late spring last year. The expansion adds 40 new guest rooms, modeled after the Catalina Rooms added in 2015. The guest rooms span seven new buildings facing both the Santa Catalina Mountains and Rincon Mountains, offering attendees expansive mountain views. “A brand-new pool area with a 40-foot lap pool, an infinity edge wading pool and a large sun deck have also been added, along with a new fitness facility,” Aguilar says.
A new addition to Tucson’s array of hotels and resorts is The Citizen Hotel Tucson, a wine-centric boutique property, located downtown. It is owned by Moniqua Lane, who also owns and operates The Downtown Clifton Hotel just down the street. She partnered with Arizona winemakers Sarah Fox and Rob Hammelmann to open a first-of-its-kind boutique hotel featuring wine barreling and cellaring on property. The Citizen Hotel and tasting room reside in a historic building in downtown Tucson, once home to the city’s oldest newspaper, and houses 10 guest rooms along with a 5,000-sf wine barreling and tasting room in the basement. “The wine barreling and tasting room will be a great option for groups to have a private dinner or wine-tasting experience in downtown Tucson,” Aguilar says.
Omni Tucson National Resort is undergoing a multimillion-dollar transformation, with Tucson’s natural beauty as its inspiration. According to Aguilar, the newly redesigned spaces will include the lobby, restaurants and lounge, meeting space, spa, fitness center, casitas and haciendas. The relaxed, yet inspired, ambiance of this Southwestern destination will create an ideal backdrop for leisure, golf, spa, dining and wellness, corporate or group stays. Two new meeting rooms will support additional breakout requirements, providing more than 25,000 sf of indoor and outdoor meeting space. The completion of this extensive renovation is expected in spring next year. “Tucson has always been known for our access to the outdoors and nature,” Aguilar says. Surrounded by mountain ranges on all sides and bordered on the east and west by Saguaro National Park, Tucson has put a premium on outdoor spaces.
Aguilar points out that private events at unique places, such as the grounds of the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, allow guests to mingle with the wild creatures that call the Sonoran Desert home, while enjoying cocktails and a catered chef’s dinner beneath the stars. Out east, the Tanque Verde Ranch’s “Cottonwood Grove” can accommodate more than 300 people for an authentic dude-ranch barbecue. “These venues have always been popular with planners, but are in greater demand as outdoor events become the standard,” Aguilar says.
Of course, the idyllic El Conquistador Tucson, A Hilton Resort, is a favorite among many meeting and event planners as the property offers nearly 45,000 sf of indoor meeting space. The resort has 100,000 sf of meeting and event space when including its outdoor venue options. Surrounded by mountain and desert vistas, El Conquistador Tucson offers an array of uniquely Southwest amenities to enhance meeting and event attendees’ resort experiences, including a wealth of indoor and outdoor activities to keep attendees refreshed, relaxed and inspired.
Laura Rudzinski, executive director for the National Institute of Pension Administrators (NIPA), also recently orchestrated a leadership conference in Arizona, specifically at Sanctuary Camelback Mountain, A Gurney’s Resort & Spa in Paradise Valley, Arizona. “We were looking for a smaller venue that had a high level of service, since our conference was comprised of business owners who have high expectations of a property,” Rudzinski says. “Sanctuary easily fit the bill.”
According to Debra Reasy, director of sales for Sanctuary Camelback Mountain, the resort provides a space for meeting groups to disconnect and reconnect. “Guests are welcomed to a desert oasis with show-stopping sunsets each night, and an award-winning restaurant and bar designed to take advantage of those views,” Reasy says.
The resort’s intimate size reinforces privacy for each meeting group, and associations can enjoy not having a typical “group” resort experience. In addition to the Sanctuary Spa, which offers plenty of wellness opportunities for active experiences, there is the signature infinity-edge pool, a tennis compound, pickleball courts, hiking and biking trails, a fitness center and more available, along with golf privileges at the region’s top courses.
The Sanctuary’s Villas are a stand-out amenity, and great for executives who crave privacy or planners who want to host smaller events and meetings. These multimillion-dollar homes are distinct, each with its own unique set of amenities, such as extensive patios, swimming pools, game rooms and home theaters. Set high atop the Sanctuary’s 53 acres, attendees housed in the Villas can enjoy sweeping views of the desert landscape. “The Sanctuary meeting experience is highly personalized, and it’s not often that we host groups simultaneously, so that allows for the special touch and flexibility that meeting planners are seeking,” Reasy says. “We are surrounded by incredible natural beauty. Guided hikes of Camelback Mountain are a great group activity that can be tailored to a team. The resort can also arrange rafting excursions along the Upper Salt River Canyon, which is close to Scottsdale, or send groups out for a hot-air balloon ride. For a bit of art and architecture, a visit to Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin West or the eclectic studio, Cosanti, are additional options.
The Phoenix area is filled with other must-experience venues. Arizona Biltmore, A Waldorf Astoria Resort, recently reopened after a $70 million renovation, which began in 2020. From refreshed cottages, to a new adults-only pool, to new dining and bar spaces, the renovation encapsulates the resort’s goal of providing an all-encompassing experience. For meetings and events, the Arizona Biltmore features a wealth of renovated and renewed options, including a state-of-the-art conference center with various ballrooms, to awe-inspiring outdoor function spaces to the famous Aztec Room.
As a premier meetings and events venue in Phoenix, the Arizona Grand Resort & Spa is located at the base of the South Mountain Preserve and offers a series of flexible ballroom and meeting spaces, with the largest being the 20,070-sf Canyon Ballroom. To take advantage of the stunning environs, Arizona Grand boasts 16 outdoor meeting spaces. Overall, this resort can accommodate from 10 to 2,200 attendees.
Another venue ideal for large-scale events is JW Marriott Phoenix Desert Ridge Resort & Spa. With more than 240,000 sf of event space, the resort features Arizona’s largest banquet hall, the Grand Canyon Ballroom, which can host up to 4,000 attendees. When business is done and it’s time to relax, attendees can enjoy championship golf, spa treatments, 17 pickleball courts, five pools and a lazy river.
According to Experience Scottsdale, the city offers more than 70 meetings-friendly properties, including luxury resorts with meeting rooms up to 24,500 sf. Located just 15 minutes from Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, Omni Scottsdale Resort & Spa at Montelucia’s 100,000 sf of meeting and event facilities include several unique outdoor venues alongside multiple elegant ballrooms and privately owned villas, all amidst 35 acres of lush desert landscape.
Bryan Hart, director of sales and marketing at Omni Scottsdale Resort & Spa at Montelucia, says the resort, nestled at the foot of iconic Camelback Mountain, offers the ultimate full-service retreat. “It’s a destination complete with European charm, as we bring the white-washed villages and sun-drenched hills of Andalusia, Spain to the heart of Scottsdale,” Hart says. “With 10 unique outdoor venues that can accommodate group events of all sizes, from 10 to 500 guests, meeting planners have the opportunity to provide their attendees with a memorable experience for their scheduled meals, breaks, refreshments, evening receptions and team building.”
The majority of outdoor venues at Omni Scottsdale allow for unobstructed views of Camelback Mountain. The resort offers many on-property amenities for meeting attendees to enjoy, including three sparkling resort pools, the property’s 31,000-sf landmark Joya Spa, Spanish-inspired dining at the resort’s signature restaurant Prado, a newly refreshed kitchen and bar at Oasis Pool with private cabanas, wellness classes and guided group hikes up Camelback Mountain. “The conference service team at Omni has tenured and experienced professionals, who are very knowledgeable and creative when it comes to assisting with planning,” Hart says. “The team goes above and beyond to assist every step of the way, ensuring no detail is left unattended to.”
According to Experience Scottsdale, the Boulders Resort & Spa Scottsdale, Curio Collection by Hilton recently introduced new golf academy courses, four new pickleball courts and culinary adventures aplenty. In addition, meeting and event attendees can explore Boulders Resort & Spa’s 1,300 acres by hiking and enjoying the ample stargazing opportunities.
Nearby in Sedona, Enchantment Resort is set amongst the towering red rocks of Boynton Canyon. The resort is a great backdrop for meetings and events and offers 218 guest rooms and a variety of flexible event spaces to hold small- and large-scale groups, corporate functions, executive retreats, annual gatherings and more. The resort’s Meeting Village serves as a dedicated hub for groups, providing floor-to-ceiling windows to draw the outside in and provide an inspiring locale fed by the natural energy of the canyon.
As Stan Kantowski, managing director of Enchantment Resort & Mii amo, explains, with access to 400 miles of scenic hiking and mountain biking trails, Enchantment Resort’s new Trail House serves as the gateway for corporate group exploration and alternative breakout session opportunities. “A team of specialized expert guides will lead a private excursion based off of the group’s skill level in some of Sedona’s most sought-after terrain, with example itineraries including a Boynton Canyon Vortex Hike, Cathedral Rock Hiking Experience and Sunset Mountain Bike Ride,” Kantowski says. “The Spa Suites at Boynton Canyon also offer a variety of well-being-focused amenities that cater to team exercises, including a compassionate communication workshop and sound bath meditation.”
A variety of desert wildlife, including mule deer, javelina and more, are frequently spotted on the property and along Sedona’s extensive hiking and biking trail system. Additional amenities include tennis, pickleball and stargazing under the dark skies of Boynton Canyon with the resort’s expert astronomer. “The resort offers customized itineraries based on the interests of the group, ensuring each event offers a tailored experience and appropriately balances work with the call to adventure so many seek while visiting Sedona, creating a well-rounded destination showcasing the best of Arizona,” Kantowski says.
With more than 200,000 sf of meeting and event space, The Westin Kierland Resort & Spa in Scottsdale boasts 44 event rooms for meetings, conferences, conventions and other events. The resort’s Kierland Grand Ballroom accommodates up to 3,600 people in a theater-style seating layout. In addition, the resort features various other smaller flexible meeting spaces for smaller and medium-sized events.
Looking ahead, Experience Scottsdale says that The Ritz-Carlton, Paradise Valley, complete with wonderful meeting and event venues, and 215 guest rooms, will open late this year. In early 2024, Caesars Entertainment will open Caesars Republic Scottsdale, the company’s first non-gaming hotel in the United States. | AC&F |