An enviable blend of desert and mountain settings, Mexican and Native American cultures and iconic sights ranging from the Grand Canyon to Monument Valley, Arizona offers a surprisingly exotic backdrop for memorable meetings.
“Arizona is an attractive destination for our membership,” says Kerry Cosover, director, events and travel for the NFL Players Association. “Weather, airlift and stakeholder interest make Arizona a repeat destination for the Annual Board of Player Representatives Meeting. We selected Scottsdale because the location offered a myriad of activities to meet every attendee — players and their families — where they’re at, including golf, hiking, history, wellness and culture.”
With 400 attendees for its meeting early last spring, the association used the 643-room The Phoenician, a Luxury Collection Resort, Scottsdale. The resort boasts approximately 160,000 sf of signature indoor and outdoor space, including the Grand Ballroom, which hosts up to 2,500 for gala celebrations.
“Amidst the diverse ecosystem of the Sonoran Desert, the Phoenician provided uniquely integrated and flexible event spaces for hospitality and wellness functions while providing our group with the requisite privacy to conduct impactful business meetings,” Cosover says. “There were also family-friendly options at the resort, which were critical to our attendees.”
She notes that the association had a quick runway for contracting and planning the board meeting, meaning it was critical for the hotel staff to become an extension of the team. “I cannot underscore enough the significance of anticipatory versus reactive service, and The Phoenician showcased the former throughout our program,” Cosover says. “On a macro level, we knew the hotel had enough meeting space, but we had to ensure it was the right combination to meet our needs. A multitude of rooms had double doors to allow for easy load in/out of meeting materials. Moreover, we haven’t often encountered properties that have not one, but two conference rooms that seat 18-plus around a built-in circular table to allow for productive conversations. The on-site Jokake Inn space offers a unique venue for outdoor functions, as well.”
Cosover cautions that conducting the meeting in March meant sharing Scottsdale resources with transient and Spring Break travelers. “Hotels are full, restaurants are packed and vendors are busy,” Cosover says. “Also, everything is very spread out within the city, so everyone who wants to explore should be ready to drive or take ride-share.”
But she suggests leaning into The Phoenician’s unique setting. “Situated at the base of Camelback Mountain, use the time when walking to and from the meeting space each day to reset and recharge in the beautiful surroundings.”
Another group that used Scottsdale last year is the Medical Professional Liability Association (MPLA). Jenna Hummell, CMP, manager, meetings & education for the association, also flags that the destination is pricey in March. “All the hotels are completely sold out, so we really have to stay on top of our attendees to make sure they make their room reservations early,” says Hummell, who adds that her attendees enjoy coming to Scottsdale. “We welcome guests from all over the U.S. and abroad, and they love the weather, shopping opportunities, golf courses and the ability to go to [Major League Baseball] spring training games in March. Also, the Phoenix-Scottsdale airport is convenient and offers flights from all over the country.”
Welcoming about 100 CEOs, COOs and board directors annually each March, the MPLA’s CEO/COO Meeting and Board Governance Roundtable has met in Scottsdale for 30 years, allowing Hummell to work with a number of area properties, including The Westin Kierland Resort & Spa and Hyatt Regency Scottsdale Resort & Spa at Gainey Ranch. “We choose the hotels based on quality of their sleeping rooms and meeting space,” Hummell says. “We also look at resorts that have nice amenities such as good restaurants, nearby shopping, golf courses, pools and spas. Our attendees are well traveled, and they like a high-end destination.”
Last year, MPLA used the 293-room Omni Scottsdale Resort & Spa at Montelucia, a Mediterranean-inspired property set against the backdrop of Camelback Mountain and surrounded by desert landscape. The property has more than 102,000 sf of meeting space, including the 9,216-sf Alhambra Ballroom. This year, the resort will undergo a multimillion-dollar “reimagining” of guest rooms and meeting spaces, drawing inspiration from an Andalusian Courtyard. The work is expected to wrap up in the fall.
“Service is always outstanding at these hotels. The atmosphere for our receptions — the outdoor setting and views — is stunning and the food has always been top-notch,” Hummell says. “Our attendees love the local Southwest flair we try to incorporate in all of our meal functions. We try to give them the most authentic and local experience we can. These hotels always have great options to help us achieve this goal, and our attendees really appreciate it.”
In neighboring Tempe, just 10 minutes east of Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, the $125 million Omni Tempe Hotel at ASU will open in the spring, bringing some of the largest conference and meeting space to Tempe’s revitalized downtown area. The new hotel will feature 330 guest rooms, four dining outlets, a spacious pool deck, and almost 36,000 sf of flexible indoor and outdoor meeting space, offering expansive views of the Arizona State University campus and the Phoenix-Scottsdale cityscape.
Just east of Tempe, another bedroom community in the Greater Phoenix area is Mesa, and Dávid Kolozár, director, national sales at Visit Mesa, cites affordability as a key lure for smaller association events. “We share the same lift into the destination, but on average, Mesa hotel prices are at least 10% to 15% below Phoenix-Scottsdale,” Kolozár says. “In Mesa, if you’re a group of 150 or 200 rooms, you’re the only one in town, and you’ll have the full support of the DMO. Also, that size group can get more financial support from the destination, versus Phoenix or Scottsdale, with up to $5,000 credit back to the group’s master account.”
Groups using the Mesa Convention Center tend to bunk down at the adjacent, 275-room Delta Hotels Phoenix Mesa, which offers 45,212 sf of event space, but the 180-room Sheraton Mesa Hotel at Wrigleyville West is also available, offering almost 21,000 sf of meeting space, including the 12,480-sf Canyon Ballroom. Immediately next door is Sloan Park, the spring training facility for Major League Baseball’s Chicago Cubs, offering additional off-site space for functions. The Mesa Convention Center is 4 miles away from the Sheraton, but, Kolozár says: “For citywides, we get creative and ask the outlying hotels to offer a $10 to $15 rebate to support transportation.”
Becky Miller, executive director of the Arizona Transit Association (ATA), says Mesa is great to work with, as the ATA is a regular in Mesa for the annual Statewide Transit Conference. “Mesa has financial incentives for choosing a hotel for our event.” In addition to offering the largest meeting facilities in the area and “exceptional” A/V through Premier Audio Visual, Miller notes that the Sheraton was able to offer a day meeting package that was competitive. “We are able to book the entire Sheraton Mesa Hotel and meeting space for our exclusive event.”
For its Annual Conference and Exposition held last spring, the American Society for Healthcare Human Resources Administration (ASHHRA) brought just under 1,000 attendees to the downtown Phoenix Convention Center, a facility with 900,000 sf of total meeting space.
“The association did not meet in 2020 or 2021,” says Lisa Altamira, CMP, CTA, senior director with MCI USA, and who planned the event for the ASHHRA. “Coming out of the tail-end of the pandemic, they really needed to come together and get accredited. Phoenix lent itself to the event — it’s a nice overall destination with good in-out access for people coming from the East and West coasts, and not too hot in April. People are familiar with the Phoenix area, so it was a really a good fit.”
Using three hotels — the Hyatt Regency Phoenix, the newly renovated Sheraton Phoenix Downtown and the Hampton Inn & Suites Phoenix Downtown — Altamira adds that the association was able to negotiate very good room rates. “We try and stay under the $250 price point, and we were definitely able to accommodate that between the three properties. The hotels are so close to the convention center that it was walking distance, so we didn’t have to provide transport.”
She adds that Phoenix has a terrific street ambassadors program, so attendees could find their way around downtown easily. “We toured several different off-site venues for evening social events, and The Duce really rolled out the red carpet,” Altamira says. “It’s a private event space less than a mile away — there’s in-house catering, they have entertainment they can bring in, and it’s a fun, lively venue, so I didn’t have to decorate. On the site visit, they came out with five different samples of the food, told us about the different packages and price points. We were very impressed with how they wanted our business. People could walk to the Duce if they wanted to, but maybe nighttime is not the best time to walk back by yourself. Fortunately, they provided transportation and were able to drop off at all three hotels.”
The conference utilized the convention center’s South Building, an older section of the facility. “We set up full registration in the lobby, with direct access to exhibit space, so it was conducive and all worked together,” Altamira says. “Meeting spaces were to the left or right, and the spaces could be locked off or opened up. There was an outside patio where we held another reception. We needed some internal signage, but the convention center did outdoor signage.”
While the Phoenix-Scottsdale metropolitan area, home to more than two-thirds of Arizona’s population, holds the bulk of the state’s meeting space, don’t overlook outlying cities for something different, especially for small and mid-sized events.
Tucson is set amid the Sonoran Desert, and surrounded by mountain ranges that invite outdoor activities in neighboring Saguaro National Park. During the pandemic, the city saw a fleet of improvements and additions of interest to meeting planners, starting with a $65 million expansion and renovation project at the Tucson Convention Center, completed late last year. The project included a face-lift for the center’s 89,760-sf exhibit halls, renovation of the 20,164-sf ballroom, updating the Leo Rich Theatre and the Linda Ronstadt Music Hall, and adding 32,000 sf of meeting rooms, restrooms and lobbies.
Also underway: Tucson’s tallest downtown skyscraper and most iconic building is being transformed into The Leo Kent Hotel, a 150-room boutique hotel opening soon. Located less than a quarter-mile from the convention center, the Marriott Tribute portfolio property will span nine of the tower’s 23 floors and draw upon the hotel’s unique location in Tucson in its design, culinary and group offerings.
Late last year, the Color Marketing Group chose Tucson for its 2022 International Summit, selecting the JW Marriott Tucson Starr Pass Resort & Spa to host 135 attendees. “A key goal is to find a location that is appealing to our members who, in fall, typically prefer warmer climates,” says Sharon Griffis, executive director, Color Marketing Group. “Arizona meets this need with its pleasant fall weather, and also offers a unique cultural experience, which is appealing to our international guests. Our members are creatives — designers and color professionals driven by inspiration, innovation and exploration. Tucson is abundant in beauty, culture, cuisine, arts and entertainment, fueling our members’ creativity.”
The 575-room JW Marriott Tucson Starr Pass Resort is the city’s largest hotel, located in the foothills overlooking Tucson, yet just 6 miles from downtown and 12 miles from the airport. The property has 83,732 sf of event space, including the 19,836-sf Arizona Ballroom, while other features include 27 holes of championship golf at the Starr Pass Golf Club and a 20,000-sf full-service spa. Hiking trails lead right from the porte cochère into the spectacular, saguaro cactus-dotted scenery of Tucson Mountain Park.
“Our first priority is to ensure that the meeting space can accommodate all aspects of our event, which includes an exhibition, general session and workshop areas, as well as customary catering,” Griffis says. “We have a very hands-on program, where our guests collaborate in workshop sessions, so we need more than just banquet and sit-down meeting facilities. Our program is also very dynamic, with guests transitioning from session to workshop, to networking to catering, so we need a meeting space that can support that, where our guests are in one large area rather than having long transitions from one space to another.”
Griffis continues: “The JW Marriott offered us sufficient meeting room space to accommodate not just the size of our group, but our need for a diverse range of meeting rooms to hold an exhibition, workshops and full stage setup for our theater-style general session. Having on-site A/V support is also helpful, as we offer a full multimedia presentation to our guests across three days, so we need technical expertise to manage all components of that.”
Griffis notes that Tucson isn’t as accessible to international guests as larger U.S. cities. “But the destination is worth the effort,” says Griffis, who lauded the support her organization received from Visit Tucson. “We held several casual, off-site networking events at various restaurants around Tucson, and the feedback was extremely positive. Our guests enjoyed a myriad of different tastes and flavors from local and authentic cuisine to more traditional American fare.”
Renowned for its scenic beauty and ideal for smaller meetings, Sedona is set amid red-rock landscapes and swaying sycamore trees, and tempting with endless outdoor adventure activities. Just three Sedona hotels offer more than 8,000 sf of meeting space, including the 137-room Poco Diablo Resort & Conference Center and the 221-room Hilton Sedona Resort at Bell Rock, which has 25,000 sf of meeting facilities.
For a recent workshop, Anne-Marie Kahrovic, CMP, associate executive director of the International Society for Magnetic Resonance in Medicine (ISMRM), brought 185 members to Sedona, staying at Enchantment Resort. “Sedona is a magical destination,” says Kahrovic, who notes that the location and resort drives higher attendance than other cities ISMRM has used. “Enchantment Resort offers an attendee experience that will never be forgotten and leave them longing to return.”
The 218-room resort offers a variety of conference facilities located within the Meeting Village, including three separate ballrooms ranging up to 4,880 sf, and each with floor-to-ceiling windows. In total, Enchantment offers 12,000 sf of indoor meeting space and an additional 32,000 sf of outdoor function space, perfect for events under the stars.
Activities at the 70-acre resort include golf and yoga, with hiking and mountain biking on abundant trails. Plus, there’s Enchantment’s adjacent sister property, the renowned spa resort, Mii amo, which will reopen soon following a $40 million expansion and renovation.
Kahrovic says attendance numbers exceeded expectations for her event. “The venue and destination sells itself with just one marketing photo to promote it,” she says. “Enchantment is a bit of a distance from the Phoenix Airport, but our attendees don’t mind — it [did not] hurt [our] attendance numbers.” | AC&F |