Featuring outstanding lodging and meeting spaces, plenty of year-round sunshine, a plethora of outdoor activities and spectacular scenery, Arizona is one of the most sought-after places for association meetings.
“Arizona is a dream destination, enabling planners to deliver the ‘wow’ factor their clients want, while offering guests an unforgettable experience,” says Debbie Johnson, director of the Arizona Office of Tourism. “When you add in a wide variety of conference centers, event spaces and venues, as well as highly trained event-planning professionals and exceptional weather, Arizona shines as an ideal association meeting location.”
Lorne Edwards, chief sales officer for Visit Phoenix, says the state’s landscape has a profound effect on meetings. “Our year-round sunshine, paired with our amazing resorts and hotels, narrate the magic of the Sonoran Desert, which has long been a place where inspiration and innovation are found,” he says.
Rachel Sacco, president and CEO of Experience Scottsdale, agrees. “With its remarkable clarity of light, healing climate and exotic cactus blossoms, the Sonoran Desert leaves attendees feeling inspired and rejuvenated,” she says.
Arizona’s warm weather enables planners to feel confident hosting outdoor events as well as off-site recreational activities such as horseback riding, hot-air ballooning and hiking. “While the desert experiences high temperatures in the summer months, Arizona is a year-round destination for meetings due to our clear skies and wide variety of indoor event spaces that are ideal when the mercury rises,” Sacco says.
Association planners have found these attractive features not only in Phoenix and Scottsdale, but also in Tucson, Tempe and Mesa.
Located in the Sonoran Desert, 112 miles southeast of Phoenix, Tucson is the second-largest city in Arizona — trailing only Phoenix — with more than 540,000 residents. “Tucson’s protected open desert allows groups to take advantage of the weather and terrain,” says Mary Meade, director of sales for Visit Tucson. “Outdoor activities that groups can enjoy include a guided mountain bike ride in the desert, hiking in a canyon to a series of waterfalls, riding an ATV through a slot canyon, skeet shooting at an Olympic-class facility and horseback riding in a national park. We also have a fantastic collection of hotels, resorts, spas and dude ranches.”
The main venue for large association gatherings, Tucson Convention Center, (TCC) is located in the heart of downtown and features 233,000 sf of meeting and event space, including a 113,940-sf exhibit floor, a 20,164-sf grand ballroom and three performance facilities.
Leading resorts and hotels for association meetings include JW Marriott Tucson Starr Pass Resort & Spa, offering 575 guest rooms and nearly 84,000 sf of meeting space; The Westin La Paloma Resort & Spa, offering 487 guest rooms and 92,000 sf; El Conquistador Tucson, A Hilton Resort, offering 428 guest rooms and nearly 55,000 sf; Loews Ventana Canyon Resort, offering 398 guest rooms and 83,000 sf; and Casino del Sol/Estrella Hotel, offering 366 guest rooms and 100,000 sf.
The North American Vermeer Dealers Association of Kansas City, Missouri, recently brought a group to Tucson that stayed at The Westin La Paloma Resort & Spa. “The Westin La Paloma team blew me away on the site visit,” says Jennifer Orr, member services manager for the association. “Every attention to detail you can possibly need and want as a meeting planner was addressed before I could even ask.”
She was equally impressed during her group’s stay at the resort. “The staff went above and beyond,” she says. “Every single interaction with any of the staff members was positive. The resort booked all of our hotel rooms closest to the area where our meetings were to be held to minimize walks. The hotel branded with our logo all throughout the facility and provided bonus signage and window clings with our logo.”
Orr relied heavily on the resort and Visit Tucson staffs because her only exposure to Tucson was during the site visit. The resort offered private yoga and a hike each day, and with the help of both staffs, she coordinated a spouse day trip throughout Tucson. Orr also arranged for a beer burro and an astronomer presentation at an on-site dinner.
She added that everyone in her group loved Tucson, and indicated they would come back on personal trips. “The Westin La Paloma has customers for life, based on how easy to work with an attentive the entire team was,” she says. “They made my job very easy.”
Tucson’s most popular attraction for groups is the 98-acre Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, which is 85% outdoors. It features a zoo, botanical garden, art gallery, natural history museum and aquarium. One of the largest aerospace museums in the world, Pima Air & Space Museum, contains more than 80 aircraft in six display hangars on 80 acres, along with some 125,000 artifacts. The museum offers tram tours and group walking tours.
At Sabino Canyon Recreation Area, an open-air shuttle that seats up to 60 passengers travels 3.5 miles deep into the canyon, filled with towering saguaros, wildflowers and wildlife. Just east of Sabino Canyon, a moderate-to-difficult 8.4-mile round-trip hike leads groups to Seven Falls, an intermittent series of breathtaking waterfalls. Saguaro National Park features a forest of giant saguaros, which can extend up to 50 feet tall and live more than 200 years. Group tours can be arranged.
Boasting more than 1.6 million residents, making it the fifth most-populous city in the United States, Phoenix is Arizona’s capital and central hub. “Phoenix is the urban heart of our majestic Sonoran Desert, where ancestral ingenuity and the collective spirit of diverse peoples thrive,” Edwards says. “We welcome and encourage associations to tap into the many unique and enriching experiences that deliver transformative outcomes for both meeting planners and attendees.”
He says Visit Phoenix aims to deliver on its core values — community, innovation, trust and passion. “We are proud of the approach undertaken by our team of professionals throughout every phase of the planners to the right industry and community resources that will support their business event strategy and outcomes.”
Phoenix and other nearby major cities such as Scottsdale, Tempe and Mesa are served by Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport (PHX), which offers nonstop flights to 117 domestic destinations and 23 international airports.
Many association meetings are held at Phoenix Convention Center (PCC), which recently celebrated its 50th anniversary. It offers more than 1 million sf of meeting and exhibit space, including a 312,500-sf main exhibit hall and 99 meeting rooms in three buildings. Its infrastructure enables it to deliver livestreamed workshops from each of the breakout rooms simultaneously. The center includes Canyon on Third Space, an 80,000-sf esplanade designed to be a turnkey venue for hosting concerts as well as large exhibitions and culinary gatherings.
“The convention center has been designed by event professionals who collaboratively use creativity and thriving knowledge to push the limits of innovation in science, technology, health-care research and next-generation applications,” Edwards says. “These same resources can easily be woven into the tapestry of an organization’s content strategy.”
Sheraton Phoenix Downtown offers 1,003 guest rooms and nearly 112,000 sf of meeting space, is completing a renovation project and is the anchor property to the convention center. “And with the addition of Hyatt Regency Phoenix, which offers 693 guest rooms and 50,000 sf of meeting space and the Renaissance Phoenix Downtown Hotel, which offers 517 guest rooms and 51,000 sf of space, our accessible downtown is the perfect setting for citywide conventions,” Edwards says.
Another outstanding property for large association meetings, JW Marriott Phoenix Desert Ridge Resort & Spa, offering 950 guest rooms and nearly 237,000 sf of meeting space, recently addressed planners’ requests for enhanced sustainability measures by adding more than 96,000 sf of synthetic turf throughout the property to help it conserve 4.8 million gallons of water annually.
Phoenix also offers plenty of attractions that are well-suited to groups. Heard Museum includes more than 3,600 pieces of Native American art and features 12 exhibition galleries, outdoor sculpture gardens and a contemporary art gallery. Private group tours are available. The Musical Instrument Museum has a collection of more than 8,000 instruments from some 200 countries. Guided group tours for up to 120 people can be arranged. The 150-acre Desert Botanical Garden features more than 50,000 plant displays, showcased in striking outdoor exhibits.
Bordered on the west by Phoenix and on the south by Tempe, Scottsdale is one of the fastest-growing cities in the United States, with more than 254,000 residents. Featuring several luxurious, but casual, stellar resorts, it’s also becoming an even more popular city for association meetings.
“Scottsdale offers advantages to association meetings that few other destinations can match — fresh air, sunny skies and the luxury of space,” Sacco says. “From campus-style resorts to lush, outdoor meeting spaces, Scottsdale is the ideal choice for groups ready to convene. The city has all the services and amenities meeting groups expect: top-tier accommodations for groups of all sizes and budgets, state-of-the-art meeting facilities and hassle-free transportation, both in the air and on the ground.”
Some of the top meeting resorts are The Westin Kierland Resort & Spa, which offers 735 guest rooms and nearly 173,000 sf of indoor and outdoor meeting space; The Phoenician, a Luxury Collection Resort, Scottsdale, offering 585 guest rooms and 160,000 sf; Fairmont Scottsdale Princess, with 750 guest rooms and 316,000 sf; JW Marriott Scottsdale Camelback Inn Resort & Spa, with 453 guest rooms and nearly 128,000 sf; Hyatt Regency Scottsdale Resort & Spa at Gainey Ranch, which offers 493 guest rooms, and more than 75,000 sf of meeting space; DoubleTree Resort by Hilton Hotel Paradise Valley – Scottsdale, offering 378 guest rooms and 38,000 sf; and The Scottsdale Plaza Resort & Villas, offering 404 guest rooms and more than 50,000 sf.
Michelle Kann, CMP, DES, associate chief of operations for Society of Hospital Medicine, recently planned a meeting for her organization at JW Marriott Scottsdale Camelback Inn Resort & Spa. It features a hacienda-style entry and lobby, restaurants and a grand courtyard, with the 15,000-sf Paradise Ballroom and 20,000-sf Arizona Ballroom. The resort also offers the highly acclaimed Spa Camelback Inn, 36 holes of championship golf, swimming, hiking and biking.
“Our attendees really love JW Marriott Camelback and Scottsdale,” Kann says. “We book this meeting every three to four years due to the positive feedback we get from attendees.” She says attendees like Scottsdale’s central location, abundance of activities and great weather during the time of their meetings.
The Experience Scottsdale staff set up everything for site tours and pre-planning meetings. “They ensured that we were well taken care of,” Kann says. “They are always easily accessible and answer questions quickly.” She explained why the Marriott property was again chosen for her company’s meeting: “The space is perfect for us. It is laid out well for us. Also, the casita-style rooms allow our attendees to have slightly more room.”
Kann and her team then collaborated with their company’s marketing team to create a microsite for the meeting. They utilized images from Experience Scottsdale and worked with its staff to post ideas for on-site activities that attendees could book on their own. Most attendees’ activities took place at the property, but the microsite contained a page describing attractions in Greater Scottsdale because attendees had free time on one of the travel days.
The JW Marriott Camelback staff worked closely with Kann and her team during meetings to ensure everything went smoothly. “They constantly check in and are very engaged,” she says. The group was particularly happy about the unique meal options. “We offered a bowl lunch that was straight off the hotel menu, and we had rave reviews,” Kann says.
Sacco says during non-meeting hours, association attendees in Scottsdale can enjoy world-class golf, resort and day spas, and a variety of dining and nightlife. “Association meeting attendees can venture out into the McDowell Sonoran Preserve, with over 35,000 acres of unprotected desert, or tour Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin West, an architectural gem and living desert laboratory,” she says. “They can get a taste of the desert’s bounty in Old Town Scottsdale by sampling regional cuisine at independent restaurants, and Arizona wines along the Scottsdale wine trail. Also, groups can experience the Wild West during tours and events planned at Western Spirit: Scottsdale’s Museum of the West, located in Scottsdale’s Arts District.”
Exceptionally Scottsdale, a new feature at experiencescottsdale.com, describes curated tours and workshops ranging from Arizona wines to Native American cultures.
Home to the main campus of Arizona State University (ASU), Tempe embraces an active lifestyle and a laid-back atmosphere. “Refreshingly offbeat, Tempe is a college town with a personality all its own,” says Matt Connelly, director of sales for the Tempe Tourism Office. “It’s a welcoming destination with a spirited lifestyle, where you’ll find fun-filled activities at every turn.”
A 10-minute drive from Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, Tempe is a highly sought destination for meetings with less than 500 attendees. “The beautiful Sonoran Desert is the backdrop for your event at a mountaintop resort, downtown convention center or rooftop pool,” Connelly says.
A leading hotel for association meetings is Marriott Phoenix Resort Tempe at the Buttes, which offers 353 guest rooms and 43,500 sf of meeting space. Omni Tempe Hotel at ASU, with 330 guest rooms and 36,000 sf of meeting space, is slated to open in the spring with four dining outlets, a spacious pool deck and expansive views of the ASU campus.
Kathleen Rivera, project manager for AdamsChandler LLC, brought a group to Tempe last fall. “We chose Tempe because it’s centrally located, convenient to the airport and offers many choices for restaurants, bars and things to do,” she says. “And our group appreciates variety and the busy, college vibe.”
COVID-19 hit when Rivera and her team were planning the meeting. “We had to navigate canceling and rebooking twice, but Tempe Tourism assisted at every curve,” she says. The group stayed at the Canopy by Hilton Tempe Downtown, and its staff helped Rivera with venue and activity recommendations and options, and supplied informational brochures. Opened in 2020, the Canopy hotel is situated in a contemporary high-rise building and features a lobby-level cafe, a lounge, a fitness center, a rooftop pool with a terrace bar, cabanas and a fire pit. The meeting space is divided among seven rooms, with an 1,870-sf room being the largest.
“The Canopy hotel is unique and one of a kind,” Rivera says. “The rooftop is just beautiful. We had an evening opening reception in the Alibi East Terrace and morning poolside yoga classes.” The AdamsChandler attendees also toured the Frank Lloyd Wright building — Taliesin West, the international headquarters for the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation — and enjoyed a scavenger hunt and historic walk, as well as dinners on their own and in groups.
Rivera enjoyed working with the local tourism personnel. “It is dealing with professionals … from Tempe Tourism and [the] Downtown Tempe Authority that have taught me to always utilize the professionals available to me,” she says.
One of the city’s top attractions, Tempe Center for the Arts (TCA), features a wide range of programs as well at The Gallery, a space for art exhibitions. During the past 14 years, TCA has produced more than 150 large- and small-scale exhibitions and featured more than 2,500 local and national artists, and admission is free. Much of the activity at 25-acre Tempe Beach at Tempe Town Lake is centered around the lake, where guests can enjoy kayaking, boating, stand-up paddleboarding and fishing. The park also offers picnicking and 5 miles of trails for biking, hiking and walking.
Surrounded by the Sonoran Desert beauty of Tonto National Forest and the communities of Apache Junction and Queen Creek, Mesa features not only excellent meeting facilities, but intriguing options for downtime activities.
“Mesa is the gateway to the Salt River in the Tonto National Forest, with classic Southwestern vibes displayed by the wild horses roaming over the river or at Goldfield Ghost Town, where the legend of the Lost Dutchman comes to life,” says David Kolozar, director of national sales for Visit Mesa. “After all the outdoor activities, the excitement continues in downtown Mesa, where a gaggle of breweries, taprooms and cideries await out-of-town guests, along with a 5,000-seat outdoor amphitheater and the largest performing arts center in the Southwest.”
The Mesa Convention Center and Amphitheatre is a solid choice for association meetings, with nearly 40,000 sf of meeting and exhibit space, including a 19,000-sf exhibit hall and a 9,000-sf ballroom at the adjacent Delta Hotels Phoenix Mesa. The convention center contains 26 breakout rooms and an additional 40,000 sf of outdoor function space, complemented by the amphitheater, with a festival capacity of 5,000. The center recently renovated its 169-seat indoor conference theater with new A/V technology and capability to host hybrid meetings.
Leading hotels for association meetings are Delta Hotels Phoenix Mesa, which offers 274 guest rooms and 45,212 sf of meeting space; Sheraton Mesa Hotel at Wrigleyville West, offering 180 guest rooms and nearly 21,000 sf; and DoubleTree by Hilton Phoenix Mesa, offering 266 guest rooms and 21,109 sf.
Meg Lampert, administrative director with the Zoological Association of America (ZAA), arranged for her organization to hold a gathering in Mesa. “Visit Mesa did a great job answering our questions and showing us all that Mesa has to offer,” she says. “We had previously hosted this conference in Phoenix and were looking for a new location with ease of airport and transportation access that still has accommodations that attendees can explore nearby. We were also looking for plenty of space to host workshops and sessions while hosting a full trade show with numerous exhibitors. We also chose Mesa because of its fun atmosphere, nightlife and cultural attractions. We planned side trips and conference tours for our attendees; Mesa has so much to offer, location-wise.”
Lampert was also lured by the incentives her group was offered. “Visit Mesa offered great incentives and were very accommodating to a large group of our size,” she says, adding that she felt that this year, Mesa had more to offer to the group than Phoenix did. Her group also received valuable assistance from the staff at Delta Hotels Phoenix Mesa.
“With so many venues bouncing back after being closed to meetings for almost two years, we needed direction on the catering and F&B side,” Lampert says. “One of the venues we needed was not available, so Delta assisted us through and worked with us on what our options could look like. We were able to work with staff directly on menu planning, which was wonderful.”
Besides meetings, the ZAA contingent planned to host after-hours mixers, a pub crawl for conservation, dine-arounds and a full day at 215-acre Wildlife World Zoo, Aquarium and Safari Park, located in nearby Litchfield Park and boasting Arizona’s largest collection of exotic animals.
Another nearby attraction, Goldfield Ghost Town in Apache Junction, is an abandoned gold mining town that has been refurbished as a tourist attraction with mine tours, rides and shops. Also, Saguaro Lake, 20 miles from Mesa in the Tonto National Forest, provides boating, fishing, swimming and kayaking. Rimmed by golden cliffs, it’s a spectacular setting for these activities.
Mesa also has plenty of attractions within city limits. The 3,648-acre Usery Mountain Regional Park offers archery, 29 miles of multiuse trails and scenic wind caves. The Arizona Museum of Natural History, the only natural history museum in the Greater Phoenix area, focuses on the natural and cultural history of the Southwest. Admission discounts and private programs for group can be arranged.
The 210,000-sf Mesa Arts Center is a performing and visual arts complex in the downtown area. It is home to four theaters, five art galleries and 14 art studios. Private group tours are available. Groups can also enjoy a sampling of local wines, craft beers and foods by heading out on the city’s self-guided Fresh Foodie Trail. | AC&F |