The Best of ArizonaNovember 1, 2016

Awe-Inspiring Settings Abound in the Desert Southwest By
November 1, 2016

The Best of Arizona

Awe-Inspiring Settings Abound in the Desert Southwest
An event at the Arizona Biltmore, a Waldorf Astoria Resort in Phoenix.

An event at the Arizona Biltmore, a Waldorf Astoria Resort in Phoenix. Credit: Visit Phoenix

In addition to near perfect weather most of the year and a landscape that inspires awe, Arizona appeals to meeting planners and attendees thanks to its wealth of adventures and experiences, diverse cities, sophisticated dining and an enormous range of lodging options.

Arizona brilliantly melds its rugged Western heritage with a deeply rooted spirituality and focus on wellness that draws from both Native American and contemporary influences. Its business facilities, from intriguing intimate local venues to large convention centers, consistently deliver what groups want and need, and Arizona CVBs and DMOs are known to be excellent partners, able and willing to assist planners with what they need. In short, set a meeting in Arizona and success is bound to be the result.


Downtown Phoenix has enjoyed a renaissance in recent years and growth that includes new hotels and new venues. Phoenix Convention Center & Venues, with more than 900,000 sf of meeting and exhibition space, has been named among the top 10 convention centers in the country.

And though Phoenix draws business from across the world, it also draws from companies headquartered in the metro area that know exactly how much the city offers. That was the case with Scottsdale-based HelmsBriscoe, which held its 2016 annual business conference with 1,800 attendees in downtown Phoenix in June.

“Downtown Phoenix is a wonderful partner of ours, and being able to have our annual conference in the city where our global headquarters is located was very well received by all attendees,” says Peter Shelly, executive vice president with the company and the 2016 annual business conference chair. “With Phoenix as a hub for most major airlines, attendees enjoyed the airlift and close proximity of the airport to our two host hotels. Our partners at Visit Phoenix were outstanding in making our group feel welcome, and it was the first time in our 24-year history that we hosted our annual conference in our hometown.”

The group made use of multiple venues in downtown. “Along with Visit Phoenix and many of our industry sponsors, we hosted an amazing street party at CityScape in downtown Phoenix on our opening night,” Shelly says. “After our opening general session concluded at Phoenix Symphony Hall, our attendees took a few minutes to walk over to our street party, which took place right in the heart of downtown. The focal point of the evening was the outstanding entertainment, from street performers and dancers to old cars and unique experiences provided by Walter Productions. While the majority of the evening’s activity did take place outdoors, all conference attendees could also enjoy the hospitality of four local restaurants throughout the evening, including Blue Hound, Copper Blues, Squid Ink and The Corner.”

The group was based at the Sheraton Grand Phoenix and Hyatt Regency Phoenix, both in close proximity to the Phoenix Convention Center, where the majority of conference events took place. “From a planning point of view, both properties’ conference service managers were easy to work with, always available and prompt in their responsiveness,” Shelly says. “The two headquarter hotels rolled out the red carpet to our group and had a wonderful sense of arrival for all delegates. Both hotels scored 9.5 out of 10 in our post-conference evaluations by attendees, so I am confident when I say everyone was impressed with the level of service at both host hotels.”

Shelly’s advice to planners considering his home city is to engage at the outset with Visit Phoenix. “Involving Visit Phoenix helped to make our meeting a great success. Despite the fact our meeting was in June, a warm time of year here in Arizona, with good planning and assistance from the local experts and city of Phoenix ambassadors, the weather was not an issue. The Visit Phoenix team is creative, resourceful, always ready to take your event to the next level, and they’re great partners to work with for citywide events.”

Sheraton Grand Phoenix provides 1,000 rooms on 31 floors, and 112,000 sf of indoor-outdoor meeting space; Hyatt Regency Phoenix offers 693 guest rooms and 48,000 sf of flexible function space.

Just north of the city center and offering a different sort of vibe, Pointe Hilton Tapatio Cliffs Resort also is an ideal meeting destination. Steven Beck, owner of Seek & Find Travel LLC, brought one of his clients, a marketing organization, there for its annual sales and training meeting and its regional manager sales meeting, the first in June and the second in September. The meetings had 125 and 100 attendees, respectively.

Like others, Beck points to the many attributes of Phoenix as a draw for planners. “Phoenix has much to offer whether cultural, sporting, environmental or dining, which were all important to the groups,” he says. And then there’s “how surprisingly beautiful the city is, especially at sunset, and the tremendous number and variety of meeting locations.”

Beck’s groups found everything they wanted at the resort, including the right amenities, a competitive rate and the fact that it had recently been remodeled. And, Beck adds, there was much that stood out, including “the sales team, onsite support team, engaged leadership (hotel managers), the restaurant, beautiful rooms and the golf course.”

Additionally, Beck notes, “Rooms surround the meeting rooms, providing easy access. Meeting rooms are done in a Mediterranean décor with some Southwest. Plus, AV is standard so no issues, and the catering was remarkably well done.”

For these groups, this location was definitely the right choice. “I liked the feel of the resort because it felt like we were in our own little part of Phoenix,” Beck says. “It would not have had the same feeling downtown.” And, he adds, the resort staff “has a ‘here to serve’ attitude.”

For all those reasons, Beck highly recommends the resort to others. “Start at Pointe Hilton Tapatio Cliffs Resort before you go anywhere else, especially if you are looking for a place that is unique with a wonderful staff and that answers many of the desires from your client.”

Pointe Hilton Tapatio Cliffs, set in Phoenix Mountain Reserve, offers eight pools, 65,000 sf of indoor/outdoor venue space, plus access to Lookout Mountain Golf Club. An $8.5 million renovation of 544 of the resort’s 584 two-room standard suites was recently completed.


Although connected to Phoenix, Scottsdale has its own vibe and an ethos born of its strong Western roots and its status as one of the most sophisticated upscale cities in the state. That’s exactly what Melissa Jimenez, global events director at Reval, a leading technology company providing cloud-based software to help clients manage cash and financial risk, found in Scottsdale.

The September event, Reval Connections, drew 200 attendees. “For our specific event, I was looking for a unique space to fit our theme ‘Camp Reval,’ which was a luxury adaptation of the best of childhood summer camp combined with cutting-edge treasury-technology content,” Jimenez says. “Our conference was in Las Vegas the previous year and I was looking for something more intimate and personal. Scottsdale provided many indoor-outdoor options, and I was excited to explore them and break away from the traditional conference model. The city also has a low sales tax, which heavily influenced my decision.”

The group was based at The Scottsdale Resort at McCormick Ranch, a Destination Hotel, and Jimenez says several things influenced that choice. “The hotel recently underwent a massive renovation, and it’s gorgeous. The meeting space is modern and laid out beautifully. I had a tremendous meal during my site visit — so good that I came back the next day after looking at other properties just to eat there.”

Jimenez calls the hotel chic with a smart layout, which includes rooms that are just a short walk from the meeting space. “The décor is a nice combination of antique, modern and comfortable. It’s beautiful and feels luxurious without being pretentious. The pool bar is fun and relaxed. The rooms are comfortable, spotless, and if there is an amenity you are looking for, they have it or will get it.”

Moreover, the hotel ably helped facilitate the group’s intricate theme. “This was not a rinse-and-repeat production model,” Jimenez says. “During my site visit I explained how the theme would need to be executed during our program, and they not only listened but contributed ideas, and those ideas were good. Everyone from the front desk to the landscapers to the catering staff was friendly and helpful — and not in a ‘we’ve been trained to be this way and hate what we do but have to behave in this manner’ way. It was a genuine ‘we are in this together as a team and I enjoy my job’ way. And I can sniff out the difference really quickly.”

And then there was the convention manager, about whom Jimenez says, “Hands down, I had the best convention manager ever. She was on top of everything and a true joy to work with. Additionally, the PSAV team was top-notch and their influence made my program exceed my expectations. You know they are amazing when clients are emailing you post event to say how wonderful the AV was! Finding the right personality fit of the team you will be working with matters, and these guys are the best.”

Jimenez encourages others to consider The Scottsdale Resort at McCormick Ranch. “Visit the property and be open to something different,” she says. “They will partner with you and will be your best asset when things go off plan. It rained during our event, yet our transition to being indoors was seamless. They are fun to work with. We had everything from two different room drops, a custom welcome at check-in to some unusual event creative throughout the property, and it was all well executed. Planning is an art. It’s also a ton of work. Our program took almost a year to put together, and it’s so nice to work on a project and have fun with the extended team while doing it.”

The one downside for Jimenez is flights in and out of Phoenix, which she calls limited compared to other larger cities. “I wish there were more afternoon flight options, and I think the demand is there,” she says. “It’s a bit harder for international travelers to have their connecting flights line up. I hope the airlines take notice of that, because I do think it’s the only issue I would raise.”

Other than that, she believes “Scottsdale has it all.” To her fellow planners she says, “Do your homework so you know exactly what you’re looking for. Don’t site visit just to see what is ‘out there.’ Create your wish list and then go see the venues that match your wish list. I used a site-search company to help narrow my search and was glad I did. I looked at several cities before choosing Scottsdale and dozens of properties before choosing the six or so I visited. From there, follow your instincts. If you are a good planner, your instincts are usually correct so don’t ignore them.”

Scottsdale Resort at McCormick Ranch features 326 guest rooms and 50,000 sf of recently renovated meeting and event space, plus access to the McCormick Ranch Golf Club.

Tucson and Marana

Within the Sonoran Desert and surrounded by multiple mountain ranges, Tucson is an outdoor lover’s paradise and a modern city offering a lot for meeting planners and groups. Marana, about 25 miles northwest of Tucson, is a smaller town in the high desert that also packs a lot of meeting punch. Both cities have easy access to Saguaro National Park and Tucson Mountain Park, and to a variety of outdoor experiences including exceptional golf. Among Marana’s lodging options is The Ritz-Carlton, Dove Mountain, which is where Diane Tungate, executive assistant at a global plastics, packaging and engineered materials company, who has planned meetings for the company for 20 years, will set the 2017 Engineered Materials Sales Meeting next September.

It’s no accident that the 2016 meeting in Fort Lauderdale is also at a Ritz-Carlton. “I received a cold call from Gina Kirby, director of national accounts with The Ritz-Carlton, Dove Mountain, at the time I was looking for a hotel in Fort Lauderdale for our 2016 meeting,” Tungate says. “Gina set me up with the Fort Lauderdale property, then convinced me to tour the Dove Mountain facility for our 2017 meeting.”

About the two events, Tungate says, “We partnered with Ritz-Carlton for both 2016 (in Fort Lauderdale) and 2017 (in Marana) and worked out a great meeting package.”

In terms of Dove Mountain’s location benefits, she points to “the climate, great airport and beautiful scenery. Our meeting attendees overwhelmingly request meetings where the temperature is warm and scenery is beautiful,” she adds. “While the airport isn’t as close to the resort as other locations we’ve been, traffic seems to flow very smoothly making the drive very easy.”

As for the resort, a Forbes Five Star property, Tungate says she had several things to consider on her site visit. “What was the overall appearance of the property (was it clean and updated)? Was the meeting space adequate size with enough breakout space? And were the sleeping rooms and beds nice? Another item I considered is whether the resort has unique space for dinners. I try to avoid dinners in traditional banquet rooms because I like the attendees to have fun and unique experiences to break up the full days of meetings.”

In the end, the hotel met the necessary requirements of the group, which will be about 200. While planning has only just begun for 2017, Tungate says, “Gina Kirby has gone above and beyond to help me up to this point.”

With most of the planning yet to come, Tungate has already chosen some venues for dinners on the first two nights of the conference. “On the first night, we’re booked to have dinner outside on the golf course, including a glow-golf experience for our attendees as an icebreaker. On our second night, each market segment will break down into its own group and will have separate market-segment dinners. During those dinners, we will utilize the pool, patios, lawn and any other unique space offered by the hotel,” Tungate says. “But venue spaces won’t be assigned until I have a better handle on how many will be in each group.”

The Ritz-Carlton, Dove Mountain features 253 guest rooms, a spa and 44,000 sf of indoor-outdoor function space, plus access to the Golf Club at Dove Mountain.


The ideal setting for small to mid-size groups, Sedona is one of Arizona’s most compelling destinations with its famed red-rock formations and mystical energy. It also offers a vibrant art scene, trendsetting dining, rich culture, Native influences and exceptional shopping, spas and adventure.

Among Sedona’s meeting-friendly properties is Enchantment Resort, which offers 217 guest rooms and 13,000+ sf of meeting space within its stunning 70 acres, plus a highly regarded spa, golf and countless outdoor experiences.

Whichever towns groups choose, Arizona has what it takes to drive strong attendance and to provide an experience that will translate to positives on post-conference surveys — not a bad place for planners to start…and finish.

New & Noteworthy

Phoenix-Scottsdale Metro Area

This month, The Phoenician in Scottsdale is scheduled to unveil a complete renovation of all 585 guest rooms and suites. The redesign includes new furnishings, carpeting, wall coverings, tiled entryways, quartz stone countertops and new patio furnishings, including a day bed. Locally sourced artwork and details that speak to the area’s and the resort’s history, culture and destination also are incorporated. Special features include USB ports on the night stands and reading lights in the bed headboards. Ground-level casitas also offer new fire tables on the patios.

The tallest building in Scottsdale is the 15-story, 496-room Talking Stick Resort, featuring sweeping views of the city and mountains from guest rooms and the rooftop Orange Sky Restaurant. Operated by the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community, the AAA Four Diamond Talking Stick offers a cultural center as well as culturally rich experiences. In addition to 113,000 sf of indoor-outdoor meeting space, the resort has a 650-seat showroom, casino, spa, 11 restaurants and the Talking Stick Golf Club, with two championship Troon-managed courses.

The legendary Arizona Biltmore, a Waldorf Astoria Resort in Phoenix, melding 1929 glamor and an upscale contemporary aesthetic, unveils a renovation this fall, providing a new look to its lobby, social spaces, meeting spaces and 98 main-building guest rooms. More than $35 million went into the upgrades.

The Westin Kierland Resort & Spa started the year with enhancements across the property, including to guest rooms and the Adventure Pool Complex. The resort added a new small meeting/event space, Edie’s Range House, accommodating 12 for a board meeting or intimate event, and it opened an island in the middle of its lazy river attraction, perfect for up to 20 for teambuilding or other activities.

The Andaz Scottsdale Resort & Spa, scheduled for a November opening, is offering 201 bungalow-style guest rooms and 20,000 sf of meeting and event space across 22 acres.

In February 2017, a new resort Mountain Shadows will open in Paradise Valley. The 183-room resort will include an executive golf course, a 5,000-sf fitness center and 37,500 sf of indoor-outdoor meeting space.


In April, The Boulders Resort & Spa announced completion of its yearlong renovation that included updates to the Main Lodge, changes in Discovery Lounge to better frame views of the 12-million-year-old boulders for which the resort is named, and modernized décor for Palo Verde restaurant. Brand new is the 5,500-sf Latilla Ballroom in the Main Lodge, and the resort’s 160 casitas have been upgraded. And in July, the Boulders announced a slew of new customized corporate wellness programs designed to help improve self-awareness and center the mind, body and spirit for meeting guests. C&IT

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