ArizonaApril 11, 2022

Looking Forward to a Strong Recovery By
April 11, 2022


Looking Forward to a Strong Recovery
In Paradise Valley, the new The Ritz-Carlton, Paradise Valley, will open later this year.

In Paradise Valley, the new The Ritz-Carlton, Paradise Valley, will open later this year.

Tourism officials in Arizona are optimistic about the future of meetings, and with good reason. Debbie Johnson, director of the Arizona Office of Tourism, points to one reason why: “We continue to see investment in new hotel properties around Arizona and additional air service into Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, so we’re perfectly positioned to welcome back business travelers from around the world.”

No one can predict when things will fully return to normal, but there’s no question that meetings and business travel are central to the process. “Resuming meetings and other business travel safely is a critical step in tourism’s economic recovery,” Johnson says, adding, “Meetings provide an economic boost far beyond just the host facility. In 2019, Phoenix Convention Center meetings had an impact of more than $335 million, and Tucson meetings had an impact of $61.6 million in Southern Arizona. These figures show the importance of the meetings industry to Arizona.”

Not surprisingly, Arizona is well-suited to experience early recovery given its near perfect weather the majority of the year, and abundance of outdoor venues to which groups are drawn, COVID-19 or not. Add history, adventure, the romance of the Old West and the contemporary vibrancy of many of the state’s popular cities, and you have the perfect mix to bring business back. As Johnson puts it, “Arizona is an ideal location to host meetings of all sizes. Our focus on health and safety, beautiful venues with ample outdoor spaces, nearly perfect weather and remarkable experiences for guests make it easy for event planners to continue choosing the Grand Canyon State.”

She isn’t alone in her optimism.


“Scottsdale saw the beginnings of our recovery [last] spring, with domestic leisure travelers returning to the city to enjoy our warm weather and special events. Our hotels, resorts and hospitality businesses were thrilled to welcome visitors back to our community,” says Rachel Sacco, president & CEO, Experience Scottsdale. “Though the pandemic has thrown many curveballs at this industry over the past two years, Experience Scottsdale is optimistic about [the rest of] 2022 as we anticipate welcoming back international travelers and hosting larger-scale meetings,” Sacco says. “Our leads for future group business have returned to pre-pandemic levels. Though many of the meetings hosted at our hotels, resorts and venues have been smaller gatherings, Scottsdale is prepared to welcome groups of all sizes and accommodate any health protocols. We feel confident that corporate groups will feel secure in hosting their meetings in Scottsdale as soon as they’re ready.”

Like Johnson, much of Sacco’s optimism comes down to Arizona and Scottsdale’s ideal attributes. “Scottsdale offers corporate groups advantages that few other destinations can match: Fresh air, sunny skies and the luxury of space. From campus-style resorts to lush outdoor meeting spaces, Scottsdale is the ideal choice for groups ready to reunite in the months ahead.”

Planners agree. Jamie Pepper, senior vice president of meetings and coordination at Opal Group, says Scottsdale is and has been a great fit for her meetings. “The great weather, quality of resort product, easy airlift and off-site entertainment make Scottsdale a draw for our attendees in January.” The group’s meeting early this year, with 400 attending, was based at the Omni Scottsdale Resort & Spa at Montelucia. The group has also used the Hyatt Regency Scottsdale Resort & Spa at Gainey Ranch, Fairmont Scottsdale Princess and The Phoenician, a Luxury Collection Resort, Scottsdale in past years. “The meeting space and flow of events is always the leading factor in my decision-making,” Pepper says. “Omni Montelucia has ample indoor and outdoor meeting space, including large foyers for exhibits. The outdoor space for meals just off the function space is ideal for this event, not to mention that the resort is less than 20 minutes from Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport.”

There’s a lot to recommend at the Omni Montelucia, according to Pepper. “What’s most unique about this resort is the Spanish feel of the hotel, coupled with the picturesque views of Camelback Mountain as a backdrop for the event. This is our third year in Scottsdale, as the destination’s resorts always do a nice job with our events.”

Many of the past year’s COVID protocols were in place at this meeting as well, though Pepper says much of what’s done in terms of health and safety has to do with the demographics of the attendees. “For this particular event, we were asking for proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test result, and [we used] more roll-ups at meals, disposable cutlery, staff-attended buffets and colored bracelets indicating attendees’ individual comfort level with peers, plus hand sanitizer readily available everywhere.” Because of the structure of this particular meeting, Pepper says there wasn’t a lot of time for attendees to experience all that Scottsdale offers. “That said,” she adds, “when we host programs in Scottsdale, we always find time to golf, which is a fun and naturally socially distanced outdoor activity.”

Scottsdale, Pepper notes, remains in high demand. “It’s wise for planners to take advantage of cost savings in the shoulder season and summer rebate programs, as well as things like the Site See & Fly Free program offered by Experience Scottsdale,” she says. “Additionally, with Scottsdale’s myriad high-end hotel and resort product, flexibility is key for planners with a limited budget. At the same time, with more than 70 resorts and hotels in the destination, there’s a lot of inventory with a price point for everyone.” Pepper also has an insider’s tip for those meeting in Scottsdale. “For a fun way to let loose, try Hash Kitchen’s Bloody Mary Bar — it’s amazing. I’m planning my return to Scottsdale just for that.”

Many Scottsdale hotels have been busy upgrading and adding in recent months. Last July, the Fairmont Scottsdale Princess debuted its Sisley-Paris Spa — a spa within a spa comprised of a private six-room treatment facility that may be of particular interest to incentive groups. Four Seasons Resort Scottsdale at Troon North completed a floor-to-ceiling renovation of its meeting space, and Hyatt Regency Scottsdale Resort & Spa debuted Desert Garden, a serene outdoor venue within a grove of mesquite trees, featuring a 1,600-sf lawn and 3,700-sf patio. In Paradise Valley, the new The Ritz-Carlton, Paradise Valley, set on 20 acres overlooking Camelback Mountain, will feature a 400-foot pool and 20,000 sf of function space when it opens later this year. Looking ahead, Scottsdale will also be the location of the first non-gaming hotel from Caesars Entertainment Inc. when lifestyle-brand Caesars Republic Scottsdale opens next year.

Debbie Johnson, director of the Arizona Office of Tourism, says resuming meetings and events is critical to the state’s recovery.

Debbie Johnson, director of the Arizona Office of Tourism, says resuming meetings and events is critical to the state’s recovery.


The greater Phoenix area is well positioned to move forward as meetings rebound. In addition to its dramatic surrounding landscape, weather and other assets that have long been a draw for planners and groups, Phoenix also has a savvy and resilient business community, says Ron Price, president & CEO of Visit Phoenix, that has been an important component in moving forward. “The future of meetings in Greater Phoenix is bright. Our hotel and resort community, along with the Phoenix Convention Center and surrounding downtown Phoenix businesses, rose to the occasion when it came to adapting to meetings in a pandemic world,” Price says. “That’s what being a good meetings destination is all about — meeting the needs of planners and ensuring they always receive our Southwest hospitality, even during the unknown.”

Price thinks meeting planners are currently in the process of developing a “new normal,” and he says the Visit Phoenix team is working alongside them to continue to create positive experiences for attendees when they travel to Phoenix. “That’s why I’m incredibly optimistic about the future,” he says. “We’ve seen the resilience from the industry after being faced with challenges we never imagined. I know that we’ll continue to emerge stronger and even improve the meeting and convention experience for attendees following our pandemic experience.”

If planners haven’t been to Phoenix recently, there’s much new to see. Boutique AC Hotel Phoenix Downtown opened last year, while the Hyatt Regency Phoenix renovated all 693 guest rooms and added a new restaurant and market. Sheraton Grand at Wild Horse Pass has undergone a $70 million upgrade, as has the Arizona Biltmore, A Waldorf Astoria Resort, which was closed for more than a year and reopened in spring last year. Renovations include the addition of a new restaurant and bar, and 200,000 sf of newly renovated meeting space. Expected next year is the 141-room, internationally inspired The Global Ambassador hotel, which will feature the largest rooftop restaurant in the state.

The wait for the final piece of the 1,003-room Sheraton Phoenix Downtown to fully reopen as the prototype for Marriott’s portfolio-wide rebranding of Sheraton came recently with the opening of Carcara, the hotel’s newest restaurant. In the non-hotel realm, the newly named Footprint Center, home to the NBA’s Phoenix Suns and WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury, underwent a renovation of more than $230 million, which includes nearly 70,000 sf of new amenity space.


Marc Garcia, president & CEO of Visit Mesa, thinks full recovery is yet to come, but he’s optimistic, with caveats. “At Visit Mesa, we’re cautiously optimistic about a full recovery by 2023 — so long as no further disruptions take place and we’re able to lessen the impacts on the supply-chain issues that have been occurring. Of course, we’re also watching for signs of any potential economic downturn due to possible inflation.”

That said, Mesa is moving forward with developments and new hotels continue to open. “This past year, Mesa has been actively developing new visitor-centric attractions, including the new Bell Bank Park and Revel Surf Park at Cannon Beach,” Garcia says. “This is on top of new hotel announcements surrounding the Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport and new hotel openings that occurred in 2020 and 2021.”

What does all that mean? It means, Garcia says, that Mesa is creating increased demand for the destination, and it’s working. “We’re experiencing occupancy gains over 2019 levels for consecutive months [in 2021], indicating the strength of our leisure-travel segment; we know meetings-related travel is due to follow. With the expansion taking place in our downtown core currently, Mesa has some incredible noteworthy anchors that will elevate and enhance future meetings and events in our city.”

In terms of specific gains in the meeting sector, David Kolozar, Visit Mesa’s director of national sales, says, “We’ve been seeing some improvement in terms of corporate groups and association meetings gathering in person and actualizing about 50% to 80% of their contracted room blocks. We’ve also seen some increased RFP activity … for the first and second quarter of 2022,” he says. “Compression in the first two to four months of [this] year could affect planners’ ability to find their desired dates. Flexibility on the planners’ side and the hotels’ side will be crucial when looking to find a venue.” On the potential good-news front, Kolozar adds, “Compression that will likely occur in Phoenix and Scottsdale could benefit Mesa hotels.”

Terri Bauer, senior director, global accounts with HelmsBriscoe, worked on a meeting for 200 last fall. The group was based at the Sheraton Mesa Hotel at Wrigleyville West, which Bauer says offered good pricing and easy access to the airport. Mesa, Bauer notes, also has plenty of restaurants, things to do and a variety of hotels to meet client needs. As for the Sheraton specifically, Bauer says, “The hotel is clean, the room product is nice, and offering the new Courtyard next door as an overflow hotel is a plus.” Proximity to the airport, restaurants and ample parking for local people are also positives, as is the flexibility provided by large meeting spaces and outdoor areas for meals. Bauer also notes that load-in was easy and the hotel has places to park the trucks. Moreover, she says, “The hotel kept us educated on its COVID policies and what was happening within the area related to COVID,” and they kept asking her team if they could provide the clients with additional resources.

In general, Bauer says, she’s seeing more flexibility from some hotels as far as attrition and F&B; keeping meals outside, etc. Other cities, she notes, are also offering additional rebates. She says planners need to ask a lot of questions these days. “Meet with your CVB partners and ask questions and the ‘what if’s’ about how hotels are handling clauses and COVID mandates. Be the ambassador for your clients on how to prepare if they have questions about attrition or are worried about their meeting space, social distancing, etc. Work to find solutions together.”

As noted by Garcia, Bell Bank Park, which opened early this year, and Revel Surf Park at the Cannon Beach development, slated to open soon, are major developments in Mesa geared toward travelers of all types. Downtown Mesa is also undergoing significant transformation with new builds. Worth noting is the new ASU @ Mesa City Center, which is scheduled to open in the fall. More than a campus centered around arts and culture, the $75 million development is designed for collaboration with both community and industry, and will offer spaces that should garner the attention of planners.

J. Felipe Garcia, CEO at Visit Tucson, is anticipating Tucson’s rebound from the pandemic.

J. Felipe Garcia, CEO at Visit Tucson, is anticipating Tucson’s rebound from the pandemic.


There’s no question that the pandemic has been challenging for all stakeholders in the meetings industry, but J. Felipe Garcia, CEO at Visit Tucson, says he’s still optimistic about the future, in part because he firmly believes Tucson can meet groups’ evolving needs. “The last two years have unquestionably been challenging, but I am thoroughly optimistic that Tucson is particularly poised to rebound well as we emerge from the pandemic. Our wide-open spaces fit perfectly within the needs of the modern meeting planner, providing for social distancing and opportunities for attendees to get outside and explore.” But Garcia cautions that it’s not about thinking in terms of a return to “normal.” Rather, he says, “We’re trying to stay nimble and ready to provide pivotable options based on taking the temperature of the industry.”

Caroline Green, marketing events specialist with Fiskars Brands Inc., worked on the company’s Annual Americas Sales Meeting, held late last year at the Loews Ventana Canyon Resort, with about 75 in attendance. When considering Tucson, she says, “This destination seemed to be a good fit for Fiskars based on cost, quality of lodging and the outdoor accommodations. Not only do the majority of our team members come from cooler places, but there’s a good variety of activities that we can do outdoors to be safe and mindful of COVID-19.”

Green and others on the Fiskars team worked closely with members of the Visit Tucson team. “Myself and my supervisor, Chelsea, had the opportunity to visit Tucson and the hotel, and some of the location attractions we’d be experiencing when meeting there,” she says. Visit Tucson has exceptional hostesses who “gave us an excellent tour, and a lot of great local recommendations for restaurants and activities to share with our team. The hotel has a lot of great amenities that we felt were a good fit for the Fiskars team. The location, price point and level of service was something that stood out to us, and ultimately, led us to choose and host our event at Loews.”

Green had a very positive relationship with the staff at the hotel. “The staff has been an excellent resource and has taken a lot of time to provide recommendations for our group specifically, as well as being flexible with our group and our event.” In addition to the staff, Green says that the rates and accommodating cancellation policy were a strong contributing factor to choosing Loews. “We felt they understood the flexibility of COVID and the restrictions that may be put in place, ultimately impacting the event. Additionally, the staff there has been extremely helpful in communication and assisting Fiskars with planning a successful event,” she says.

Green advises planners to work with the CVB. “I would strongly encourage anyone considering an event here to use Visit Tucson as a resource. They were extremely helpful in all areas of event planning. They really care about their clients and want them to have the best experience in Tucson. They’re passionate and knowledgeable about the area and will provide an excellent and curated trip.”

Among Tucson’s interesting developments is a new wine-centric boutique property, The Citizen Hotel Tucson. Features include wine barreling and cellaring, as well as a tasting room, all in one of downtown Tucson’s historic buildings. With just 10 guest rooms, this may be an option for incentive programs and executive boards. Last spring, Hacienda del Sol Guest Ranch Resort completed an expansion that added 40 new guest rooms across seven new buildings. New pool and spa facilities and a large sun deck also are relatively new. The long-awaited, 170-room DoubleTree by Hilton Tucson Downtown Convention Center opened at the Tucson Convention Center last spring, and the dual-branded Hampton Inn/Home2 Suites by Hilton Tucson Downtown, with 199 total guest rooms, opened downtown late last summer.

While it’s true that the pandemic slowed down many industries and prevented face-to-face meetings for many months, Arizona took advantage of that time to move full-steam ahead with new developments. As the world reopens, planners and groups now have a chance to see and experience them firsthand, which provides new opportunities for visiting or revisiting cities across Arizona and elsewhere. C&IT

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