Meetings and incentive trips in the Southwest provide attendees with stunning scenery, great hospitality and outdoor adventure. Each state in the region has different characteristics and benefits. Arizona is an excellent destination for people seeking warm weather and great entertainment. New Mexico provides rich cultural experiences unlike any other place in the U.S. Oklahoma is a centrally located destination that provides plenty of amenities at an affordable price. Here’s our guide to what you need to know about some of the hottest spots in the Southwestern U.S.
“Greater Phoenix is home to dozens of world-class resorts that offer golf, spa, tennis, horseback riding, motorcycle tours and just about anything you can imagine,” says Ronnie Collins, director of sales for Visit Phoenix. “For the groups looking for engaging activities, rappelling, off-road Segway tours, Tomcar desert tours, skeet shooting, glass-blowing classes and white-water excursions are just some of the few that Phoenix offers.”
Phoenix is a hub for both Southwest and American Airlines with flights from more than 80 domestic cities. The airport is only 10 minutes from downtown. The light-rail system can deliver visitors to the city center for a $3 fare.
Once visitors arrive, they’ll find the area easy to navigate and full of entertainment options. The downtown is highly walkable. Pedicabs and Grid Bikes, in addition to the light rail, serve people who need transportation between destinations. The University of Arizona and Arizona State University both have a presence downtown. There are dozens of good places to eat, of which 95 percent are family-owned and operated. Planners looking for offsite venues can choose from multiple theaters, museums, science centers and sports facilities (Chase Field, home of the Diamondbacks, has a reception hall that can hold 600 people).
The Phoenix Convention Center has a 312,500-sf exhibit hall and reception capacity of 12,000. The Hyatt Regency Phoenix is adjacent to the convention center and has 693 guest rooms. The nearby Sheraton Grand Phoenix, Westin Phoenix Downtown, Palomar Phoenix Cityscape, Renaissance Phoenix Downtown and other downtown hotels offer more than 2,000 additional sleeping rooms. A new Hampton Inn & Suites will open in downtown in May.
Sunny Scottsdale is located a stone’s throw from Phoenix and boasts many of the same amenities: warm weather, beautiful scenery and plentiful opportunities for recreation. It’s a great place for people interested in all kinds of outdoor adventures. There are 200 golf courses within driving distance. “Attendees seeking a little bit of adventure can explore the wonders of the Sonoran Desert with a sunrise balloon flight, a night-vision Hummer tour or even a self-driven (literally) adventure in a Tomcar,” says Kelli Blubaum, CMP, vice president of sales and services at Experience Scottsdale.
Accommodations in Scottsdale are plentiful, and range from luxurious spas to state-of-the-art hotels. Hotel Adeline, a new property with nearly 10,000 sf of event space and 213 guest rooms, opened last fall. The JW Marriott Camelback Inn is constructing its own state-of-the-art conference center that will bring the resort’s meeting facilities to 95,000 sf. Royal Palms Resort and Spa is upgrading all 119 guest rooms as well as its event and outdoor spaces. The Phoenician is currently building an athletic club that will include tennis and basketball courts, a fitness center, activity center, and dining and shopping options.
Last year Sanctuary on Camelback Mountain Resort and Spa finished a $2 million renovation of its casitas (apartments) and suites. The rooms were updated with modern and luxurious furnishings and decorations. The resort has also added the Spa House, a 3,500-sf home designed to pamper groups of up to 16. These guest rooms provide luxurious accommodations for groups who visit the resort for meetings. The resort has a 3,200-sf ballroom that can host up to 250 people with theater seating or for a stand-up reception (or can be broken down into five smaller spaces). There are also two small boardrooms. To make the most of Arizona’s beautiful weather, groups can plan outdoor events on one of several patios, lawns or other outdoor spaces.
Maribeth Nash, trade show and event planning associate with Origami Risk, a risk management software company headquartered in Chicago, chose the Omni Scottsdale Resort & Spa at Montelucia for her company’s annual colleague conference, bringing 115 of the company’s onsite and remote workers together for a three-day planning and relationship-building event.
“We do the event in the first quarter, so we’re looking for somewhere warm,” says Nash. Once she’d narrowed her choice of cities to Scottsdale, she picked the Omni at Montelucia for its quality, amenities and price. “The Montelucia has that destination feel. You felt like you were at a resort somewhere exotic. My goal is always to make our colleagues feel like they’re on a rewarding trip.”
The event began with a welcome reception on a terrace overlooking Camelback Mountain. Monday and Tuesday morning were dedicated to meetings. On Tuesday afternoon attendees were treated to a half-day rafting trip organized by Camelback Adventures. Buses drove guests to the Salt River, where they piled into rafts and floated over rocks and gentle rapids. Afterward they had dinner under the desert sky while a band played. The gathering concluded with a half-day of meetings on Wednesday.
Nash was pregnant and unable to fly to last year’s colleague conference. Because of that, “I had to really make sure the staff…was going to be amazing because I wasn’t going to be there. I needed to trust them, and I needed them to be proactive. If something was wrong, I needed them to not wait for someone to tell them but work to fix it. My executive managers came to me after the event and said, ‘They could not have done a better job. They were on top of everything.’ ”
In some ways, the northern Arizona city of Flagstaff feels worlds away from Phoenix and Scottsdale. The small community sits along Highway 40 surrounded by the pines of the Coconino National Forest. It’s close to Humphreys Peak, Arizona’s highest point, making it a destination for ski and snowboarding enthusiasts.
All of this showcases an exciting and different side of Arizona than people are used to seeing. Flagstaff has more of an Old West feel than many other Arizona cities, which means there are interesting historical sites to check out, such as: touring Navajo National Monument (nine miles away), the cliff dwellings of Walnut Canyon National Monument (10 miles), Petrified Forest National Park (25 miles) or the Grand Canyon (80 miles).
“With spacious rooms and attentive service, Flagstaff offers accommodations to suit various needs and preferences,” says Meg Roederer, communications specialist for the Flagstaff Convention and Visitors Bureau. Top meeting destinations include the High Country Conference Center, Little America Hotel and Doubletree by Hilton. There’s also a new Fairfield Inn and Suites. The Hampton Inn and Residence Inn Marriott were recently renovated.
The small, artsy community of Sedona is located about an hour south of Flagstaff and two hours north of Phoenix. It’s known for its stunning red rock formations, abundance of artists, and pampering resorts and spas. These qualities make it ideal for incentive trips and meetings where you need a quiet getaway.
“Sedona is host to hundreds of meetings and tours annually with more than 3,300 rooms, flexible meeting space up to 33,500 sf and over 50 restaurants,” says Leslie Brearley, sales manager for the Sedona Chamber of Commerce and Tourism Bureau. “The brand new Posse Grounds Pavilion offers participants a venue that’s off the beaten path. It’s surrounded by numerous trail systems, a sports complex and nearby community pool. Offering spacious festival-style seating for up to 300, the Posse Grounds Pavilion will wow participants with views of the famous Sedona Red Rocks.”
Now is a good time to visit Sedona because there are multiple new and renovated hotels. The new Courtyard by Marriott Sedona has 115 rooms. L’Auberge de Sedona, Enchantment Resort, Hilton Sedona Resort and Arabella Hotel Sedona are among the properties that have gone through renovations to guest room and/or grounds in recent years.
Guests will have to rely on the Phoenix or Flagstaff airports for air transportation, but once they arrive in Sedona, almost everything is within walking distance. Sedona has a number of great restaurants and more than 80 art galleries and shops. If ground transportation is needed, groups can charter a trolley or bus.
“Albuquerque is a bucket-list destination, where the experiences are truly unique and hard to replicate anywhere else,” says Kristin McGrath, vice president of convention sales, services and sports for Visit Albuquerque. “The opportunity to attend a meeting in an authentic destination that provides immersive, interactive experiences and a world-renowned culinary scene provides truly memorable events for attendees. With more than $300 million in hospitality investments reshaping the city’s skyline — including a renovated convention center, new downtown entertainment district and increased air service at the International Sunport — there’s never been a better time to connect with Albuquerque.”
Planners will find a lot of impressive venues in New Mexico’s largest city. The convention center has 167,000 sf of meeting space along with a 2,300-seat auditorium. The DoubleTree Hilton Albuquerque just wrapped up a $7 million renovation to its guest rooms, fitness center, public areas and grounds. The Hyatt Regency Albuquerque and Albuquerque Marriott Pyramid North have been updated in the past few years.
Planners seeking a more intimate space can check out the newly renovated Los Poblanos Historic Inn and Organic Farm or Nativo Lodge, which showcase interesting aspects of local culture. The Albuquerque Museum, Anderson-Abruzzo Albuquerque International Balloon Museum, Indian Pueblo Cultural Center and National Hispanic Cultural Center are among the interesting venues available for off-site gatherings.
The Albuquerque airport is less than a 10-minute drive, and the city just opened a rapid transit system with the nation’s first fleet of electric buses. It will make 19 stops along a nine-mile corridor within the city. People staying downtown will find it highly walkable. Remind meeting-goers that they can get their kicks along Route 66, which runs through a portion of the city.
Isleta Resort and Casino on the outskirts of Albuquerque has provided a warm and welcoming place for several shows sponsored by Ben E. Keith Co., a food and alcohol beverage distribution company. “I’d done convention centers and exhibit halls, and the issue with them is they’re pretty cold — both in temperature and feeling — because you’re dealing with a giant warehouse space,” says Kim Snitker, the company’s marketing and design manager. “We decided to go with Isleta because it’s a much warmer atmosphere.”
Ben E. Keith’s main food show kicks off each March with a party for vendors and customers. “We showcase products that will be at the food show but in a more casual atmosphere with music and dancing,” Snitker says. For the next two days, attendees can check out booths with food vendors, equipment, and paper and cleaning products. The event draws about 120 vendors and 400 customers.
“The location is perfect because it’s close to the airport and has great views,” Snitker says. “A lot of the appeal to coming to New Mexico is our vistas. You can see the mountains and the volcanoes. They have the ballroom situated so it’s perfect for sunsets, which can be pretty spectacular. It’s near the highway but set back far enough that you don’t feel like you’re right on the highway.”
One of the things that’s kept Snitker coming back to Isleta is that they showcase local products. “Since it’s part of the Isleta Pueblo, they featured all Isleta artists,” she says. “Everything has a story behind it and is connected to the space. They’re also really good about featuring local beers and food, like green chile and fry bread and things people can’t get even if they’re coming from southern Colorado.”
Hyatt Regency Tamaya Resort & Spa, a luxury resort located on the Santa Ana Pueblo, recently completed a multi-million-dollar guest room renovation providing meeting and group guests with updated and modern accommodations that encompass the serene and authentic feel of the Native American Pueblo-based property.
“What makes this area really special is we have this incredible mix of cultures here,” says Jolene Mauer, marketing and public relations manager for the Hyatt Regency Tamaya. “There’s the native culture from the pueblo people who were here first, but we have such an amazing Hispanic culture. Later the Anglos came from the east. That wonderful combination of the native, Spanish and Anglo coming together is the biggest draw for this part of New Mexico. Whether that’s the art or the food or the architecture, it makes for a completely unique experience.”
Hyatt Regency Tamaya is designed to provide an inspiring group experience with state-of-the-art meeting facilities and one-of-a-kind activities for guests. The property features 29,000 sf of indoor and 25,000 sf of outdoor meeting space including the Tamaya Ballroom, a 12,000-sf space that can be partitioned into eight separate rooms, and the Wolf and Puma rooms, offering floor-to-ceiling windows that open directly to a patio with panoramic views of the Sandia Mountains and cottonwood forest.
Located on more than 550 acres, the resort is home to several unique and exciting activities for groups including its Tamaya Horse Rehabilitation Program non-profit organization. The program provides shelter, care and rehabilitation to neglected and abandoned horses in New Mexico. Groups can arrange for interactive experiences with the horses, take part in teambuilding and volunteer activities, or sponsor a horse on behalf of their company.
Additionally, the property features culturally inspired group experiences through its Srai Wi program including art and activity classes led by members of the Santa Ana Pueblo, horseback rides that traverse the Southwestern terrain and explore the banks of the Rio Grande, world-class golf at the Twin Warriors Golf Club and restorative treatments at the award-winning Tamaya Mist Spa. Hyatt Regency Tamaya also offers excursions including hot-air balloon rides which take off from the resort’s onsite launch pad, hiking and biking trails, rafting and jeep excursions, fine dining at the Corn Maiden restaurant and much more.
Culture, history, art and cuisine combine to make Santa Fe a destination unlike any other. That authenticity is just part of the appeal of meeting in the state capital. “Santa Fe is a very affordable city,” says David Carr, director of sales for Tourism Santa Fe. There are more than 2,000 hotel rooms within walking distance of the convention center, and most are reasonably priced. The city has its own airport and the Albuquerque airport is only an hour away. The downtown is small enough that it’s walkable, and planners can contract transportation for any out-of-the-way events.
The city’s high elevation means it’s more temperate than other places in the region. “A lot of people, when they think Southwest, they think Arizona, but we are not Phoenix,” says Mauer. “We do not get to 100 degrees. It gets really cool at night when the sun goes down.” Summertime temperatures average in the mid-80s with no humidity. Snow is possible in the winter.
In addition to the convention center, downtown Santa Fe has over a dozen hotels with meeting space. The Eldorado Hotel and Spa, which can accommodate groups of up to 700, and La Fonda on the Plaza, which can hold up to 600 people, are among the largest.
When it comes to offsite events, there are numerous good options. The four museums on Museum Hill can host large groups inside and out. The Santa Fe School of Cooking can teach participants to make mole, green chile sauce, tortillas and other Southwestern foods. “For people who are more adventurous, there’s Bandelier and Puye Cliffs, where you can hike through ruins,” Carr says.
There are plenty of reasons to say “OK” to Oklahoma City as you consider future meeting or incentive trip destinations. The community is an affordable destination and has lots to offer in terms of meeting space, transportation, food and entertainment.
Oklahoma City is in the process of building a brand new convention center. The facility will have 200,000-sf of exhibit space and 125,000 sf of additional meeting space, all built to LEED standards. The space is expected to open in 2020. A 600-room Omni hotel will be attached. Across the street will be a 70-acre park that connects the convention center to the Oklahoma River.
Oklahoma City is divided into districts. Bricktown is the entertainment district and is home to a number of the city’s great restaurants. The Asian District is home to one of the country’s largest populations of Vietnamese immigrants and is also a hot foodie destination.
Within the Boathouse neighborhood is Riversport Rapids, one of only six indoor white-water facilities in the country. “You can bring any size group you want and spend an afternoon on the white water,” says Dennis Johnston, CDME, vice president of sales for the Oklahoma City Convention and Visitors Bureau. “In addition, you can do paddle sports like canoeing, kayaking or racing in dragon boats.”
Current meeting spaces include the Cox Convention Center and adjoining Renaissance Oklahoma City Convention Center Hotel, Embassy Suites by Hilton and 396-room Sheraton Downtown Oklahoma City. New as of last year were an AC Hotel, Hyatt Place and Hilton Garden Inn Edmond/Oklahoma City North.
Jasco Products Company, which designs and develops home and mobility products, is based in Oklahoma City and regularly hosts meetings, receptions and dinners at the 21c Museum Hotel. The boutique property is housed in a former Ford Motor Company manufacturing plant, which gives it some real character.
Marketing coordinator Kearsten Howland has high praise for the hotel. “It’s always been the best place for having a great atmosphere and accommodations right in the heart of Oklahoma City,” she says. “There’s so much new happening downtown, and the 21c is really close to everything. That location also has really competitive pricing and a great staff to work with.”
The event and sales folks always offer feedback and suggestions designed to make Jasco’s events even more successful. They’re extremely accommodating and work hard to make sure guests have everything they need. “There was a time we were hosting an event on the rooftop, and we were worried about the cold front coming in that evening because our event was supposed to be outdoors,” Howland says. “When this was discussed with the staff, they orchestrated the purchase of some heaters and installed them, so that really saved the day.”
At a different event an executive mentioned that he was missing a game with his favorite sports team. “The staff brought a television up to the rooftop and connected it and rearranged the room so the group could watch that game while dinner was being served,” Howland says.
Arizona and the Southwest offers something for every planner: desert vistas, luxury accommodations, mountain ranges, rich culture and spectacular national parks. C&IT