On the road to recovery post-COVID-19, Arizona will continue to take the spotlight among insurance and financial conference and meeting organizers. With so many outstanding features, from the beauty of its natural surroundings to the sweeping scope of the nation’s greatest treasure, The Grand Canyon, to its flourishing arts and culture communities, endless outdoor adventures, and incomparable food and beverage scene, Arizona is a meeting planner’s paradise.
According to an APCO survey, 83% of people now working from home miss attending in-person meeting events, while 78% plan to attend as many or more live meetings when physical distancing ends. Now and in the future, Arizona destinations remain committed to ensuring the safety and well-being of its business and leisure guests, following recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) together with guidelines from local municipalities. The CDC also provides a helpful “Pandemic Flu Checklist for Event Planners.” Conference organizers are encouraged to check destination and property websites for current updates.
Partnering with local organizations offering the inspirational message of hope,“Together We Rise,” Visit Phoenix also offers a “Resource Guide: Moving Forward in Phoenix” in navigating the challenges of the global pandemic. Restaurant, retail and hotel properties continue to implement best practices, including health screenings, enhanced sanitation standards, touchless solutions, open spaces, and food and beverage safety. Among the many safety solutions now in public places, the Phoenix Convention Center & Venues has achieved the Global Biorisk Advisory Council (GBAC) STAR accreditation. The certification was created by the GBAC’s scientific advisory board and is backed by 10 leading industry organizations.
For Gay Grizzell, president of Executive Meeting Planners LLC, the newly renovated Fairmont Scottsdale Princess, with its incomparable Southwestern charm, was the top choice for her insurance client’s Annual Leadership Conference held before the pandemic. “The resort setting is spectacular,” Grizzell says, and met all her client’s needs for their four-day incentive meeting attended by 155 qualifiers and attendees, which included “two, four-hour days of business meetings, social activities, leisure time and dine-arounds.” And what’s not to love about a destination where “the weather is consistently warm and sunny for 300+ days?” Grizzell asks. For ease and convenience, luxurious pampering and stellar service, the property exceeded expectations. The property’s focus on health includes its ALLSAFE program and other cleanliness policies to ensure the safety and well-being of its employees and guests.
Fairmont Scottsdale Princess, a AAA Five-Star luxury resort, highlights outdoor beauty in a landscape of flower gardens and lagoons. Since its renovation, guest facilities feature 750 oversized rooms with private patios, plus 213 suites with private lounge access. Its 150,000 sf of indoor/outdoor event space provides ample meeting venues, and a separate Conference Center with state-of-the-art meeting amenities includes two 23,000-sf ballrooms that can be reconfigured easily into varying meeting areas. “I suggest that planners be specific about their meeting requirements,“ Grizzell says. “The resort offers generous meeting spaces that accommodate both large and small groups. Our group held the private breakfast buffet and business meetings in a more secluded and flexible space . . . that accommodated the sales leaders meeting of less than 90, as well as a smaller meeting for company executives and an adjacent outdoor space for the gifting experience.”
Six heated pools and two championship TPC golf courses framed by backdrops, such as Arizona’s McDowell Mountains, offer plenty of opportunities for rest and relaxation between business meetings. An on-site golf concierge can arrange private lessons, group tee times and complimentary golf cart rides. Recognized as one of USA Today’s “Reader’s Choice Top 10 Best Hotel Spas,” the property’s stunning 44,000-sf Well & Being Spa is noteworthy for its fitness classes, pampering packages and healthy cuisine.
Hosting five of Greater Phoenix’s top dining establishments, Fairmont Scottsdale Princess restaurants merit a destination getaway in and of themselves. Whether attendee preferences tend toward Mexican-style cuisine at La Hacienda, filet mignon at Bourbon Steak, casual bistro at Ironwood American Kitchen or Pan-Latin at Toro Latin Restaurant & Rum Bar, Fairmont Scottsdale Princess has it covered. For Grizzell, gathering at The Plaza Bar for evening entertainment became a popular group activity.
In addition to the resort itself, Grizzell points out its close proximity to the Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, the city of Scottsdale, Old Town Scottsdale and Kierland Commons, with its upscale shopping and five-star dining, as key factors in her client’s site selection.
Ultimately, the feeling of being welcomed and valued is the keystone of a memorable experience to hotel guests and conference attendees. Though this was Grizzell’s first visit to Fairmont Scottsdale Princess, given the opportunity, she would do so again. Grizzell gives high praise to the sales team, conference services, and food and beverage staff who were “amazing and most accommodating.” She adds, “The hotel’s mantra was, ‘How may I help you?’ accompanied by a smile. The hotel staff is professional, friendly and knowledgeable about the attractions and activities, and the resort’s bell staff members were rock stars who set the tone for the upcoming high-quality experience with a warm greeting upon arrival.” Attendees summed up their experience like this: “Everything was top-notch. It was a beautiful event all around,” Grizzell says. That’s the ultimate music to any meeting planner’s ears.
The Omni Scottsdale Resort & Spa At Montelucia was the favored site location for Prudential’s Retirement Summit, a meeting held every two years for approximately 150 attendees hosted by the company to “engage and further deepen relationships with our intermediary community,” says Maureen Mandirola, CMP, director of engagement experience for Prudential Retirement. “For beauty and ease of travel to the location,” the property was an inspired match for the group’s needs. “We had not hosted at this property previously, but we would definitely host again at this site. The staff was amazing.” Mandirola enjoyed her company’s stay at The Omni Montelucia so much that she made a return visit at a later date with her husband to share her stellar experience.
Mandirola’s group loved the chance to hike Camelback Mountain “right out the back gate,” she says. The property “felt like a Spanish Villa, small enough that we had all of the space.” In fact, the Andalusia region of Spain is the inspiration behind the property design, including the luxurious 293 guest rooms featuring private balconies or patios, and mesmerizing views of the mountain backdrop.
For ultimate indulgence in comfort, the 31,000-sf Joya Spa provides a wide-range of Andalusia and Moroccan-inspired body treatments, rituals and salon services. “Joya Spa was incredible,” says Mandirola, citing the spa’s “Joy of Intention” ritual upon arrival. Guests are asked to select one of five healing stones: Tiger Eye, Blue Lace Agate, Rhodonite, Rose Quartz or Hematite to offer an intention for the spa experience set under a star-studded canopy. “It was beautifully done,” Mandirola says. To further reduce feelings of stress while promoting peace and healing, guests continue to the “Joy of Purification” room centered by a 55-pound quartz crystal radiating light in multiple colors throughout the room. Wellness and meditation programs, such as “Sacred Sleep & Healing Dreams,” naturopathic services, fitness classes, and the Joya Terrace Pool and Dining, round out the spa center amenities.
With 102,000 sf of total event space, including 16 meeting rooms, the largest offering at 9,216 sf, meeting planners have several space options available. From ballrooms to breakout rooms, the resort provides customized solutions for staging events in a variety of unique venues. For day trips and off-site venues, Mandirola says, “work with Experience Scottsdale. This CVB is one of the best that I have ever encountered, and they bring to light so many options for meeting planners. I would never have known the breadth and scope of hotels, venues and activities that Scottsdale had to offer without them.” For example, Mandirola’s group held a nighttime event in the 12,000-sf barn at Desert Foothills. “The venue included country music, barbecue and an astronomer on-site so people could go up and look at the planets for a more intimate experience,” Mandirola says.
Among several possible dining options at Omni Scottsdale Resort & Spa At Montelucia, the Prado’s alfresco terrace framed by the Camelback Mountains is an inspired setting for its Spanish-influenced cuisine, while The Mbar at Prado showcases Spanish tapas, signature sangrias, wines, spirits and cocktails. To enjoy local craft news and pub-style food selections in a casual atmosphere, the Taqueria Centro is a group favorite, and Crave Café serves handcrafted coffee, teas and gourmet pastries.
In summing up her group’s experience, Mandirola says, “Everyone loved it. I think they were surprised by Scottsdale. They didn’t realize how beautiful it was or all that it had to offer. I think there is a misconception about Scottsdale and people tend to think of it as a ‘retirement community,’ but it is so much more than that. Scottsdale has so much in terms of hotels, venues and activities to offer meeting planners. I look forward to planning my next event there.”
Since Prudential’s event — held before the pandemic — the hotel has implemented The Omni Safe & Clean initiative, which follows the guidelines established by the CDC. As the policies and procedures evolve based on current information from these authorities, The Omni Scottsdale Resort & Spa at Montelucia will update its policies and procedures in accordance with these guidelines.
When the time is right for in-person events, Visit Tucson looks forward to greeting guests with an authentic “Open Spaces, Open Hearts” welcome. The region’s favorable weather, plus beautiful mountain and desert landscapes evoke timeless charm where guests can hike mountain ranges, explore caves and waterfalls, or wander nearby wilderness preserves and parks. In the city, museums and galleries, shopping and restaurants attract business and leisure travelers alike. Event organizers have no shortage of appealing locations from which to choose for their next meeting or conference, including The Westin La Paloma Resort & Spa, JW Marriott Tucson Starr Pass Resort & Spa and Hacienda Del Sol Guest Ranch Resort.
Forty-five minutes from Tucson International Airport and 13 miles from Tucson Convention Center, El Conquistador Tucson, A Hilton Resort, combines both an old-west style and the best of modern conveniences. The award-winning property is the only resort in Arizona to achieve the coveted AAA Four-Diamond distinction for 35 consecutive years, and has also been named “Best Experiential Hotel” by Hotel Interactive Lodging Industry Elite Awards. Set on 50 acres within the beauty of the surrounding Sonoran Desert, the resort offers sports activities ranging from championship golf and tennis, to yoga and nature walks, to water aerobics and swimming in one of five outdoor pools, including one with a 143-foot waterslide.
El Conquistador Tucson menus feature innovative Southwestern cuisine in five favorite dining venues. Outdoor dining options are provided poolside by day and under a canopy of stars by night at Desert Springs Grill. The Colibri Lounge specializes in small and large plates, local brews and cocktails inside at an indoor mesquite wood bar or on the outside patio.
Its 428 guest rooms and suites include options with private balconies, desert or mountain views. It has 100,000 sf of flexible, indoor and outdoor event space, which includes an 11,000-sf, IACC-recognized Executive Conference Center. Space capacities range up to 1,500 attendees in the Presidio Ballroom and up to 1,700 in the Turquoise Ballroom with several smaller, more intimate spaces also available. For a truly unique event space, Last Territory presents a “Western-style mini-town,” complete with barbecue fire pits and picnic tables for group gatherings. With a capacity of up to 600, Sunset Point provides a pitch-perfect venue for evening cocktail receptions amidst spellbinding pink and golden sunsets.
The magic of Sedona takes center stage at L’Auberge de Sedona, set on 11 acres on the banks of Oak Creek in the heart of the region’s red rock country. Located 28 miles from Flagstaff and a 90-minute drive from Phoenix, the luxury resort takes inspiration from the rich, red-hued landscape as reflected in the beauty of its lodgings and cuisine artistry. Among its many accolades, the property has received U.S. News & World Report’s award as No. 1 Best Sedona Resort.
For intimate to medium-size events, L’Auberge de Sedona offers five room options with a total of 4,480 sf and an additional 13,000 sf of outdoor reception areas. Event planners can also customize their meetings in small, unique settings on the property. Guests enjoy a relaxing and restful ambiance in accommodations featuring 62 luxury cottages, 21 traditional lodge-style rooms with private patios or balconies, and a separate five-bedroom Creekhouse. An outdoor, open-air cedar shower provides a refreshing start or end to the day, enriched by a star-filled sky at night, included in each of the Vista, Creek, Garden and Spa cottages.
The L’Apothecary Spa highlights Sedona’s local herbs and flower fragrances, such as rosemary, piñon pine and juniper. Guests can create their own bath soaks and body scrubs for personalized healing treatments designed to rejuvenate, relax or awaken the senses as desired. Of special note is the abundance of wellness options available, ranging from yoga and Full Moon meditation to Forest and Star Bathing, and a guided spiritual meditation series in the property’s Vortex Treehouse. Additional resort activities include nature walks and fitness hikes, painting classes and morning duck feedings. An Artist-in-Residence program allows guests the opportunity to interact with artists at play.
L’Auberge de Sedona’s wellness options extend to its Health & Wellbeing Standards that also follow CDC guidelines and to its award-winning dining showcase, Cress on Oak Creek, inspired by the culinary flavors of Italy, Spain and France, and Sedona’s seasonal, locally foraged ingredients.
Just select a region, town or venue. Arizona offers the peace of mind for planners that they can’t go wrong no matter the choice. I&FMM.