Year in and year out, Arizona delivers exceptional value for insurance and financial planners seeking a five-star destination that offers easy accessibility, affordable luxury, expansive indoor/outdoor spaces, magical dining venues and an environment infused with boundless desert beauty, as well as the warmth of sunshine 300+ days a year. It’s a winning combination that elevates the meeting experience every time, eliciting high praise from meeting planners and attendees eager for a return visit.
“It all starts with accessibility,” says Kelli Blubaum, vice president of sales & services for Experience Scottsdale. Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport (PHX) serves as a key transportation hub for the region — a mere 4 miles southeast of downtown Phoenix and only 10 miles from Scottsdale — while downtown Tucson is a short 20-minute drive from Tucson International Airport.
In addition, many hotel properties lie within easy walking distance of shopping, dining and popular local attractions, a prime factor for planners when it comes to scheduling free time and/or group activities off-site. Blubaum highlights but a few of the possible activities: “Meetings groups can sample regional, farm-to-table cuisine at downtown Scottsdale’s locally owned and operated restaurants, as well as sip and savor Arizona-made wines and beers at downtown’s tasting rooms and breweries. Plus, groups can experience the Wild West during tours and events planned at Western Spirit: Scottsdale’s Museum of the West, located in downtown Scottsdale’s Arts District.”
Blubaum adds: “Scottsdale’s Sonoran Desert setting is one that truly sets itself apart. With the remarkable clarity of light, crisp air and exotic cactus blossoms, the desert leaves meeting guests feeling inspired. Groups visiting Scottsdale experience the desert no matter where they are in the city,” she says. “The desert is always in sight, whether groups are staying overnight at one of our world-class resorts that sit on the desert foothills or a hotel in our vibrant, cacti-dotted downtown. For example, meeting groups can adventure out into the McDowell Sonoran Preserve, more than 35,000 acres of pristine, protected desert. They also can get a taste of the desert’s bounty in downtown Scottsdale. It’s all topped off by the untamed beauty of the Sonoran Desert, with our wide-open spaces, diverse vegetation and unrivaled sunsets, providing an environment that is nothing short of invigorating for any event.”
Scottsdale offers an array of convention hotels. Set within the spellbinding beauty of the Sonoran Desert and surrounding mountainscape, the 250-acre The Westin Kierland Resort & Spa offers a bounty of world-class amenities and services. The resort’s 732 luxurious guest rooms include 55 spacious suites providing pool, mountain or golf course views, while outdoor spaces feature patios or private balconies.
A personal Executive Meeting Specialist assists planners, who have access to more than 200,000 sf of indoor/outdoor meeting space, including more than 40 meeting rooms. With its 25-foot ceilings, state-of-the-art, high-tech lighting, acoustics and visual innovations, the 24,395-sf Kierland Grand Ballroom provides a stellar venue for hosting events ranging from elegant galas to large-scale exhibitions and general sessions. The 14,322-sf Herberger Ballroom and 11,036-sf Trailblazers Ballroom are also available.
When it comes to dining, Southwestern food fare takes center stage in 10 unique venues ranging from upscale Latin American cuisine to casual cafés, a poolside bar and grill, coffee houses and more, with private dining options available. After busy meeting days, rest, relaxation and renewal lie within reach at the resort’s 27-hole golf course. The Westin Kierland Golf Club ranks as one of the Top Public Courses in Phoenix/Scottsdale by Golf Advisor, and one of “America’s 9 Most Cheerful Golf Courses” by Golf Digest. Attendees seeking a different kind of rest and relaxation will appreciate the list of services at Agave, The Arizona Spa & Salon, featuring 20 treatment rooms, steam rooms, whirlpools and saunas, together with a variety of wellness massages, body treatments and facials. Opt for the Athletic Recovery, Traveler’s Relief or signature Desert Essence Massage with a blend of exclusive essential oils and aromatherapy after a round of golf, a dip in the pool or an afternoon of shopping at adjacent Kierland Commons and Scottsdale Quarter.
Honored as the No. 1 hotel in Arizona by U.S. News & World Report’s 2022 Best Hotels, Sanctuary Camelback Mountain, a Gurney’s Resort & Spa spans 53 acres 15 minutes from the Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport. Lush, serene and magical describes the luxury resort’s soothing setting, which features 109 casita-style accommodations and eight private villas surrounded by desert flora and fauna. Casita room amenities include stylish modern furnishings, natural finishes and tile flooring, as well as oversized soaking tubs and desert artwork. Private villas feature expansive outdoor patios, infinity-edge pools and hot tubs.
A diversity of exceptional event spaces await attendees on-site, whether attending an intimate corporate retreat or team-building meeting. At 3,024 sf, Views Ballroom offers the largest event space complete with a private lobby reception area, and an expansive outdoor terrace ideally suited for evening receptions and outdoor dinners with built-in outdoor bars and indoor/outdoor fireplace.
From coffee breaks to buffets and plated meals, award-winning catering services are among the resort’s event amenities. Sanctuary’s upscale dining venue, elements, presents American food fare with an Asian twist and delectable seasonal menus showcasing local organic produce and sustainable seafood. For unique craft cocktails and cuisine, jade bar offers an inviting place to meet with colleagues after business hours in a fun, relaxing atmosphere.
Attendees can lounge deck-side at Sanctuary’s infinity pool, play a game of tennis or pickleball, or join a movement class at the state-of-the-art fitness center. Lavish, luxurious wellness experiences await interested attendees at Sanctuary Spa, featuring a Zen meditation garden and tranquil reflecting pond among its plentiful indulgent amenities.
Arizona’s wild desert beauty and spectacular mountain ranges alone set the stage for inspired events and entertainment, balanced by rest, relaxation and rejuvenation. Cindy Aguilar, PR & communications manager at Visit Tucson, says: “The familiar Tucson tag lines of ‘Wide Open Spaces’ and ‘Beyond the Ballroom’ resonate with professional planners for a reason. Surrounded by mountain ranges on all sides and bordered on the east and west by Saguaro National Park, Tucson has always been a destination that puts a premium on outdoor spaces. Groups can take advantage of the weather and terrain with outdoor activities, which 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 or horseback riding in a national park.” She adds, “Private events on the grounds of the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum allow guests to mingle with the wild creatures that call the Sonoran Desert home while enjoying cocktails and a catered chef’s dinner beneath the stars. Out east, the Tanque Verde Ranch’s Cottonwood Grove can accommodate up to 300 attendees for an authentic dude ranch barbecue. These venues have always been popular with planners, but are in greater demand as outdoor events become the standard.”
In Tucson near the University of Arizona, Loews Ventana Canyon Resort offers captivating panoramic views of the Catalina Mountains enhanced by the distinct aromatic air of the Sonoran Desert. The resort’s 398 spacious guest rooms each come with its own private patio or balcony, oversized soaking tub and stunning views of the desert night sky and natural beauty of the Catalina Mountains.
On-site event experts assist planners in creating an unforgettable, transformative attendee experience at the luxury resort. A diversity of flexible function venues spans 37,000 sf indoor and nearly 46,000 sf outdoor space, which includes the 8,875-sf Grand Ballroom, which is divisible into seven separate sections. The 3,139-sf Catalina Ballroom is divisible into three sections, the 800-sf Executive Boardroom offers plenty of natural light and patio access, plus three additional 532 sf in each of three rooms: Sabino, Santa Rita and Rincon, also with patio access and natural light.
Southwestern-inspired meals highlight customized planning menus at Loews Ventana Canyon, which are designed to meet dietary needs and budgets while signature team-building receptions like the Wholly Guacamole!, Chili Cookoff, Quesadilla & Salsa Challenge or the Cocktails Smackdown! foster collaboration, camaraderie and friendly competition among meeting attendees.
Recreational opportunities abound for play time after business hours. Two Tom Fazio-designed, 18-hole championship golf courses weave through the property’s unique desert and canyon landscape, earning the courses the coveted title of 2021 Golf Digest Editors’ Choice Award Winner. In addition to golf, attendees in their free time can explore miles of hiking trails, go horseback riding, play tennis or go cycling. The can also enjoy a swim in the Serenity Pool or get in a cardio workout at the fitness center-with-a-view, then balance the day with a ultimate body or facial treatment at Lakeside Spa in one of eight treatment rooms, including two wet rooms with private showers.
Taylour Miller, senior manager of events & corporate communications at United Planners Financial Services, selected Hyatt Regency Phoenix prior to the pandemic as the site for the group’s annual Connect National Conference, which hit a record-breaking attendance number of 542 in late spring, she says. “We had to push back our national meetings for 2020 and 2021, ultimately hosting the meeting in May 2022.” She adds, “Location was a huge factor in the decision making. As we continue to grow, we are needing more meeting space. At the time of signing, the [Hyatt Regency Phoenix] was conducting a renovation that included the expansion of their breakout rooms, making it a perfect niche for our group.” She continues, “The hotel has an atrium on the second floor, and after the initial walk-through, I knew it would be a unique experience for our attendees to host our exhibit hall in the space. Not to mention the renovation also included the upgrade to the guest rooms, satisfying my attendees’ expectations.”
Located in the heart of downtown across from the Phoenix Convention Center (PCC), Hyatt Regency Phoenix’s proximity to shops and entertainment venues also proved beneficial to Miller’s group. “Regarding location, it was perfect. Downtown has so many venues, restaurants and attractions to go and be a part of the Phoenix scene, and all within walking distance of the hotel.”
Hyatt Regency Phoenix’s 693 guest rooms include 12 suites offering reimagined residential design with expansive windows to take in the surrounding cityscape and mountains. The 50,000 sf of event space ranges from ballrooms to boardrooms and more than 30 meeting rooms with flexible room configurations, while customizable catering menus allow planners to meet budget and attendee dietary needs. “We all know food costs are on the rise, and what used to be $42 is now either $50 or $55,” Miller says. “The Hyatt has put together ‘Meals of the Day,’ where they have specific meals designated to breakfast and lunch to help keep costs and waste down.”
Miller says they were open and honest with their expectations for F&B, but the news is great so far. “We are still collecting survey entries, but I have not heard any complaints about the food from my attendees,” she says. “Even during the conference, I was told, ‘This is the best food we have had at a conference.’” Dining options at the Hyatt Regency include Compass Lounge and Compass Arizona Grill, a revolving rooftop venue with stunning views of the city and surrounding mountains; Barrel & Bushel on the street-side patio offering local craft brews, cocktails and comfort food; and B&B Market for grab ‘n’ go selections.
For Miller, selecting Arizona and Hyatt Regency Phoenix as the group’s conference destination proved an inspired choice. “Overall, this was the best conference we have had in our firm’s 35-year history,” she says. “Between our record-hitting registration, the 35th anniversary, the room night pick-up we had — and most importantly, we were back to meeting in person after over 1,100 days — I do not think any of us could have asked for a better conference.”
Miller cites another essential aspect of her group’s experience with Hyatt Regency Phoenix: “This might not be unique to the attendees, but the experience as an event planner and the partnership with this hotel was something I am truly grateful for,” she says. “As previously stated, we canceled our national conference in 2020 and 2021, and I think I can speak for most planners, becoming a contract lawyer overnight was not on my career trajectory. The Hyatt however, never made me feel alone in the process of trying to figure out [what to do]. Could we make 2021 work? Could we push for later in [this] year? Could we push out our contract to 2023, etc.? I felt as if it was a true partnership. It was not all sunshine and roses, but having open and honest conversations about where we all stood in the process of making a conference work was beautiful. Their ability to be that partner has made me consider going back to them for a third-year extension in 2024.” Miller adds: “The Greater Phoenix area has a phenomenal network of people here to make your event come to life. Events might be big, the Greater Phoenix area consists of many different cities, and I might work at a financial firm, but the events industry is small, and we all heavily rely on cultivating our relationships with one another.”
Trusted partnerships extend beyond the boundaries of the hotel properties themselves notes Deborah Lahti, director of hotel & resort sales for Visit Phoenix. “We offer the best of both worlds — a walkable, urban downtown and an unrivaled resort collection. Most recently, a conference we hosted in the destination wanted to create a memorable dinner for their attendees. We partnered with a local dining group, Cloth & Flame, that puts on meals in unique spaces, which meant we brought a beautiful dinner to Papago Park and watched the sun cascade over the red buttes behind us. It was just the most perfect example of how our destination is unlike others.”
Among CVBs in Arizona, the top tip for event organizers is to plan early, as the meetings industry regains its footing after a two-year hiatus and open dates are closing fast. With a qualified RFP, planners can take advantage of Tucson’s “You Fly, We Buy” program or Experience Scottsdale’s “Site See & Fly Free” promotion, which allows the planners to check out the region, properties and attractions to book the right group fit.
Arizona offers a host of innovative and new dining concepts. New restaurant openings include Scottsdale’s Cala at Senna House, under the direction of internationally known chef and Food Network personality Beau MacMillan and Tucson’s The Delta, led by Chef Travis Peters, of award-winning Parish Restaurant Concepts.
There are also hotel openings and reimaginings that include Canopy by Hilton Scottsdale Old Town and Senna House Scottsdale, Curio Collection by Hilton, and the Omni Tucson National Resort, which entice seasoned and new planners alike to discover why Arizona continues to excite meeting planners and attendees seeking the ideal business and leisure getaway. I&FMM