With its 300 days of sunshine and singular desert beauty, Arizona beckons those seeking an inspiring destination to celebrate resiliency, recovery and recognition for thriving through the midst of hard times — like a global pandemic, for instance. New offerings in hotel and resort properties, impeccable health and safety protocols, diverse dining options and unrivaled family friendly attractions continue to elevate “The Grand Canyon State” as a top-tier event destination designed to meet every meeting occasion.
Plentiful warm weather and diverse experiences — from professional sports and shopping to family-friendly attractions and festivals — attract conference and meeting attendees to the Phoenix area, says Deborah Lahti, director of hotel and resort sales for Visit Phoenix. “With over 500 properties in Greater Phoenix, our destination appeals to all budgets and experiences,” she says. “We offer the best of both worlds: a walkable, urban downtown and an unrivaled resort collection. Our abundance of outdoor spaces and adaptable property layouts are ideal for a comfortable and safe experience for travelers.”
New hotel openings, light rail under construction for a major expansion, and attractions releasing new exhibits and features, also account for the continuing appeal of Phoenix as a desirable meeting destination, Lahti says. One of the most noteworthy new exhibits? “Dale Chihuly’s return to the desert at Desert Botanical Garden and Taliesin West,” she says.
On the hotel front, one of the area’s most anticipated resorts, the AAA Four-Diamond Westin Tempe, opened last summer. Located on historic Mill Avenue, the property lies in the heart of the dining, shopping and entertainment district. More than 21,000 sf of functional meeting space includes 13 event rooms, 13 breakout rooms and the 4,960-sf Opal Ballroom. Full-service catering and cutting-edge A/V services are also available. For relaxation, meeting attendees can opt for the 24-hour WestinWorkout Fitness Studio, the hotel’s infinity pool or a beverage of choice atop the Skysill Rooftop Lounge with panoramic views of downtown Tempe.
When it comes to dining, the diverse cultures of the Phoenix area provide a wide variety of options to sip and savor. “Our downtown area is expanding, with new restaurants and dining concepts, including another multi-concept venue, Pemberton PHX, a soon-to-be takeout and dining experience from Huss Brewing Co. located in the Phoenix Convention Center, and new locations of some Arizona favorites like Pa’La and Ingo’s Tasty Food.”
For planners considering where to host their next corporate meeting, Lahti advises: “Greater Phoenix is the ideal destination for corporate meetings. There are tons of new things to experience, a variety of culture and cuisine, and traveling here is easy due to the incredible amount of airlift to and from Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport.”
Cindy Aguilar, public relations & communications manager for Visit Tucson, isn’t surprised by the enthusiastic response of event organizers for the region. “The familiar Tucson tag lines of ‘Wide Open Spaces’ & ‘Beyond the Ballroom’ resonate with professional planners for a reason,” Aguilar says. “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, offering unlimited hiking and biking attractions.” Now more than ever, “Planners and attendees are looking to get outside, and the Tucson area resorts and hotels all feature exceptional outdoor spaces for meetings and events,” she adds.
After a site visit to The Westin La Paloma Resort & Spa, Linda Tooley, CMP, felt reassured that staffing would be adequate and services available even during the COVID-19 pandemic for her company’s executive meeting with South American dealer principals. Tooley, corporate event professional for Caterpillar Inc., cites the property’s top-notch service and appreciation for their business as significant factors in the decision to book the executive event early last fall. Specifically, says Tooley, “Hotel staff went to great lengths to ensure the health and safety of our guests by modifying buffet serving processes, distance seating and continuous cleaning of public spaces. The event staff was exceptional.”
Located in central Tucson, planners have access to the Westin La Paloma’s more than 92,000 sf of indoor and outdoor events space, which features 28 meeting rooms, including the 18,000-sf Arizona Ballroom. For dining options, “The restaurants were, as to be expected, operating on reduced hours and scaled-back menus; however, the staff was excellent and the food was delicious. Banquet catering was equally impressive, and I felt we had sufficient options to satisfy our guests,” Tooley says. “Feedback from attendees was very positive about the location and the event. Everyone appreciated the cleanliness of the hotel, and attention to guest health and safety. The meeting space was wonderful, and dinner on the balcony space was lovely.” Tooley advises planners to “definitely visit the property and conduct a thorough site visit.”
For spellbinding sunsets of the Santa Catalina Mountains together with plentiful outdoor activities, both on- and off-site, Tucson’s famed El Conquistador Tucson, A Hilton Resort, remains a popular planner venue. The 500-acre, AAA Four-Diamond resort offers 428 guest rooms, suites and casitas, many with desert and mountain views that invite rest and relaxation in spacious, contemporary settings.
El Conquistador offers an IACC-approved conference center with 100,000 sf of indoor and outdoor meetings and events space, including the 11,900-sf Turquoise Ballroom, the 11,520-sf Presidio Ballroom and an 11,000-sf Executive Conference Center, with full-service catering and A/V planning services. Also, the Last Territory, El Conquistador’s Western-style mini-town, is great for barbecue-centered team-building events and receptions. The resort also has launched its new SpaWell, featuring a range of spa services, such as a Signature SpaWell Facial, Himalayan Salt Stone Massage, Desert Senses Aromatherapy Massage and more. “What we most hear from meeting planners and event-goers is that they love the ‘Uniquely Southwest’ culture and vibe at the resort,” says Danae Norris, director of sales & marketing. “This manifests throughout the resort and includes the seamless fusion of our indoor space with the outdoors, our friendly and knowledgeable team, our world-class culinary offerings, and the broad range of outdoor activities, including hiking, biking and — of course — sitting by the pool and doing absolutely nothing.” From morning wake-up coffees at Grab & Go to poolside dining, to Epazote Kitchen & Cocktails for Southwest-inspired cuisine, meeting attendees have plenty of food and beverage options.
Of special note to planners, Norris mentions that the property has extended the “Treasures of Gold” group initiative through 2023, “in which meeting planners and groups can take advantage of a wealth of incentives to enhance their experience at the resort. Additionally, to further enhance our guest’s spiritual experience, we recently launched ‘Renewal of the Flame.’ This daily ritual occurs around sunset when we ceremonially light our firepits. Guests are encouraged to participate by casting away any negative energy and welcoming in positive energy.”
At Tucson’s Loews Ventana Canyon Resort, the property’s Destination Services by Loews provides one-stop shopping for planners seeking assistance in coordinating all aspects of the meetings experience, from transportation, tours and activities, to team-building programs and off-site, themed-event planning. The resort’s 37,000 sf of versatile indoor meetings space ranges from the 800-sf Executive Boardroom to the 10,800-sf ballroom in the Kiva Building, while nearly 40,000 sf of outdoor function space includes the 1,200-sf Cascade Terrace, overlooking the main pool, and the Coyote Corral, a 22,000-sf themed Western village.
Oversized soaking tubs in 398 guest rooms with a private balcony, or patios and garden tubs, plus views of the surrounding Catalina Mountains, provide just the right backdrop for unwinding after an invigorating day of business programming. So, too, does the Lakeside Spa & Fitness Center, featuring eight treatment rooms, a relaxation lounge, adults-only serenity pool and hot tub, cardio and strength-training equipment, and four lighted tennis courts. Two 18-hole championship golf courses designed by Tom Fazio attract golf enthusiasts, while the 1.1-mile ParCourse Fitness Trail and Window Walk Nature Trail attract runners and walkers. For innovative Southwestern cuisine, the Flying V Bar & Grill offers a popular dining option.
When selecting a client meeting site, Jamie Pepper, SVP of meetings and coordination for The Opal Group, says the meetings space and flow of events is always the leading factor in her decision making. Pepper’s choice of Omni Scottsdale Resort & Spa at Montelucia for her corporate meeting of 400 industry professionals met the group’s need for “ample indoor and outdoor meeting space, including large foyers for exhibits with outdoor space off the function space for meals, which is ideal for this event.” The resort’s easy accessibility less than 20 minutes from Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport and the many amenities proved another deciding factor.
“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,” Pepper says, describing the ambiance of Omni Montelucia. The resort’s 293 luxurious guest room and suites, plus the property’s world-class service and amenities entice decision-makers seeking an upscale resort that provides a seamless environment for business and leisure. The Andalusia region of Spain is the inspiration behind guest rooms designed in dark woods and sumptuous hues. With 16 meeting rooms offering a total of 102,000 sf of flexible function space — including 76,793 sf of outdoor space — planners have a variety of options for meeting room design. Indoor venues range from the Alhambra Ballroom at 9,216 sf, to the more modest 4,590-sf Valencia Ballroom. Several unique dining discoveries include Privé and King Ferdinand’s Cellar, Chef’s Kitchen and Chef’s Studio, while Spanish-inspired culinary flavors set the tone for fine dining at Prado, craft cocktails at the Mbar and all-day dining at Taqueria Centro. Outdoor venues include the 3,400-sf Alhambra Ballroom Terrace, the 6,500-sf Valencia Lawn and the 8,500-sf Oasis Pool Plaza, among others.
Pepper acknowledges that when they host programs in Scottsdale, they always find time to golf on or off-property, which is a fun and naturally socially distanced outdoor activity, she says. Omni Montelucia is an official hotel of the PGA Tour, and hiking and biking, a walking tour, swimming in one of three pools and the Joya Spa & Salon are among the resort’s on-site activities. “The great weather, quality of resort product, easy airlift and off-site entertainment make Scottsdale a draw for meetings and conferences,” Pepper says. “Our conference has been held every January since 2000, and it’s our third year back in Scottsdale, as the destination’s resorts always do a nice job with our events. As Scottsdale is a destination that seems to remain 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 options such as the Site See, Fly Free program offered by Experience Scottsdale.”
As a final recommendation, Pepper adds: “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.”
Custom catering menus, professional executive meetings and events specialists, and cutting-edge meeting facilities highlight the continuing appeal of The Westin Kierland Resort & Spa as a favorite meetings destination among planners and attendees alike. In fact, says Tracy Davies, senior sales executive, “We have been experiencing very high demand at The Westin Kierland, causing our resort to be very full and exceptionally busy.” Davies admits that “we are thrilled to have this activity, but it has resulted in a lack of availability for planners looking for space. We often need to advise planners that we are sold out for most dates over the next two years.” Davies cautions that planners should “try to be flexible with dates and pattern.”
With proximity to Kierland Commons, a master-planned community featuring upscale restaurants and entertainment, the property includes an Adventure Water Park with an adult pool, cabanas and islands. The resort’s 41 event rooms and more than 200,000 sf of meetings space provide a tabula rasa for creative event design ranging from intimate retreats to large-scale conferences. The Kierland Grand Ballroom can accommodate up to 3,600 attendees in a theater-style seating configuration, while integrated, state-of-the-art technology provides superb conference capabilities for both in-person and hybrid functions. In addition, the property’s “Greener Meetings” program supports “minimal environmental impact by offering low-impact practices” for planners’ peace of mind.
The Westin Kierland offers cuisine ranging from Italian to Southwestern and Mediterranean to kosher in fine dining to casual food venues. For recreational activities that are sure to help attendees relax and rejuvenate, head to the award-winning 27-hole Westin Kierland Golf Club, featuring three nine-hole courses designed by golf architect Scott Miller. The golf club comes complete with a driving range and putting green, golf shop and clubhouse restaurant. Open 24/7, the WestinWorkout Fitness Studio features state-of-the-art cardio and strength-training equipment, and offers the perfect pre- or post-golf event, as does the luxurious Agave, The Arizona Spa & Salon, so-named for the plant indigenous to the area.
Also in Scottsdale, 53 acres of private paradise await meeting attendees at Sanctuary Camelback Mountain, A Gurney’s Resort & Spa. Paradise Valley serves as the backdrop for 109 luxurious mountain casitas and suites in addition to six elegant villas. There are more than 10,000 sf of indoor and outdoor meetings space, offering planners plenty of possibilities for creating memorable meetings from small gatherings to larger events. After business hours, the 12,000-sf, Asian-inspired Sanctuary Resort Spa — ranked one of Arizona’s Top 10 Spas in 2020 — provides an oasis of luxury in a tranquil environment. Additional recreational facilities include an infinity and lap pool, personalized yoga and Pilates classes, fitness center and tennis courts. Innovative dishes are a nod to traditional American cuisine and are infused with Asian flavors, feature fresh local ingredients, organic produce, sustainable seafood and hormone-free meat.
In sum, “Scottsdale offers all the services and amenities you’d expect of a premier meeting destination: top-tier accommodations, state-of-the-art meeting facilities and hassle-free transportation in the air and on the ground,” says Kelli Blubaum, CMP, vice president of sales & services for Experience Scottsdale. “It also offers the discovery of something delightfully unexpected — the stirring beauty of the Sonoran Desert. The McDowell Sonoran Preserve — untamed, protected desert land spanning 35,500 acres — makes up a third of the city’s land mass. There, travelers can find 225 miles of trails for hiking and mountain biking of every level of difficulty and hundreds of our trademark, statuesque Saguaro cacti.” Blubaum adds: “It also takes many visitors by surprise that there’s water in the desert. A guided kayak excursion with REI Co-Op Experiences or Saguaro Lake Guest Ranch takes folks to unexpected oases found on the Lower Salt River and Saguaro Lake, with the chance to see bald eagles, river otters and wild horses.”
Scottsdale, like other Arizona destinations, has “shifted to focusing more than ever on what has always been an asset for the destination: the ability to host outdoor meetings. Scottsdale resorts and hotels have remained not only nimble, but creative in showing clients how to transform a stunning outdoor space into an efficient meeting room with adequate meeting sets, A/V capabilities, including presentation screens, iPads for attendees and even headphones to allow communication with presenters.” Also, “Experience Scottsdale created MeetScottsdaleSafe.com — a website and virtual toolkit to help planners navigate this time as our partners do everything possible to keep their attendees safe from the moment they arrive until the moment they depart,” Blubaum says. “From our year-round sunshine and exotic natural setting, to a roster of hospitality professionals who will go above and beyond to ensure a program’s success, Scottsdale creates a welcoming environment that will leave groups inspired.” I&FMM