If you happened to be in Arizona in late 2002, you might have heard the snipping of shears in the desert air as multiple ribbon-cutting ceremonies marked the debut of several new resorts, including the state's largest, the $315 million JW Marriott Desert Ridge Resort & Spa. And while most of the new construction is found in the resort mecca of Phoenix/Scottsdale, ground has also been broken, 100 miles to the south, on Tucson's first new resort in 15 years.

In a state renowned for the quality of its health and wellness facilities, new and established properties continue to invest heavily in the construction of elaborate resort spas, which are designed to entice guests seeking the latest in exotic treatments and relaxation. Hot stone massage, the use of indigenous plants, and the adaptation of American Indian healing rituals are among the newest trends.

As competition for meetings heats up among Arizona's resorts, creativity is sizzling — if you find yourself thinking that casinos, canal boats, and wildlife are attractions found only in a glitzy city on the other side of the Grand Canyon, then it's time to reacquaint yourself with the nation's 48th state.


Phoenix and Scottsdale

  • The world's largest collection of desert plants is displayed on five trails with 60 interactive outdoor exhibits at the Desert Botanical Garden. An open-air pavilion accommodates 125; other venues are available for groups of 30 to 300. (480) 941-1225; www.dbg.org

  • Ten galleries at the Heard Museum showcase American Indian crafts and paintings. Private dinners can be arranged. (602) 252-8840; www.heard.org


  • The Arizona Sonoran Desert Museum is a combination wildlife zoo, natural history museum, and botanical garden. It can host up to 200 for a meeting or 140 for a banquet. (520) 883-2702; www.desertmuseum.org

  • The Old West comes alive at Hollywood in the Desert, Old Tucson Studios theme park and film set, where hundreds of Western movies and TV shows have been filmed. (520) 883-0100; www.oldtucson.com


For a company that requested a special evening to reflect its meeting's theme of unity, Joyce Hergert, of Plaza Planners in Scottsdale, wove a multitude of cultural elements into “Cowboys and Indians,” a uniquely Arizona experience. The 300 guests headed out in Jeeps across the Sonoran Desert to the Fort McDowell Indian Reservation northeast of Phoenix, where they were greeted by costumed saloon girls carrying drinks and hors d'oeuvres.

After a traditional welcome prayer led by an American Indian, the group was entertained by a hoop dancer before joining in the interactive Unity Dance. Guests enjoyed a Southwestern buffet followed by cowboy games and the chance to watch local artisans at work. Others climbed onto the mechanical bull or learned how to rope a calf.


  • If your travel plans include renting a car upon arrival at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, be aware that a variety of taxes can dramatically inflate the basic rental charge. If you're not comfortable paying more for a rental car than for some airfares to the city, consider using your hotel's van service, a taxi, or renting a car only for the days you will truly need one.

  • Slathering on sunscreen and drinking plenty of water are a way of life in arid Arizona, but certain prescription medications can create additional sensitivity to the sun's rays. Know before you go if your Rx has the potential to boost your chances of leaving with a souvenir sunburn.

  • Arizona has abundant wildlife, which turns up everywhere. If you encounter a coyote, rattlesnake, or bobcat on the golf course, step back in a nonthreatening manner and let the animal continue on its way before resuming your game.

  • One of Scottsdale's most picturesque landmarks, Pinnacle Peak, is now more than a scenic vista. New hiking trails offer the opportunity to experience the desert firsthand while enjoying spectacular views. The trails are suitable for all skill levels, but wear hiking boots, not tennis shoes, for safe traction.


Greater Phoenix CVB
(602) 254-6500; (877) 633-8749
• Fax: (602) 253-4415; www.phoenixcvb.com
Total Hotel Tax: 12.07%

Scottsdale CVB
(480) 421-1004; (800) 782-1117
• Fax: (480) 421-9733
Total Hotel Tax: 11.67%

Metropolitan Tucson CVB
(520) 624-1817; (800) 638-8350
• Fax: (520) 884-7804; www.mtcvb.com
Total Hotel Tax: 7.5%



  • Sheraton's new Wild Horse Pass Resort & Spa offers 500 guest rooms and 17 meeting rooms, including a 17,300-square-foot ballroom; a 17,000-square-foot spa with 16 treatment rooms; a casino; an equestrian center; and four swimming pools. Boats transport guests between the resort's facilities via a 2.5-mile canal system replicating the Gila River.

  • Arizona's largest resort, the $315 million JW Marriott Desert Ridge Resort & Spa, opened in November 2002 with 950 guest rooms including 85 suites. Meeting and event facilities encompass 170,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor space, including a 33,000-square-foot ballroom. The resort has two 18-hole championship golf courses, a 28,000-square-foot spa, and 10 restaurants.

  • The 750-room Westin Kierland Resort & Spa opened in December with 735 guest rooms, including 63 suites and 32 casitas near a 27-hole golf course. The resort has 60,000 square feet of meeting space, including a 25,000-square-foot ballroom and 20 meeting rooms. The resort's Agave Spa has 20 treatment rooms.


  • The Crowne Plaza Hotel was rebranded the Wyndham Phoenix. The 532-room hotel will add a 2,800-square-foot ballroom and undergo a $6 million facelift of guest rooms, meeting rooms, and lobby.

  • Scottsdale Resort and Conference Center refurbished all 326 of its guest rooms and three presidential suites. Its conference facilities can accommodate 1,000; it is surrounded by two 18-hole golf courses.

  • Wigwam Resort & Golf Club completed phase one of a $6 million refurbishment of 331 casita guest rooms. A second phase will focus on technology improvements.

  • Marriott's Mountain Shadows Resort & Golf Club completed a $500,000 softgoods refurbishment of its 337 guest rooms in August.

  • In June, Scottsdale Plaza Resort completed a $3 million renovation of 134 suites.

  • Alvadora, a 9,000-square-foot spa, opened at the Royal Palms Resort & Spa. Amenities include a watsu pool, four treatment rooms with private gardens, and a grotto waterfall shower.

  • The new 44,000-square-foot Willow Stream Spa at Fairmont Scottsdale Princess Resort offers 25 treatment rooms, a meditation garden, and a rooftop pool.

  • A 30,000-square-foot spa with 23 indoor-outdoor treatment rooms will debut at Hyatt Regency Scottsdale Resort at Gainey Ranch in early 2004.


  • Ground has been broken for The Marriott at Starr Pass. Tucson's first new resort in 15 years will be the largest in southern Arizona when it opens in December 2004 with 575 guest rooms, 66,000 square feet of meeting space, and a spa.


  • Loews Ventana Canyon Resort completed a renovation of all 398 rooms and suites. The resort can host up to 1,000 attendees for a meeting in more than 37,000 square feet of meeting space.

  • The 4,500-square-foot Sonoran Ballroom and rooftop terrace opened in January at the Westward Look Resort. All 244 guest rooms have been refurbished with new softgoods, and 40 rooms received new furniture. New guest rooms include two executive suites and three Stargazer Spa Rooms with outdoor freshwater hot tubs.

  • The Hilton El Conquistador Golf & Tennis Resort has 428 newly remodeled guest rooms and suites, a new $3 million water complex, 100,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor meeting space, and 45 holes of golf.


A $600 million expansion of the PHOENIX Civic Plaza will begin next June. The new building, with underground exhibition space, above-ground meeting rooms, and a high-tech conference center, is expected to be completed in December 2005. The civic plaza now offers more than 300,000 square feet space. www.visitphoenix.com

TUCSON Convention Center has 205,000 square feet of meeting space, including a ballroom, an arena, and an exhibition hall. A music hall and the Leo Rich Theater have teleconferencing and broadcast capability, and a courtyard provides a venue for outdoor events. www.visittucson.org