Some groups can't get enough of the desert. The Business Products Industry Association is one. The Alexandria, VA-based association held meetings in Scottsdale and Palm Springs last year, and this April the group will hold a meeting of 150 people in Phoenix at the Pointe Hilton Resort at Tapatio Cliffs, where it will stage an opening reception in the resort's new $7.5 million, three-and-a-half acre Falls water park.

What's the draw of these locales? "The weather and the golfing opportunities," replies Kristen Cordial Prindle, meeting planner for the association. She adds that the fall and spring shoulder seasons provide not only delightful weather but great rates. Moreover, many desert destinations are engaged in a building boom that will yield even more attractions for association groups.

In a class by itself is Las Vegas, the country's fastest-growing metropolitan area. The phenomenal growth in the city's hotel construction is set to continue through 1999. By the middle of this year, it will have more than 100,000 hotel rooms. Last year saw the opening of the 3,000-room Monte Carlo Casino Hotel, the 1,500-room Stratosphere Hotel & Casino, and the 2,100-room New York New York. And more mega-theme resorts are on the way (see hotel news, page 50), although not all of them will contain significant meeting space. Las Vegas developers announced plans in January to build a multiuse, retractable-dome stadium downtown, which will also serve as a major convention and special-events venue. The proposal calls for a 111,000-seat arena, and a 250,000-square-foot convention center with a non-gaming hotel attached. Completion is planned for 1999, pending approval.

Proceeding at a less frenetic pace is the redevelopment of downtown Phoenix, which began in 1990 with the opening of the Arizona Center, an eight-block, mixed-use Rouse Company development with more than 60 restaurants, shops, and entertainment venues. A block away, the Phoenix Civic Plaza completed a $33 million renovation in 1995. And just one block east of the Civic Plaza, the Bank One Ballpark, a retractable-dome stadium, is scheduled to open in 1998. It will be the home of the Arizona Diamondbacks major league baseball franchise. Also new downtown is the Orpheum Theatre, a renovated 1,400-seat theater that dates back to 1929.

With these and other downtown developments, Phoenix now offers a compact area of cultural, entertainment, and meeting attractions. And at press time, the city council was studying proposals to build a Renaissance Hotel attached to the Arizona Center, and/or a Westin property across the street from the Civic Plaza. If approved, the hotels will have 600 to 700 rooms each, and will be slotted for a 1999 opening.

Meanwhile, Scottsdale, which has seen a 96 percent increase in population since 1980, continues as a mecca for association meetings. Two new public golf courses open this year at the Salt River Pima Maricopa Indian Community, while last year the Phoenician Resort expanded its championship course to 27 holes.

In nearby Tempe, the city is set to begin construction of a $40 million recreation lake a half mile from downtown. The two-mile long lake will be the focal point of the Rio Salado development, which is to include a 1,000-room Peabody Hotel and, eventually, an entertainment district. Construction of the hotel, which is aimed at the high-end group market, is slotted to begin simultaneously with the lake. Both are expected to be operational by 1999.

High in Arizona's Sonoran Desert, Tucson is another big draw for association meetings, with an assortment of top-notch resorts, a convention center, and plenty of golf-four new 18-hole courses opened last year in the area. More than 900 hotel rooms opened last year, and a 154-room Marriott Courtyard is under construction in midtown. A new attraction just outside of Tucson is the Kartchner Caverns.

California's Palm Springs Desert Resorts (encompassing Palm Springs, Cathedral City, Desert Hot Springs, Indian Wells, Indio, La Quinta, Palm Desert, and Rancho Mirage) now boast 90 golf courses with plans to break the 100-mark by 2000.

Convention & Exhibition Centers Arizona * The newly renovated Phoenix Civic Plaza, a single-level, non-union downtown facility, has more than 300,000 square feet of convention space, including 223,000 square feet of exhibit space in five halls and 43 meeting rooms.

* Tucson Convention Center contains a 90,000-square-foot exhibit hall, a 33,700-square-foot arena, a 24,000-square-foot lower exhibit hall, a 20,000-square-foot ballroom, a 2,221-seat music hall, and a 511-seat theater.

California * Palm Springs Convention Center includes 66,000 square feet of exhibit space and ten meeting rooms.

* The Desert ExpoCentre in Indio has 22,000 square feet of exhibit space, plus four meeting rooms.

Nevada * The Las Vegas Convention Center encompasses 1.3 million square feet of exhibit space and 89 meeting rooms, the largest seating 7,500 persons theater-style.

* Cashman Field Center has 98,000 square feet of exhibit space in two halls, a 10,000-seat sports stadium, 16 meeting rooms, and a 2,000-seat theater.

* Located on the Strip, Sands Expo & Convention Center includes 935,000 square feet of exhibit space and 31,000 square feet in 23 meeting rooms.

Hotel News Arizona Phoenix * The 600-room Arizona Biltmore Resort & Villas completed construction of 78 two-room villas.

* The 120-room Royal Palms opened in November with 10,000 square feet of meeting space.

* In January, the 584-suite Pointe Hilton Resort at Tapatio Cliffs opened The Falls, a three-and-a-half-acre oasis of waterfalls, swimming pools, lawn and tiled terraces, and an open-air restaurant.

Scottsdale * All 325 guest rooms at the Scottsdale Conference Resort have been refurbished.

* The Boulders, a Carefree Resort, last summer completed a $2 million enhancement program, including refurbished meeting rooms and improvements to the resort's 18-hole course.

* The Phoenician Resort has added nine holes of golf for a total of 27. Golfers can now play three different 18-hole rounds at the resort. Sixty new guest rooms were completed in October.

* Marriott's Camelback Inn Resort has completed the second phase of a five-year, $17 million guest room and spa renovation.

* The 404-room Scottsdale Plaza Resort has installed voice mail and data ports in guest rooms, and added a business center.

Tucson * Canyon Ranch is offering groups of up to 30 persons four- to seven-night meeting packages that include accommodations, meals, use of the spa and resort facilities, airport transfers, gratuities, meeting rooms, AV equipment, and beverage service during meeting breaks.

* Last June the Westward Look Resort opened its Wellness Center, with six treatment rooms.

* The new 225-room Marriott University Park is near the main entrance to the University of Arizona. The full-service hotel has 9,000 square feet of meeting space.

Chandler * The Windmill Inn of Chandler opened in September. The resort's 126 suites are 500 square feet each, with 20 of the suites equipped for business travelers. There is a 16-person boardroom and a main conference room that seats up to 300 persons.

California Palm Springs * The Hyatt Grand Champions Resort in Indian Wells has added an espresso bar and a gift shop, as well as a cigar humidor to the Pianissimo Lounge. A $1.1 million pool renovation this year includes a water park.

* Marriott's Desert Springs Resort and Spa has completed a $9.1 million renovation project on its 884 guest rooms.

* Westin Mission Hills Resort in Rancho Mirage is replacing soft goods in 512 guest rooms and is installing a misting system by the pool. The $1.5 million project is scheduled for completion this fall.

Nevada Las Vegas * Circus Circus is building a 4,000-room mega-resort and casino on the Strip, tentatively called Project Paradise, with completion scheduled for this fall. The resort will surround a ten-acre tropical environment that will feature a surfing beach.

* A 400-room Four Seasons Hotel, to be built adjacent to the Paradise Project, will be the first luxury, non-casino hotel on the Strip when it opens in 1998. (Circus Circus retains the real estate, while Four Seasons will manage the property.)

* Ritz-Carlton has announced plans to build the Ritz-Carlton Resort at Mountain Spa, scheduled to open in 1999. The resort will encompass 640 acres and will include a 526-room hotel, a 40,000-square-foot casino, a 27,000-square-foot spa, and 36,100 square feet of meeting space.

* Construction is slotted to begin early this year on a 33-story gambling resort, Paris on the Strip, adjacent to Bally's Hotel/ Casino. Paris will feature replicas of the Arc de Triomphe and other Parisian monuments, a working French winery, and gondola rides. It is slotted to open in 1998.

* The Sands Hotel &Casino has been demolished to make way for a new 6,000-room hotel and 200,000-square-foot casino. The property is to have a 400,000-square-foot meeting and exposition facility and is scheduled for completion in 1998.

* Construction has begun on Bellagio, a 3,000-room resort hotel and casino on 12 acres. The $1.25 billion project, designed as an Italian village, will open in 1998.

* Hyatt Hotels Corporation has entered into an agreement with Transcontinental Properties to construct a 500-room resort hotel at Lake Las Vegas Resort, a luxury planned community along 25 acres of the state's largest privately owned lake. Completion is scheduled for 1998.

* Construction is under way on the $830 million, 3,000-room Planet Hollywood hotel/casino on the Strip, with completion slotted for 1999. The resort will feature a 120,000-square-foot convention center and a 1,600-seat showroom.

* MGM Grand Hotel &Casino has begun a 30-month-long renovation/redesign program costing $250 million. A retail and nightclub complex, as well as a 300,000-square-foot convention center, are the highlights of the project.

* A $600 million renovation and expansion has been approved for the Aladdin Hotel, which will have 2,600 guest rooms and an additional 100,000 square feet of convention space following the addition of two new guest towers. The casino will be enlarged to 100,000 square feet.

* New York-New York Hotel & Casino opened in January with 2,035 guest rooms and replicas of the Statue of Liberty and the Brooklyn Bridge at the entrance.

Getting There Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport is served by 23 airlines. International services expanded last year with nonstop service on British Airways between Phoenix and London, and nonstop service to Dusseldorf on LTU International Airways. The airport is three miles from downtown Phoenix and 12 miles from Scottsdale.

Tucson International Airport, served by most major carriers, offers nonstop flights to 18 destinations.

Palm Springs Regional Airport is two miles from Palm Springs and ten miles from Palm Desert.

Las Vegas's McCarran International Airport, served by 20 carriers, is a five-minute ride from the convention center and The Strip. Construction is under way to open 16 new gates in 1998. n

Meeting Planner Comments Every other year, the Western Mobilehome Parkowners Association, Sacramento, CA, takes its annual meeting to Las Vegas. "Our attendees love it. They love to gamble, and about 40 percent of them don't travel that much, so Vegas offers them a wild ride, a complete package of activities and attractions," says Carol Leveroni, CMP, director of meetings. The group of 800 met in Las Vegas most recently in November 1996, and the meeting and all functions were held at the Mirage Hotel, although the group had a board meeting at Caesars Magical Empire. However, the group will not be able to meet in Las Vegas in 1998. "It's a seller's market at the moment, and we couldn't get interest in our group-we're not peanuts, but we're not COMDEX either," she says.

In 1993, the National Cable TV Cooperative, Lenexa, KS, was looking for somewhere different to go, and they chose Tucson, AZ. "We stayed at the Sheraton El Conquistador, and we liked the area and the service at the property-they were like mind-readers. So we came back for our annual meeting in November 1996," says Caprice Caster, meeting planner for the association. "People have been to the West Coast and to the East Coast, but the desert destination offered something different." One highlight of the group's meeting was the final night banquet, held in a tiered outdoor terrace with a spectacular mountain view. "People said it was one of the best cable industry events they had ever attended," notes Caster. Like many of the Arizona desert resorts, the Sheraton offered a self-contained package of options-from golfing to horseback riding. "Attendees didn't feel they had to go anywhere." However, the group did offer a tour of the Tucson area and environs, which included stops at the beautiful White Dove mission and a tour of Tucson's artist district.

Arizona Phoenix & Valley of the Sun CVB Kim Zieser, director, convention sales (602) 254-6500 Fax: (602) 253-4415

Scottsdale Chamber of Commerce Rachel Sacco, director of convention and tourism (602) 945-8481, (800) 877-1117 Fax: (602) 947-4523

Mesa Convention & Visitors Bureau Francie Christopher, manager of convention sales (602) 827-4700 Fax: (602) 827-0727

Metropolitan Tucson CVB Susan Skinner, director of sales (800) 638-8350, ext. 148 Fax: (520) 884-7804

Tempe CVB Debra Woodrow-Leon, director of convention sales (800) 283-6734 Fax: (602) 968-8004

California Palm Springs Desert Resorts CVB Douglas Small, director of sales (760) 770-9000 Fax: (760) 770-9001

Nevada Las Vegas Convention & Visitors Authority Rossi Ralenkotter, vice president marketing (702) 892-0711 Fax: (702) 892-2824