American Life Insurance Company chose Scottsdale for meetings in 1992, 1997, and 1998 for the same reason that many groups opt for Southwest locations: the weather. "Scottsdale in February and March is pretty nifty," says Charles P. Rogers, director of sales promotion for the company, which is based in Indianapolis. "Attendees come from all over and we see a lot of people out at the pools during free time."

This year and last the company used the Hyatt Regency Scottsdale Gainey Ranch, while the earlier meeting was held at the Phoenician. Although the company tends not to repeat destinations right away (the two recent meetings were for different divisions), Rogers says it's likely they will go back at some point in the future. When they do, they might be in for a surprise, as the whole Valley of the Sun is in the middle of a new growth spurt.

Phoenix, for example, has added some 2,000 guest rooms in the past year. Plus, late last year, a much-needed third convention hotel was approved for downtown near the Phoenix Civic Plaza: The 700-room Westin is scheduled to break ground at the end of this year next to the America West Arena and Bank One Ballpark, which opened at the end of March. A 400-room Doubletree Suites is also likely in the downtown area; the combination of the two would up the downtown room count to about 2,700.

Several other major projects are also under way in the Valley of the Sun, including Scottsdale's Downtown Waterfront Project and a proposed mixed-use development near Pinnacle Peak that would include a 170-room Four Seasons Resort. In Tempe, the Rio Sa lado entertainment zone will include a new Peabody Hotel, which will be the largest in the state when it opens in 2000 with 1,000 deluxe guest rooms and 125,000 square feet of flexible meeting space.

And Tucson, while not developing as quickly as the Valley of the Sun, saw its guest room count jump about 1,500 in the past year to a new total of 14,000 in the metro area.

In California's Palm Springs, Shadow Rock Resorts is working on plans for a $300 million development at the foot of the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway, with a five-star hotel and a 40-acre entertainment, restaurant, and gaming complex. The proposed hotel follows the purchase and renaming of the Palm Springs Marquis, A Shadow Rock Resort, which underwent a $2.5 million renovation along with its name change. Plans there include an 18-hole championship golf course and a 25,000-square-foot clubhouse late this year.

Albuquerque, too, is seeing development, with another 2,000 guest rooms slated to come on line in New Mexico's largest city. Downtown, near the convention center, the Civic Plaza reopened in November, fresh from a $10 million renovation, with two performance stages and space for groups of up to 5,000.

The granddaddy of development, though, is Las Vegas, which already has 104,000 guest rooms, up 4,000 in 1997 alone, including the 2,035-room New York-New York, the tallest hotel casino in the city, with re-creations of city landmarks; and Sunset Station, a low-rise hotel casino with 448 guest rooms. Another 16,000 guest rooms are projected by the end of 1999. Although the city has 90 percent occupancy year-round, groups willing to meet mid-week can get a bargain on hotel rates that are already among the lowest in the country. According to Bear Stearns & Co., reporting at the American Gaming and Lodging Summit in Las Vegas in December, Las Vegas has hosted 38 percent of the top conventions in the United States over the past decade.

Hotel News Arizona Tucson * All 398 guest rooms of the Loews Ventana Canyon are being upgraded, with completion slated for this year.

* The Omni Tucson National Golf Resort & Spa last year completed a three-year, $13 million renovation that included all of its meeting space (and the addition of a new 2,200-square-foot meeting room), its 167 guest rooms, and its golf course.

* The Sheraton El Conquistador is refurbishing its 428 guest rooms, with completion scheduled for September. The resort plans to build a new conference center.

* The Varsity Clubs of America is slated to debut this spring, with 60 suites and two meeting rooms.

* The 487-unit Westin La Paloma has finished a renovation of its lobby and 18,500-square-foot ballroom.

Valley of the Sun * The Arizona Biltmore, in Phoenix, has changed its name to the Arizona Biltmore Resort & Spa in honor of a $2.5 million expansion and renovation of its spa in October.

* The 197-unit Boulders, in Carefree, is slated to open a spa with 27 treatment rooms late this year.

* Last June, Red Lion's La Posada (Scottsdale) became the 252-unit Doubletree La Posada Resort. In September, the resort's 10 suites were renovated.

* The Radisson Resort and Spa Scottsdale is adding a 20,000-square-foot, full-service health spa, set to open in October. The 318-room, 35-suite property has a total of 30,000 square feet of meeting space indoors and an additional 100,000 square feet of outdoor function space. The resort is 12 miles from Sky Harbor International Airport and close to shopping and golf.

* A $7.2 million renovation was completed last summer at the Doubletree Paradise Resort Scottsdale, including all 387 guest rooms, meeting space, lobby, and lounge areas.

California Palm Springs Area * After a $2 million renovation, the Dunes Hotel reopened as a Comfort Inn in Palm Springs last fall.

* The 289-unit Doubletree Resort Palm Springs is undergoing a $5 million renovation that began in October.

* The 338-unit Hyatt Grand Champions Resort in Indian Wells expanded and redesigned its pool areas in a $1.5 million renovation.

* The 640-unit La Quinta Resort and Club is slated to debut its new, 23,000-square-foot, full-service spa this spring.

* Marriott's Desert Springs Resort & Spa, with 884 guest rooms, spent over a million dollars to renovate its two ballrooms, including recarpeting and repainting as well as new furniture and carpeting outside the ballrooms.

* The Miramonte Resort debuted in Indian Wells in December after a $20 million renovation of the former Erawan Gardens Hotel. The 224-room, Mediterranean-style hotel encompasses 14 buildings on 11 acres.

* The Palm Springs Hilton has renovated 91 of its 260 guest rooms and installed marble in the bathrooms.

* The Spa Hotel & Casino is in the midst of a $3 million renovation to its 25,000-square-foot spa and half of its 215 guest rooms.

* The Westin Mission Palms completed a $2.5 million renovation of its conference center and half of its 512 guest rooms.

Nevada Las Vegas * The Riviera Hotel and Casino on the Strip completed a renovation last year of its 1,863 guest rooms. The hotel has 100,000 square feet of meeting space, and in late 1999, it plans to open an 85,000-square-foot convention and visitors center, which will accommodate up to 5,700 people with bleacher seating and sky boxes for convention and entertainment events.

* The Aladdin Hotel closed on the Strip in November, making way for a $1.2 billion gambling and hotel complex. At the new Aladdin Hotel Casino, plans call for 2,600 guest rooms, a Middle East-themed shopping center, and a joint venture with Planet Hollywood Inc. to develop a neighboring $250 million, 2,000-room music-themed resort. Both are slated to open in 2000.

* Billed as the "most romantic hotel ever built," the 3,000-room Bellagio destination resort is scheduled to open this year.

* Caesars Palace opened a new tower in December; the previous August, the Forum Shops at Caesars opened 35 new shops, stores, and restaurants in an expansion that doubled the size of the mall.

* Master Plan Mile, one mile along the Las Vegas Strip owned by Circus Circus, is continuing development with work on Project Paradise, slated to open by early 1999. The 4,000-room mega-resort will reflect an ancient culture of the South Seas. A nongaming, 400-room Four Seasons is being built adjacent to the mega-resort.

* The Desert Inn Hotel Casino recently completed a $200 million renovation and expansion.

* Marriott International plans to open a 1,500-room nongaming hotel in 1999 adjacent to the MGM Grand hotel casino.

* A 380,000-square-foot conference center opened in March 1998 at the MGM Grand Hotel, with a 63,000-square-foot exhibit hall, meeting rooms, and a 50,000-square-foot ballroom. The Mansion at the MGM Grand, to open late this year, will feature 30 private suites and villas. Within the next couple of years, the MGM Grand intends to transform itself into the "City of Entertainment," at a cost of $950 million, with the addition of 1,500 rooms at a new Marriott Marquis by fall 1999 and another 500 at a new Ritz-Carlton, casino space expansion, and construction of a 6.6.-acre Shangri-La pool and spa complex.

* Ground was broken last April on a 33-story gambling resort named Paris on the Strip. Featuring replicas of Parisian landmarks, the 2,900-room resort is slated to open in 1999.

* Rio All-Suite Hotel and Casino opened Masquerade Village and a new 41-story, 1,025-room tower, giving the resort a total of 2,556 suites.

* Ritz-Carlton plans to build a 526-room hotel with a 40,000-square-foot casino as part of the Mountain Spa Resort in the northwest part of Las Vegas Valley, slated to open in 1999.

* Groundbreaking took place last year on the site of the original Sands Hotel on the Strip for the $1.8 billion, 6,000-room Venetian Casino Resort, expected to be the world's largest resort hotel and convention complex under one roof. Phase One, slated for completion by April 1999, will include 3,036 luxury suites, a 116,000-square-foot gaming facility, and a 500,000-square-foot dining and entertainment complex.

Stateline Harrah's Lake Tahoe is more than halfway through the process of remodeling every guest room--a project slated for completion in early 1999. Each standard guest room will have two complete bathrooms, each with its own television and telephone. All rooms have a view of both lake and mountains. Harrah's has seven restaurants, an 800-seat showroom, a convention center, a 12,000-square-foot "family fun center," a shopping gallery, indoor pool, hot tubs, health and fitness center, and a 24-hour casino.

Insurance Planners Comment John Ferguson, director of marketing services for Galveston, Texas-based American National Insurance Company, says the company has held its meetings in Las Vegas for the past three years for one simple reason. "Our attendees pay for their own airline and hotel," he says, "and Las Vegas is the only place we could get this many people to attend. It's a place that people would chose to go to on their own for their vacations, plus they can get there for less than $350 from anyplace in the United States."

Although Ferguson says the meeting is moving elsewhere for 1998, he expects it to move back to Las Vegas again for 1999. "We had about 750 people last year because it's such a popular destination," he says. He adds that a meeting in Las Vegas is also easy on the person planning it. "We don't hold any off-site events," he says. "There's so much going on there that it's not necessary or cost-effective. How could we put on a dinner that could compete with Siegfried and Roy or Cirque du Soleil?"

While the pool and golf courses are a prime attraction in Scottsdale and the Valley of the Sun, Charles P. Rogers, director of sales promotion for the Indianapolis-based American United Life Insurance Company, says the area has a wealth of opportunities for special events. "We went river rafting on the Verde River," he says. "The whole experience is very slow-moving and gave us a chance to enjoy the scenery and chat with the guides." For a dinner for the President's Club held at the Champlin Fighter Museum, the number-one agent landed in front of the group in a P51 fighter plane. "It was spectacular," says Rogers. "They just loved it."

Venue Menu In Tucson, groups get that Old West feel at Old Tucson Studios with performances of a traveling medicine show, gunfights, line dance instruction, and a rodeo. The studios, which include a film studio, western theme park, dance revue hall, and a Native American storytelling theater, can accommodate up to 5,000.

In Las Vegas, groups can take advantage of already existing extravaganzas rather than create their own. At present, to name just a few of the ongoing shows, David Cassidy of Partridge Family fame leads a cast of 70 through a surrealistic journey of space and time in EFX at the MGM Grand Hotel Casino; Siegfried and Roy fight a mechanical dragon several stories high at Mirage Hotel Casino; Cirque du Soleil, the new-wave Canadian circus, performs at Treasure Island; and the fabled Folies Bergere, with French cancan dancers, kick it up at the Tropicana Hotel.

Groups can also see regularly scheduled shows at the dramatic, desert-inspired 1,129-seat McCallum Theatre in Palm Desert or rent the theater for performances, presentations, and special events such as a dinner on the stage.

Tax and Money Matters Room tax in Tucson is 9.5 percent plus $1 per room per night. Surrounding areas range from 6.5 to 8.5 percent. In Phoenix, it's 9.75 percent. The room tax in Albuquerque is 10.812 percent; in Santa Fe, 10.25 percent. In Las Vegas, the room tax at most properties is nine percent, although at some it can be 10 or 11 percent, with the extra going to pay for the Fremont Street Experience. *