WHAT'S NEW

With the arrival of spring, things are booming — and blooming — in the scenic Southwest deserts, where a bounty of new, expanded, and renovated meeting sites await insurance meeting attendees. Planners should prepare to be dazzled by the innovative design and sheer size of the desert's shining new stars.

Phoenix continues to rise from its proverbial ashes with the debut of three major resorts, including the JW Marriott Desert Ridge Resort & Spa, which claims the title of largest resort in Arizona. The new Sheraton Wild Horse Pass takes advantage of its setting in the Gila River Indian Community to become the area's first resort featuring a casino. Wild Horse Pass also offers what is certainly another first for Arizona: Boats transport guests to the resort's facilities along a 2.5-mile-long channel replicating the scenic Gila River.

In Tucson, 100 miles to the south, construction has begun on the city's first new resort in 15 years, while the big news on the Las Vegas Strip is Mandalay Bay Resort's new convention center. Also recently expanded are the Las Vegas Convention Center and the Sands Convention Center. Palm Springs, Calif., continues to bask in its reputation for top-notch resorts, while Albuquerque, Santa Fe, and Taos, N.M., provide scenic confirmation of the state's reputation as the “land of enchantment.”

VENUE MENU

Arizona

  • The Scottsdale CVB is making it easier for groups to experience the city's renowned resources for art, dining, and the desert experience with the launch of Culture Quest Scottsdale. The series of themed cultural excursions offers the option of hosting an event at some of Scottsdale's most desirable off-site event venues. Sample excursions and venues include The Wright Stuff, a tour of Frank Lloyd Wright's residence, Taliesin West, followed by a driving tour of Wright-designed buildings and homes; Artscene & Cuisine, a tour of the Scottsdale Culinary Institute and galleries; and Cultural Connections, a visit to the Heard Museum North followed by an artist's talk and demonstration. (480) 421-1004; www.meetinscottsdale.com

  • A spectacular drive through the Tucson Mountains takes visitors to the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. This unique combination of wildlife zoo, natural history museum, and botanical garden showcases more than 1,300 native plants and 300 kinds of live animals in natural settings. A variety of galleries, terraces, cafes, and gardens accommodates groups of up to 200 for meetings or 140 for banquets. Menu options include foods native to the Sonoran Desert. (520) 883-2702; www.desertmuseum.org



New Mexico

  • La Quinta Cultural Center in Albuquerque, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, offers New Mexican ambience in a country estate setting. Minutes from downtown at scenic Los Poblanos Ranch, the 15,000-square-foot building has gracious portals and extensive formal gardens, ideal for meetings, seminars, retreats, and parties. (505) 344-9297; www.lospoblanos.com



THE PHANTOM PLANNER

  • Clearly understand the cancellation charges when contracting golf for your group. Terms vary at each course, and the charges at premium courses can be especially stiff. If you make a hotel site visit, visit the golf course you want and meet the pro. If you have a large booking, you may be able to negotiate your cancellation terms. Premium courses are less likely to be flexible; midlevel courses may be more accommodating.

  • When selecting recreation options, remember, “The more, the merrier.” Southwest resorts offer an abundance of choices, but many planners offer too many activities — and end up with just a few participants for each. This means less fun for attendees and increases the probability that you will have to cancel or pay in full for offerings requiring a minimum number of participants, such as Jeep tours and river floats.

  • Attendees from moister climes often don't realize how much liquid they lose from their bodies in desert conditions. Have plenty of bottled water on hand and encourage its frequent consumption.

  • A winter meeting in the Southwest might include chilly conditions, even snow. Make sure attendees are aware of weather conditions and appropriate dress for your meeting.



GOING Up

ARIZONA — New

  • The JW Marriott Desert Ridge Resort & Spa has opened in Phoenix with 950 guest rooms, including 85 suites, 170,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor meeting space, and two 18-hole championship golf courses.

  • The 750-room Westin Kierland Resort & Spa opened in December in Scottsdale 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.

  • A December 2004 opening is planned for The Marriott at Starr Pass. It will be Tucson's first new resort in 15 years. The 575-room property will have 66,000 square feet of meeting space and a spa.



CALIFORNIA — Expansion

  • The 560-room Renaissance Esmeralda Resort and Spa in Palm Springs completed a $31 million expansion and renovation, including a new 40,000-square-foot meeting facility with a 16,500-square-foot ballroom. Also new is the Spa Esmeralda, with 19 treatment rooms.

  • A $65 million expansion of Hyatt Grand Champions Resort & Spa in Indian Wells includes a 50,000-square-foot meeting facility, 139 new and 338 renovated guest rooms, and the 30,000-square-foot Agua Serena Spa.



NEVADA — New

  • The Mandalay Bay Convention Center in Las Vegas has opened with 1.8 million square feet of meeting and exhibit space, including a 100,000-square-foot pillarless ballroom, five boardrooms, a 10,000-square-foot business service center, and breakout space accommodating 75 simultaneous meetings.

  • The Ritz-Carlton, Lake Las Vegas opened in January with 350 guest rooms and 25,000 square feet of meeting space. Located 17 miles from the Strip, the resort also offers a 30,000-square-foot spa and 36 holes of golf.



Expansion

  • The Venetian Resort-Hotel-Casino's new hotel tower and conference facilities are slated to open in June in Vegas. The $250 million expansion provides The Venetian with 1,013 additional hotel suites and an additional 150,000 square feet of meeting space.



NEW MEXICO — New

  • This summer in Taos, Dharma Resorts will open El Monte Sagrado, an upscale resort and spa with 38 units. There are 18 in American Indian style; others include Tibetan, Balinese, Japanese, and Moroccan décor. Ideal for executive retreats, the property has two meeting rooms for 40 each.



CONTACT THE CVB

Arizona

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

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

California

Palm Springs Desert Resorts Convention & Visitors Authority
(760) 770-9000, (800) 967-3767
• Fax: (760) 770-9001
www.PalmSpringsUSA.com
Total Hotel Tax: 9.25% to 12.5%

Nevada

Las Vegas CVA
(702) 892-2888, (877) 847-4858
• Fax: (702) 892-2824; www.lvcva.com
Total Hotel Tax: 9% to 11%