There's something about the desert that really appeals to people," says Karen Schmitt. A planner with Houston-based International Meeting Managers, Schmitt brought 450 members of The Society of Pediatric Radiology to Loews Ventana Canyon Resort in Tucson for a week-long meeting in May. Attendees were pleased with the reasonable shoulder-season room rates, she says. They also enjoyed the resort's five-star facilities, the spectacular desert setting, and the renowned Ventana golf courses. Popular off-site activities included desert Jeep tours and visits to the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum.
Then there was the cattle drive. "It was just like the movie City Slickers. About 24 people signed up and they had a great time participating in a real cattle drive from Phoenix to Tucson," says Schmitt. She frequently arranges meetings in Arizona and says the groups always want to return.
Arizona's great weather and scenic splendor are often enough to convince meeting executives to select the Grand Canyon State as a meeting site. Then there are the luxury properties concentrated in the two major metropolitan areas, Tucson and Phoenix/Scottsdale's Valley of the Sun. Most of these resorts offer full-service spas and expansive pool and recreation facilities--including championship golf courses. For links-lovers, desert golf courses lined with soaring saguaros and abutting boulder-strewn foothills are a special challenge. Phoenix's Valley of the Sun has more than 180 courses with three more under construction.
New to Phoenix's revitalized downtown is the Arizona Science Center and Phoenix Art Museum, plus new restaurants, theaters, and entertainment venues. And two new hotels have been announced, bringing the total number of rooms in the downtown area to 2,700 by 2001.
Scottsdale is looking forward to the fall completion of Scottsdale Fashion Square's expansion, making the mall one of the largest regional shopping destinations in the Southwest, with 50 new shops. Scottsdale's downtown Waterfront Project will also add new shops, restaurants, and recreation and entertainment venues. In addition, the $3 million Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art will open in 1999.
In November, Mesa and Tempe voters will decide the fate of the largest development project in the state. The newly announced Rio Salado Crossing, a $2.3 billion sports stadium and convention center complex, needs voter consent to levy a 20-year, quarter-cent sales tax. If approved, the complex would consist of three integrated features: a convention hall, a 1,250-room hotel, and a multipurpose stadium that would provide a million square feet of exhibition and meeting space.
Tucson is known for its Native American, Spanish, Mexican, and pioneer cultural roots. There is enough to see and do in the city known as Old Pueblo to keep attendees entertained for a week. One not-to-be-missed attraction: the Arizona Sonoran Desert Museum.
Tucson is also a great jumping-off point for visits to the southern part of the state. Among attractions there are the vintage Western mining towns of Bisbee, Douglas, and Tombstone (site of the shoot-out at the O.K. Corral); the wineries around Sonoita and Patagonia; birding spots, such as Madera Canyon and the Chiricahua Mountains; and the artist colony at Tubac. A favorite side trip: Bargain shopping in the Mexican border town of Nogales, less than an hour from downtown Tucson.
Hotel News The Phoenix Area * A 700-room Westin convention hotel with 55,000 square feet of meeting space will be located in Collier Center, across from the Phoenix Civic Plaza.
* Also in downtown Phoenix, a 400-room Doubletree hotel at the Arizona Center is scheduled for completion in 2000.
* The Arizona Biltmore Resort and Spa will add 120 oversized guest rooms, boosting its inventory to 740 rooms and villas. The addition will also include meeting rooms and an Olympic-sized pool. There is 60,000 square feet of meeting space.
* Scottsdale Hilton Resort & Villas will undergo a $15 million expansion and renovation to be completed in spring 1999. The project will add 65 junior suites and executive rooms and a new 10,000-square-foot ballroom, bringing the total meeting space to 24,000 square feet.
* The Doubletree Paradise Valley resort in Scottsdale has completed an $8.5 million improvement and expansion program. The resort's 32,000 square feet of meeting and banquet space was renovated and all 387 guest rooms and suites were refurbished.
* Embassy Suites Resort-Scottsdale is undergoing a renovation of the Breakfast Clubhouse and three executive boardrooms, plus seven elevators. A new business center will open this September.
* Host Marriott Corp. just purchased the posh Phoenix Ritz-Carlton Hotel in the Esplanade. It is slated for a $40 million expansion that will include an additional 150 guest rooms, 20 luxury condominiums, and an 8,000-square-foot ballroom. There are currently 281 guest rooms and 20,000 square feet of meeting space.
* Marriott's Camelback Inn Resort, Golf Club and Spa is nearing completion on its $35 million, four-year renovation. The pool complex will include such features as multitiered sun decks, underwater music, and separate children's play areas. The resort's 453 deluxe adobe casitas are also being remodeled. The property has 40,000 square feet of meeting space.
* The SunBurst Resort in Scottsdale was awarded the 1997 American Society of Interior Designers' Design Excellence Award for renovation of its lobby, restaurant, and conference and banquet facilities. The 210-room resort has 14,300 square feet of meeting space.
* The Radisson Resort and Spa, Scottsdale's 20,000-square-foot health spa will open in October. The world-class spa, overlooking the property's Zen gardens, has been designed with an Oriental flair. 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 Pointe Hilton Resort on South Mountain in Phoenix has completed a $1 million renovation of its newly named Phantom Horse Golf Club. The resort, with 638 suites and 85,000 square feet of function and meeting space, now has both of its 18-hole golf courses open.
* Scottsdale's Renaissance Cottonwoods Resort's 171 guest rooms will receive a $1.6 million refurbishment by the end of the year. The resort has 8,000 square feet of meeting space.
* Scottsdale's Lincoln Towne Centre, a $39 million downtown redevelopment project, has begun construction on the first of its three hotels, a 200-room Hilton Garden Inn. Also under construction: a 160-room Summerfield Suites, a 128-unit Prime Amerisuites, and offices, shops, and restaurants.
* The Tempe Mission Palms Hotel will undergo an $11 million property-wide remodeling. In addition to upgrading and refurbishing the 303 guest rooms, all 25,000 square feet of meeting space will be remodeled in compliance with standards set by the International Association of Conference Centers.
Tucson * Tucson's Loews Ventana Canyon Resort has begun a $3 million remodeling of its 398 guest rooms and corridors. The patio reception area next to the Kiva Ballroom is getting a $90,000 upgrade, and a new $70,000 acoustical stage is being added to the outdoor barbecue area. The resort has 37,000 square feet of meeting space.
* The Westward Look Resort, with 244 guest rooms and 8,000 square feet of meeting space, now offers special privileges at the Robert Trent Jones, Jr.-designed Raven Golf Club at Sabino Springs.
* Westin's La Paloma Resort will be the site of Janos, one of Tucson's most acclaimed restaurants, due to open this fall.
* In 1999, the 428-room Sheraton El Conquistador Resort & Country Club will add 25,000 square feet to its existing 30,000 square feet of meeting space.
* North of Tucson, the Miraval Resort in Catalina, with 106 casitas and suites, has opened the Catalina Learning Center.
Convention & Exhibition Center News The Phoenix Civic Plaza Convention Center has undergone a $32 million interior and exterior refurbishment and modernization. The center has 375,000 square feet of flexible meeting and exhibit space that includes five exhibit halls on one level with a total of 221,000 square feet; a 28,000-square-foot ballroom with a 5,000-square-foot multipurpose stage; up to 43 meeting rooms with individual lighting and sound systems; and Symphony Hall, a 2,577-seat multipurpose theater with a fully-equipped stage.
* The Tucson Convention Center offers 205,000 square feet of flexible meeting space and exhibit halls. The entire complex, which includes an adjacent 2,277-seat music hall and a 511-seat theater, has cable connections for video and audio transmission, teleconferencing, and broadcast links.
Getting There All major U.S. airlines and two European carriers fly into Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport. Most Phoe- nix/Scottsdale hotels and resorts are within a 30-minute drive of the Phoenix airport. Taxi fare to downtown is about $12.
The major airlines serving the Tucson International Airport include America West, American, Continental, Delta, Northwest, Southwest, and United. Nonstop service is available to 15 cities around the U.S. The taxi fare to downtown Tucson is approximately $17.
Tax and Money Matters Tax on hotel rooms is 10.6 percent in Phoenix, 10.7 percent in Scottsdale, 9.8 percent in Mesa, 10 percent in Tempe, and, depending on the location, between 7.5 percent and 9.5 percent in the Tucson area. The sales tax in Arizona ranges between 7 and 7.5 percent.
Medical Meeting Planners Say Diane Powell, meeting planner for Park Ridge, Ill.-based American Medical Technologies, arranged a national membership meeting in Tucson in June. The week-long event attracted 400 attendees to the Loews Ventana Canyon Resort. "We knew it would be pretty warm," says Powell, "but it was worth a little discomfort to offer rooms in a five-star hotel for just $90." Because of the warm weather, Powell used the hotel's indoor meeting facilities instead of arranging for the usual outdoor cookouts. Still, attendees took advantage of reduced summer greens fees to play the Tom Fazio-designed golf courses, and hikers got up early to hit the trails. Powell said that her members especially enjoyed the resort's free shuttle service to nearby Sabino Canyon, where they could hike and jog each morning. A variety of optional tours were offered; Powell reports that the shopping trip to Nogales, Mexico was especially popular.
This past April, Arizona's "picture-perfect weather" was one of the reasons the Bethesda, Md.-based American In-Vitro Allergy/Immunology Society returned for the second consecutive year to the Carefree Inn north of Scottsdale, says the society's executive director Barbara Buckman. About 50 people attended the three-day meting. The most popular activity was golf, but nongolfers enjoyed El Pedregal, a nearby shopping village, and a visit to Frank Lloyd Wright's former desert home, Taliesin West. Buckman says that the Carefree Inn's informality appealed to her "low-key" group of doctors. They found the property's layout very conducive to casual discussion groups that gathered after the meeting sessions and during breaks. The short meeting period allowed most attendees to extend their stay in Arizona. Some remained in Carefree and others took the opportunity to visit Sedona or the Grand Canyon.