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 medical 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.

One hundred miles to the south, spectacular scenery, award-winning resorts, and the prestigious University of Arizona School of Medicine and adjacent University Medical Center continue to attract medical meetings to Tucson. Construction has begun on the city's first new resort in 15 years while established properties vie to outdo each other with embellishments to guest rooms, meeting facilities, and spas.

The big news on the Vegas Strip is Mandalay Bay Resort's new convention center.


  • 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.



  • 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 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.


  • Loews Ventana Canyon Resort in Tucson has just finished a renovation of all 398 guest rooms (including 31 suites). The resort of 93 acres in the foothills of the Catalina Mountains has 37,000 square feet of flexible meeting space.

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 includes a 50,000-square-foot meeting facility, 139 new and 338 renovated guest rooms, and the new 30,000-square-foot Agua Serena Spa.

  • La Quinta Resort & Club completed a three-year, $60 million expansion and renovation, including the addition of 177 spa villas. Interiors of the resort's 800 guest rooms and suites were updated.


  • The Mandalay Bay Convention Center has opened with 1.8 million square feet of meeting and exhibit space.

  • 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.


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



Greater phoenix CVB
(602) 254-6500, (877) 633-8749
• Fax: (602) 253-4415
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%


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


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



PHOENIX Civic Plaza offers more than 300,000 square feet of convention, meeting, and special event space in downtown Phoenix, 10 minutes from the airport. Phoenix City Council has approved a plan to triple the size of the center. Construction is scheduled to begin in 2004. www.visitphoenix.com

TUCSON Convention Center has 205,000 square feet of meeting space, including a ballroom, arena, and exhibition hall, all connected by The Galleria. A music hall (2,100 seats) and the Leo Rich Theater (500 seats) have teleconferencing and broadcast capability. A courtyard provides a venue for outdoor events. www.visittucson.org


PALM SPRINGS Convention Center has 105,000 square feet of meeting and exhibit space. The center is connected to the 410-room Wyndham Palm Springs Hotel. www.palmspringscc.com


LAS VEGAS Convention Center offers 144 meeting rooms. An expansion completed in January 2002 added 1.3 million square feet, including the two-story South Hall expansion, bringing the center's total square footage to 3.2 million. www.lvcva.com