The popularity of desert destinations for meetings continues unabated, motivating sunbelt cities to invest in improvements to their infrastructure and convention centers while individual hotels and resorts vie to offer new, updated, and increasingly creative facilities for meetings and recreation.

Phoenix is moving forward with a $600 million expansion of its Civic Plaza in an all-out bid to elevate itself to top-tier status in the convention and meetings market. Plans include increasing the current 302,000 square feet of function space to 900,000 square feet by 2009.

Tucson will get its first new resort in 18 years in December with the opening of Starr Pass Marriott Resort & Spa.

In April, Palm Springs Convention Center embarks upon a multimillion-dollar expansion designed to be able to accommodate 73 percent of meetings that come to California, versus its present capacity which can accommodate only 42 percent. When completed in late 2005, the facility will offer more than 55,000 square feet of new meeting and exhibit space.

The demand for spa services in the Scottsdale area has ratcheted up the competition among resorts, inspiring them to offer an ever-increasing array of exotic treatments and settings. Seven elaborate new spas have opened in the past three years and even the most touted enclaves of well-being are receiving makeovers to stay fresh.

And it's up, up, and away in Las Vegas, where a new $360 million, four-mile-long monorail system has opened, transporting visitors to eight major resorts and nine convention facilities.



Phoenix & Scottsdale

  • The Arizona Biltmore Resort & Spa has added a 25,000-square-foot ballroom as the final component of a $32 million renovation and expansion targeting conference facilities.

  • A $7 million project completed at The Phoenician in early 2004 included a $1 million dollar golf course enhancement, a $2 million suite renovation, and improvements to meeting rooms and two restaurants.

  • A $20 million renovation completed in December concluded with a new name at the Scottsdale Resort & Conference Center, formerly the Scottsdale Conference Resort. The year-long project encompassed structural and decorative improvements to the hotel's lobby, front desk, lounge, restaurant, and golf course casitas.

  • Scottsdale Plaza Resort has completed a $4 million renovation of 180 guest suites. Meeting rooms received new carpeting and air walls.

  • In March 2004 the Hyatt Regency Scottsdale breaks ground on a 21,000-square-foot, two-story spa. Completion is scheduled for spring 2005.

  • The Spa at Camelback Inn has reopened after a complete renovation. The new 32,000-square-foot spa features 32 treatment rooms, a fitness center, swimming pool, and a restaurant offering spa cuisine.


  • The city's first new resort in 18 years, Marriott Starr Pass, will open in December with 575 guest rooms, 50,000 square feet of meeting space, and a 20,000-square-foot spa.


Palm Springs

  • In April Palm Springs Convention Center will begin a $27.5 million expansion to include 20,000 square feet of new meeting space and 35,000 square feet of new exhibit hall space. Completion is scheduled for fall 2005.

  • The Riviera Resort & Racquet Club recently completed a $5 million renovation of its lobby, guest rooms, suites, and corridors.


Las Vegas

  • The Hotel at Mandalay Bay has opened with 1,120 one- and two-bedroom suites, a spa, and a rooftop restaurant and lounge. Adjacent to 5,000 square feet of conference space are “business suites” offering attendees the convenience of having a guest room on the same floor as their meeting.

  • The $2 billion Wynn Las Vegas will open in spring 2005 with flat-screen plasma televisions in all guest rooms, an 18-hole Tom Fazio — designed golf course, a spa with 45 treatment rooms, and 200,000 square feet of meeting space.

  • A $40 million renovation has transformed the former Maxim Hotel into the new 17-story Westin Casuarina, offering 815 guest rooms and suites, a casino, an 11,000-square-foot spa, and 15,000 square feet of meeting space.

  • Rio Hotel & Casino is undergoing a $31 million expansion that will add 60,000 square feet of meeting space by December, bringing total meeting capacity to 160,000 square feet.

  • At Bellagio, the $375 million Spa Tower is scheduled to open in December 2004. The tower will add 928 guest rooms, a larger spa, additional restaurant and retail space, and 60,000 square feet of new meeting space.

  • A $275 million expansion at the Venetian includes a 1,013 all-suite guest room tower and 150,000 square feet of new meeting space, including three ballrooms, 64 meeting rooms, and three boardrooms.

  • Ritz-Carlton, Lake Las Vegas has opened with 349 guest rooms and suites, a 30,000-square-foot spa, 36 holes of golf, and 33,000 square feet of meeting space.

Phantom Planner

  • Meeting planners often provide information regarding attire, but aren't specific about footwear. Snakes and scorpions are a reality and low-heeled, closed-toes shoes are a must for outdoor activities.

  • If Arizona-bound attendees want to visit Kartchner Caverns, the newest State Park in the United States, make reservations early. It's nearly impossible to get tickets after arrival.

  • While the perception is that the Palm Springs Desert Resorts area is a difficult destination to get to, the reality is that Palm Springs International Airport has established convenient, nonstop flights from major hubs, including Atlanta, Chicago, Minneapolis/St. Paul, and Salt Lake City.

  • Check with your Palm Springs Desert Resorts — area hotel about airport to hotel transportation. While most City of Palm Springs hotels provide complimentary airport shuttles, the majority of hotels in neighboring cities do not.

  • Las Vegas is backing away from its former “family friendly” image and returning to its roots in adult entertainment. Attendees should think twice before bringing children.


Scottsdale is abuzz about Sassi. The new (opened February 2004) dining, meeting, and special event venue, scenically nestled on six acres at the base of Pinnacle Peak, offers five dining rooms — each a replica of a room in an Italian villa — for private lunches and dinners. A meeting room accommodating up to 150 offers a sophisticated sound system, projection screen, and Internet capability. (480) 502-3335 www.sassi.biz

Special Venues

  • Los Cedros USA is a Moroccan-style Arabian horse ranch in Scottsdale offering guests an up-close look at the exotic equine breed. Attendees enjoy guided tours, seminars, and a dinner show showcasing the magnificent Arabians. (480) 575-6100, www.loscedrosusa.com

  • In Tucson, the world's largest privately funded aeromuseum, Pima Air and Space Museum, features a vast array of aircraft from around the world, an 80-seat auditorium, and airplane hangers accommodating groups of up to 550 for dining, dancing, and aviation-inspired theme parties. (520) 618-4864, www.pimaair.org.

  • Palapas at Araby Cove in Palm Springs offers 14 acres of lush gardens with trickling waterfalls and tropical foliage that provides the setting for theme parties and special events. Local and visiting artists demonstrate their skills in a variety of media (you can order handmade corporate gifts). (760) 416-1818, www.palapas.net

  • Ascend 2.5 miles to the top of rugged Chino Canyon on the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway aboard the world's largest rotating cars. At the summit are a meeting room, banquet room, and the new Elevation restaurant offering sweeping views of the valley below. (760) 325-1391, (888) 515-TRAM, www.pstramway.com

  • Lazy K Bar Ranch hosts meetings, corporate retreats, and teambuilding exercises in an authentic ranch setting near Tucson. The Mountain Pavilion Conference Center features a 1,550-square-foot meeting room with adjoining patio, audiovisual capabilities, data ports, and an outdoor pavilion with a boulder-framed stage. (520) 774-3050, (800) 321-7018, www.lazykbar.com

  • The Harley-Davidson Café in Las Vegas allows groups to book the entire top floor for private dinners and theme parties. Customized menus, theme buffet stations, live music, and event photos are available. (702) 740-4555, www.harley-davidsoncafe.com


Greater Phoenix Convention & Visitors Bureau

(877) 225-5749, www.visitphoenix.com
Total hotel tax: 12.07%

Scottsdale CVB

(480) 421-1004, (800) 782-1117
Total hotel tax: 11.67%

Metropolitan Tucson CVB

(520) 624-1817, (800) 638-8350
Total hotel tax: 7.5%

Palm Springs Desert Resorts Convention & Visitors Authority

(760) 770-9000, (800) 967-3767
Total hotel tax: 9.25% to 12.50%

Las Vegas CVA

(702) 892-0711, (877) MEET-N-LV
Total hotel tax : 9% to 11%