New destinations have so skillfully blended their natural and man-made attributes as Arizona. There is the beauty of the desert, the relentlessness of the sunshine, the marvel of the Grand Canyon. But Arizona also has among the nation's most lavish and acclaimed resorts, properties renowned for their beauty and attention to service.

The state will be adding several significant hotel properties to its portfolio--all in the booming Phoenix area, where meeting executives already have a wide selection of high-end accommodations. One of the new properties, a 1,000-room Peabody that is a centerpiece of a sprawling multiuse development in Tempe, is to be the state's largest hotel. A 700-room Westin resort near the Phoenix/Scottsdale border will be the chain's first Arizona property. A Renaissance hotel with 640 guest rooms will join the Hyatt Regency Phoenix and Crowne Plaza Phoenix as the major hotels in downtown Phoenix. All three hotels are scheduled to be up and running before 2000.

Long dismissed as not being worthy of attendees' time, Phoenix's compact downtown now merits a serious look. Its anchor shopping and entertainment attraction, Arizona Center, was joined this year by the relocated Arizona Science Center, a versatile party and reception venue.

Ground was broken earlier this year on the 15-acre Scottsdale Waterfront, a retail and entertainment center that's slated for completion in 1998. Located along the banks of the Arizona Canal, the Waterfront will be anchored by a 225,000-square-foot Nordstrom department store.

In Tucson, a small city that is more evocative of the Old West than Phoenix, the meeting and tourism industry got a boost early this year when one of its premier attractions and group venues, Old Tucson Studios, reopened after a devastating 1995 fire. Most of its facilities have been rebuilt.

As always, the resorts in Phoenix, Scottsdale, and Tucson offer the advantages of off-season and shoulder-season rates. Those willing to be in the desert when temperatures reach 90 degrees or more can count on sharp discounts. And regardless of the time of year, Phoenix, Scottsdale, and Tucson are ideal launching-off points for incentive groups wishing to sample the rest of the state. The Grand Canyon, 220 miles north of Phoenix, can be visited by air during a day trip. Sedona, famed for its red-rock formations, is 120 miles north of Phoenix.

Phoenix Area * A 1,000-room Peabody with 125,000 square feet of meeting space is tentatively scheduled to break ground about two miles from Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport in early 1998. Completion is forecast by December 1999. The $185 million hotel is part of Rio Salado, a 3,600-acre, seven million-square-foot, mixed-use development to be built around a lake in the northern part of Tempe. A complex featuring 100,000 square feet of restaurants and shops is planned adjacent to the hotel. Recreational amenities will include 36 holes of golf.

* The Rouse Co., developer of Arizona Center, the 150,000-square-foot shopping and entertainment complex in downtown Phoenix, has signed a memorandum of understanding to build a 640-room hotel bearing the Renaissance brand at Arizona Center. The property will be one block from the Phoenix Civic Plaza and will have 40,000 square feet of meeting space. Pending resolution of financing, the Renaissance could break ground as early as late 1997, with a spring 1999 opening.

* Woodbine Southwest Corp. has signed an agreement with Westin Hotels & Resorts to build a 700-room resort in a master-planned community in northeast Phoenix. The Westin Kierland Resort, now in the design stage, will have 60,000 square feet of meeting space. The property is slated for a fall 1999 opening.

* The Pointe Hilton Resort at Tapatio Cliffs has opened a three-acre swimming pool and waterfall complex patterned after Havasupai Falls in the Grand Canyon. The $7 million project encompasses two pools, a 138-foot water slide, a 40-foot waterfall, and 23 cabanas. In addition, the property is now being jointly marketed with the 564-suite Pointe Hilton Resort at Squaw Peak and the 640-suite Point Hilton at South Mountain, both also located in Phoenix. The centralized sales force will offer meeting executives one-stop shopping.

* The Phoenician, in Scottsdale, opened its new Canyon Building last October. The addition, with 40 guest suites, 20 guest rooms, and three hospitality suites, brings the total number of guest units at the property to 640. In November, the resort added nine holes of golf designed by Ted Robinson, for a total of 27 holes. The Phoenician has 60,000 square feet of meeting space.

* Fresh from a property-wide $50 million renovation, the Arizona Biltmore has launched a $2.5 million renovation and expansion of its spa. The project is scheduled for completion by October 1, at which time the hotel will be renamed the Arizona Biltmore Resort & Spa. The Biltmore has 600 guest units, including 50 ownership villas that are part of its rental pool, and 60,000 square feet of meeting space.

* The Royal Palms, in Phoenix, reopened in April following a yearlong, $12 million restoration. The Mediterranean-style property, built around a circa-1929 mansion, has 116 casitas and suites and 10,000 square feet of newly reconfigured meeting space.

* A $3 million refurbishment project has been completed at the 325-room Scottsdale Conference Resort. Living and study areas, as well as bathrooms, were updated in 263 guest rooms and suites.

Sedona * As part of a $4 million renovation, Poco Diablo Hotel & Resort has added 28 executive guest rooms, for a total of 137 rooms. Each new room is 480 square feet and has a gas-burning fireplace and a whirlpool. The resort has 6,000 square feet of meeting and function space.

Tucson * The 147-room Rodeway Inn, two miles from the Tucson Convention Center, opened a separate Events Center in January 1996. The new building has a 14,400-square-foot exhibit hall.

* The Westin La Paloma has completed a $1.5 million renovation of its lobby, Desert Garden Bistro & Lounge, and retail corridor. The project was the latest phase in the resort's overall renovation, which began in 1994. Renovation of the 18,000-square-foot Arizona Ballroom is scheduled for later this year. The property has 42,000 square feet of meeting and function space.

* As part of a $2.8 million renovation, the Loews Ventana Canyon Resort has expanded its full-service spa by 7,000 square feet and redesigned its Flying V Bar & Grill. The renovated, enlarged spa now has eight treatment rooms, an expanded glass-enclosed workout room, an aerobics studio, and a full-service beauty salon, among other facilities. The resort has 398 guest rooms and 37,000 square feet of meeting and function space.

* The Westward Look Resort last year opened its Wellness Center, which offers massages and a variety of other body treatments using desert plants, herbs, and minerals. The Wellness Center, meant to evoke an Old West bathhouse, has six treatment rooms, locker facilities, and an aerobics studio. In April, the Westward Look completed a multimillion dollar renovation of its original, circa-1912 ranch house, which now opens into the resort lobby. The adjacent Vigas Room was given a new look with brightly colored rugs and new furniture, and a 1,600-square-foot gift boutique was created next to it. The resort has 244 guest rooms and 8,000 square feet of meeting space.

* The Sheraton El Conquistador Resort and Country Club completed the third and final phase of its $5 million renovation last summer. The lobby's Southwestern design was enhanced, and its floor was excavated to create a sunken lounge with dance floor. Also, 140 guest rooms received new carpeting and bathroom remodeling. The property has 428 guest rooms and 30,000 square feet of meeting space.

* The Tucson National Golf & Conference Resort joined the Omni chain in 1996 and is now the Omni Tucson National Golf Resort & Spa. The property, home of the PGA Tour's Tucson Chrysler Classic, has 167 guest rooms, 15,000 square feet of meeting space, a European-style spa, and a 27-hole championship golf course.

All major U.S. airlines and two European carriers--British Airways and LTU International Airways--fly into Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport. Phoenix is a hub for low-fare carriers America West and Southwest.

Most Phoenix/Scottsdale hotels and resorts are within a 30-minute drive of the Phoenix airport. SuperShuttle service operates shared vans 24 hours a day. No reservations are required for trips from the airport; for trips to the airport, reservations should be placed at least two days in advance. Fares vary according to distance. The taxi fare to downtown Phoenix is about $12.

Major airlines serving Tucson International Airport are America West, American, Continental, Delta, Northwest, Southwest, and United. Nonstop service is available to 15 U.S. cities, mostly in the West and Southwest. The only cities in the East and Midwest with Tucson nonstops are Chicago (American), Cincinnati (Delta), and Minneapolis-St. Paul (Northwest). America West provides Phoenix Tucson service throughout the day.

In Tucson, Arizona Stagecoach provides airport shared-van service. No reservations are needed from the airport; to the airport, 24-hour notice is required. The individual fare to the Westin La Paloma, Sheraton El Conquistador, Loews Ventana Canyon Resort, and Westward Look Resort is $21; for those traveling in a group (the van seats up to ten persons), the fare is $15 per person. Taxi fares to those resorts range between $30 and $40. The taxi fare to downtown Tucson is about $17.

Temperatures in the desert range from average highs in the 60s during the winter to 100-degree readings in the summer. February through April are ideal months to visit, with highs in the 70s, lows in the 50s, and very little rain. August, on the other hand, brings an average high and low of 106 and 83 to Phoenix/ Scottsdale and 96 and 72 to Tucson, as well as the best chance for rain. Tucson has slightly cooler temperatures year-round than Phoenix/Scottsdale.

The tax on hotel rooms is 10.625 percent in Phoenix, 10.725 percent in Scottsdale, 9.875 percent in Mesa, 10.025 percent in Tempe, and, depending on location, either 7.5 percent, 8.5 percent, or 9.5 percent in the Tucson area. The sales tax in Arizona ranges between 7 and 7.5 percent.*