WHAT'S NEW

If you happened to be in Arizona in late 2002, you might have heard the snipping of shears in the desert air as multiple ribbon-cutting ceremonies marked the debut of several new resorts, including the state's largest. While most of the new construction is found in the resort mecca of Phoenix/Scottsdale, ground has also been broken, 100 miles to the south, on Tucson's first new resort in 15 years.

In a state renowned for the quality of its health and wellness facilities, new and established properties continue to invest heavily in the construction of elaborate resort spas, which are designed to entice guests seeking the latest in exotic treatments and relaxation. Hot stone massage, the use of indigenous plants, and the adaptation of American Indian healing rituals are among the newest trends.

As competition for meetings heats up among Arizona's resorts, creativity is sizzling — if you find yourself thinking that casinos, canal boats, and wildlife are attractions found only in a glitzy city on the other side of the Grand Canyon, then it's time to reacquaint yourself with the nation's 48th state.

MY FAVORITE EVENT

For a company that requested a special evening to reflect its meeting's theme of unity, Joyce Hergert, of Plaza Planners in Scottsdale, wove a multitude of cultural elements into Cowboys and Indians, a uniquely Arizona experience.

After selecting cowboy hats and colorful bandannas to put them in the Wild West spirit, the 300 guests departed in a convoy of Jeeps for a tour of the Sonoran Desert. At sunset, the vehicles headed for the Fort McDowell Indian Reservation northeast of Phoenix. As they neared the open-air, reconstructed Spanish mission, the thunder of hooves and gunshots halted the procession. Armed bandits on horseback arrived and kidnapped the CEO before sending the rest of the guests on their way.

On arrival, attendees were greeted by brightly costumed saloon girls carrying drinks and hors d'oeuvres. An American Indian flutist led the way to dining tables. The sound of thundering hooves announced the arrival of the CEO on Frosty, an 800-pound Brahma Bull.

After a traditional welcome prayer led by an American Indian, the group was entertained by a hoop dancer before joining in the Unity Dance, an interactive friendship dance culminating in the group being led, hand in hand, to a Southwestern theme buffet. A singing cowboy on horseback entertained during dinner, followed by line dance lessons. Guests enjoyed cowboy games and watching local artisans, while others climbed onto the mechanical bull or learned how to rope a calf.

VENUE MENU Phoenix and Scottsdale

  • The world's largest collection of desert plants and flowers is displayed on five thematic trails with 60 interactive outdoor exhibits at the Desert Botanical Garden. An open-air, covered pavilion accommodates up to 125 guests; several other venues in the garden are available for groups of 30 to 300. (480) 941-1225; www.dbg.org

  • Ten exhibit galleries at the acclaimed Heard Museum showcase American Indian crafts and paintings. Private dinners for groups can be arranged. (602) 252-8840; www.heard.org



Tucson

  • The Arizona Sonoran Desert Museum is a combination wildlife zoo, natural history museum, and botanical garden. Galleries, terraces, cafés, and gardens can host groups of up to 200 for a meeting or 140 for a banquet featuring foods native to the region. (520) 883-2702; www.desertmuseum.org



THE PHANTOM PLANNER

  • If your travel plans include renting a car upon arrival at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, be aware that a variety of taxes can dramatically inflate the basic rental charge. If you're not comfortable paying more for a rental car than for some airfares to the city, consider using your hotel's van service, a taxi, or renting a car only for the days you will truly need one.

  • Slathering on sunscreen and drinking plenty of water are a way of life in arid Arizona, but certain prescription medications can create additional sensitivity to the sun's rays. Know before you go if your Rx has the potential to boost your chances of leaving with a souvenir sunburn.

  • Arizona has abundant wildlife, which turns up everywhere. If you encounter a coyote, rattlesnake, or bobcat on the golf course, step back in a non-threatening manner and let the animal continue on its way before resuming your game.

  • One of Scottsdale's most picturesque landmarks, Pinnacle Peak, is now more than a scenic vista. New hiking trails offer the opportunity to experience the desert firsthand while enjoying spectacular views. The trails are suitable for all skill levels, but wear hiking boots, not tennis shoes, for safe traction.



CONTACT THE CVB

Greater Phoenix Convention & Visitors Bureau

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

Scottsdale CVB

(480) 421-1004; (800) 782-1117
• Fax: (480) 421-9733
www.meetinscottsdale.com
Total Hotel Tax: 11.67%

Metropolitan Tucson CVB

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

GOING Up

PHOENIX & SCOTTSDALE — New

  • Sheraton's new Wild Horse Pass Resort & Spa offers 500 guest rooms and 17 meeting rooms, a spa, equestrian center, and four swimming pools.

  • Arizona's largest resort, the $315 million JW Marriott Desert Ridge Resort & Spa, opened in November with 950 guest rooms, including 85 suites, and 170,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor meeting space

  • The 750-room Westin Kierland Resort & Spa opened in December with 735 guest rooms including 63 suites and 32 casitas sited near a 27-hole golf course. The resort has 60,000 square feet of meeting space and a spa.



Renovation

  • Scottsdale Resort and Conference Center refurbished all 326 of its guest rooms and three presidential suites. Its conference facilities can accommodate 1,000; it is surrounded by two 18-hole golf courses.



TUCSON — New

  • Ground has been broken for The Marriott at Starr Pass. Tucson's first new resort in 15 years will be the largest in southern Arizona when it opens in December 2004 with 575 guest rooms, 66,000 square feet of meeting space, and a spa.



Renovation

  • The Hilton El Conquistador Golf & Tennis Resort has 428 newly remodeled guest rooms and suites, a new $3 million water complex, 100,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor meeting space, and 45 holes of golf.



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