There are four roller coasters on the Las Vegas Strip.…The average age of a Las Vegas visitor is 49.9 years.…A Las Vegas visitor's gambling budget averages $559.…Las Vegas booked 3,847 conventions in 1999.
Scottsdale hosts about 1.4 million rounds of golf annually.…Tucson claims more sunny days per year than any U.S. city — about 350.…Palm Springs is the “Mineral Water Capital of the World.”
More than 12 million passengers have ridden the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway since it opened in 1963.
Southwestern cities are sparkling under the desert sun as they enjoy an economic boom that shows no sign of losing its luster. Celebrities and meeting attendees alike enjoy the charms of venerable Palm Springs; Las Vegas and Phoenix/Scottsdale are two of the fastest growing cities in the United States, and Tucson leads Arizona in job growth. The desert's riches offer meeting planners a treasure chest of world-class hotels, resorts, exciting entertainment, and superb recreation.
The best way to see what $3 billion in building permits over three years looks like is to take a ride on Palm Springs' oldest attraction, the Aerial Tramway. Recently reopened after a $12 million renovation, the roomy new cars offer spectacular views of the burgeoning Coachella Valley and slowly rotate as they ascend 8,516 feet from the desert floor to the gateway of Mount San Jacinto State Park.
“Let the good times roll” means more than a lucky toss of the dice in Las Vegas, the city that loves to celebrate its excess. The city's name in Spanish translates to “the meadows,” but it's a sure bet that Las Vegas sees more green from a 130 percent growth in meeting attendance during the last decade than from agriculture.
In Arizona, Phoenix has given the green light for a light-rail rapid transit system to be completed by 2006. A long-awaited third convention hotel, however, remains mired in controversy. Nearby, Scottsdale embraces its identity as “The West's Most Western Town” despite the proliferation of sophisticated shops and nightclubs. Even Scottsdale's first freeway shows flair — an artscape of southwestern colors and huge, textured images — as it whisks visitors to and from the ever-expanding Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport.
Tucson, one of the Southwest's oldest cities, celebrated its 225th birthday last year and continues to gain a reputation as a mecca for tourism, spas, and golf.
I WAS THERE
When Affiliated FM Global Insurance Company decided that a year of exceptional performance justified a special destination for its annual training and recognition meeting, Assistant Vice President of Marketing Richard S. Baird immediately selected Scottsdale.
“Scottsdale offers meeting planners a great opportunity to diversify their programs and agendas by taking advantage of the unique elements of the Southwest,” says Baird. “In just three days our group enjoyed golf, horseback riding, jeep tours, Mexican and Western theme parties, and tours of the Heard Museum and the Botanical Gardens.”
FM Global's 80 attendees — underwriters, engineers, and management from 14 cities in the U.S. and Canada — found Scottsdale logistically accessible and the Scottsdale Conference Resort to be a model of western hospitality.
“Everything at the resort was first-class. The staff was experienced and they provided everything, from soup to nuts.”
Baird says he would be hard pressed to change anything about his Scottsdale meeting experience but admits that meeting later in March might have avoided the desert's surprisingly chilly evening temperatures.
For meetings where the quantity and quality of golf courses is paramount, Palm Springs is the place to be, says Jim Ihlar, director of marketing programs for Shelter Insurance Companies. His 200-person annual incentive meeting alternates between beach and desert cities, with the Marriott Desert Springs Resort in Palm Desert a consistent crowd pleaser.
Says Ihlar, “We like the Desert Springs Resort because it has three golf courses, five restaurants, and many activities on site.”
Over the course of four days attendees enjoyed unlimited access to activities including hot-air ballooning and sail planing. A formal dinner dance, a ladies' breakfast at an elegant local hacienda, and plenty of recreation for nongolfers rounded out the meeting.
Ihlar urges planners evaluating desert meeting sites to check out the city's schedule of golf tournaments. By carefully selecting meeting dates, a group can enjoy, or avoid, one of the many major golf tournaments held in the desert.
“We see it as added value because so many of our attendees love golf. I once had a meeting coincide with a Dinah Shore, and the group really enjoyed it.”
MY FAVORITE EVENT
Since 1969, Arizona's firsthas been creatively introducing meeting attendees to the beauty of the Sonoran Desert. Michael Pavlik, president of Southwest Events (480/947-6800), says planners always rave about his twist on the now-familiar cowboy cookout.
Attendees head out in jeeps for an afternoon of four-wheeling through the desert. After a few hours of learning about the region's flora and fauna, listening to legends and tall tales, and hoping to view a legendary sunset, they gasp at the mirage-like spectacle awaiting them as the jeeps crest the last butte: Tuxedoed waiters bearing trays of warm hand towels are stationed on a white carpet laid over the freshly swept desert floor among uplighted cacti and boulders. Guests are seated on gold Schivari chairs at rounds of linen-topped tables, while a pianist plays a white baby grand. All of the classic western cuisine is prepared on-site, from biscuits and brisket to peach cobbler and ice cream.
After dinner, telescopes and astronomers are on hand to give tours of the night sky. A computer charts the stars and creates souvenir printouts.
Peggy Glenn of Blue Sky Destinations (480/951-1218) believes that a surefire way to imprint the Southwest meeting experience on attendees is with the cuisine, crafts, music, and dance of the Native American tribes whose lands occupy 25 percent of Arizona. The Heard Museum in downtown Phoenix, specializing in Native American arts, is her favorite venue for the event. Guests are greeted by traditionally attired tribal members proffering ceremonial corn necklaces, accompanied by the haunting tunes of wooden flutes played by Hopi, Navajo, or Zuni musicians. Linens depicting petroglyph designs drape tables on the lawn next to troughs of flowing water. Dinner features indigenous ingredients with a gourmet twist.
Education and entertainment merge as hoop dancers explain the symbolism of their maneuvers, museum docents lead tours, and artisans demonstrate their crafts. A high point is a Navajo sandpainter who painstakingly creates the client's logo from millions of tiny grains onto an adhesive-coated board for a lasting memento.
WHERE TO GO
Palm Springs Area
“I once had a meeting coincide with a Dinah Shore tournament, and the group really enjoyed it.” — Jim Ihlar, Shelter Insurance Companies
Nowhere is the current boom in spas and wellness centers more evident than in the Southwest, where dry, clear air and mild temperatures encourage the renewal of body, mind and spirit. This fall, the Fairmont Scottsdale Princess will open a 33,000-square-foot spa with 26 treatment rooms, fitness facility, and salon.
LAS VEGAS — New
The only major resort to open on the Las Vegas Strip in 2000, Aladdin Hotel & Casino offers 2,600 guest rooms, 75,000 square feet of meeting space, a 7,000-seat theater, six restaurants, and two pools.
Strong room demand at The Venetian has the hotel considering adding up to 3,000 rooms in a new beach-theme tower to be built over the parking structure. A new 63,700-square-foot building with exhibition space for large-scale traveling exhibits opens this summer.
The $200 million Suncoast Hotel-Casino opened northwest of The Strip last September with 200 guest rooms. The hotel plans to add 220 more rooms soon.
A $60 million renovation under way at Caesar's Palace includes a $20 million exterior makeover, new restaurants, and a nightclub. Twelve ultra-luxurious new suites are scheduled to open in May.
By early 2004, the monorail linking the MGM Grand and Bally's Las Vegas will be extended to include stops at The Venetian, Flamingo Hilton, Las Vegas Convention Center, Las Vegas Hilton, and the Sahara Hotel.
PHOENIX/SCOTTSDALE — New
Marriott Desert Ridge Resort & Spa in northeast Phoenix will be Arizona's largest resort hotel when it opens in November 2002 with 950 guest rooms, and 200,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor meeting space.
The 493 newly renovated guest rooms at Hyatt Regency Scottsdale now offer high-speed Internet access. The resort's 12,000-square-foot Arizona Ballroom was completed in January.
An $18 million project completed at Hilton Scottsdale Resort & Villas includes the addition of a 10,000-square-foot ballroom, renovation of all 186 guest rooms, and a new restaurant.
The Wigwam Resort in Litchfield Park west of Phoenix is undergoing a $10 million refurbishment including expanded bathrooms, new soft goods and furniture for guest rooms, a new spa, and dramatic water features for the resort's main pool.
Scottsdale's Chaparral Suites Hotel has opened the 11,200-square-foot Chaparral Grand Ballroom featuring state-of-the-art audiovisual technology.
Pointe South Mountain Resort is under the new management of Destination Hotels & Resorts. In October the resort completed The Paseo, a $3 million promenade and outdoor event space featuring fountains, gardens, sculptured walkways, and a sound and lighting system.
SANTA FE — Expanded
Bishop's Lodge added 21 new deluxe guest rooms, bringing the total to 111. A new conference center will open this spring with 38,000 square feet of meeting space and a business center.
In April 2000, La Posada de Santa Fe opened a 4,500-square-foot conference center accommodating groups up to 200.
TUCSON — Expanded
A new 25,000-square-foot conference center opened at the 428-room Sheraton El Conquistador, bringing total meeting space to 55,000 square feet. The resort's also refurbished its 138 casitas.
CONTACT THE CVB
Las Vegas Convention & Visitors Authority
(702) 892-0711, (800) 332-5333
• Fax: (702) 892-2824
Total room tax: Downtown: 11%; Strip: 9%
Greater Phoenix Convention & Visitors Bureau
(602) 254-6500, (877) 225-5749
• Fax: (602) 253-4415; www.phoenixcvb.com
Total room tax: 11.07%, Phoenix; 10.67%, Scottsdale
Scottsdale Convention & Visitors Bureau
(480) 945-8481, (800) 805-0471
• Fax: (480) 947-4523; www.scottsdalecvb.com
Santa Fe Convention & Visitors Bureau
(505) 955-6200, (800) 984-9984
• Fax: (505) 955-6222; www.santafe.org
Tucson Convention & Visitors Bureau
(520) 624-1817, (800) 638-8350
• Fax: (520) 884-7804; www.visittucson.org
CENTERS OF THE ACTION
LAS VEGAS Convention Center — has 12 exhibition halls, 102 meeting rooms, and over one million square feet of exhibit space; 18,000 hotel rooms are within walking distance. The new 1.3 million-square-foot South Hall brings total space to over 7.5 million square feet. (702) 892-0711
PHOENIX Civic Plaza — has 249,000 square feet of contiguous exhibit space, 45 meeting rooms, and a 28,000-square-foot ballroom. (800) 282-4842
TUCSON Convention Center — has 205,000 square feet of meeting space encompassing an arena, exhibition hall, ballroom, and galleria. (520) 791-4101