Few destinations so skillfully blend their natural and man-made attributes as Arizona. There is the beauty of the desert, the constancy of the sunshine, the marvel of the Grand Canyon. But Arizona also has among the nation's most 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 Phoenix area, where insurance planners already have a wide selection of high-end accommodations. One of the new properties, a 1,000-room Peabody, is the centerpiece of a sprawling multi-use development in Tempe and will be the state's largest hotel. A 700-room Westin resort near the Phoenix/Scottsdale border will be the chain's only 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 unworthy 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. And in September 1998, Major League Baseball's Arizona Diamondbacks expansion team will begin play in the Bank One Ballpark, a new stadium with a retractable roof.

Also in the Phoenix area, ground was broken earlier this year on the 15-acre Scottsdale Waterfront, a retail and entertainment center slated for completion in 1998. Located along the banks of the Arizona Canal, the Waterfront will be anchored by a 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 higher can count on sharp discounts. And regardless of the time of year, Phoenix, Scottsdale, and Tucson are ideal launching points for incentive groups wishing to sample the rest of the state.

Hotel News Phoenix area A 1,000-room Peabody with 125,000 square feet of meeting space has received approvals from the city of Tempe and 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, mixed-use development to be built around a lake in the northern part of Tempe. Recreational amenities will include 36 holes of golf.

The Rouse Company, developer of Arizona Center, the 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, with 40,000 square feet of meeting space. Pending resolution of financing, the Renaissance could break ground in late 1997, with a spring 1999 opening.

Woodbine Southwest Corporation 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 Pointe 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.

Fresh from a property-wide $50 million renovation, the Arizona Biltmore has launched a $2.5 million expansion of its spa. Among additions are three therapeutic spas and an outdoor massage area surrounded by hedges and fountains. 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 and 60,000 square feet of meeting space.

The Royal Palms, in Phoenix, reopened in April following a year-long, $12 million restoration. The Mediterranean-style property, built around a circa-1929 mansion, has 116 casita rooms and suites and 10,000 square feet of 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.

Tucson 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. To date, the resort has renovated its 487 guest rooms and suites and added a 177-foot water slide and two pools, one for adults and one for children. Renovation of the 18,000-square-foot Arizona Ballroom was completed during the summer.

In the foothills of the Catalina Mountains, the Loews Ventana Canyon Resort (with 398 guest rooms and 37,000 square feet of meeting space) has expanded its spa by 7,000 square feet as part of a $2.8 million renovation. The spa now has eight treatment rooms, a workout room, an aerobics studio, and a beauty salon, among other facilities.

The Westward Look Resort last year opened its Wellness Center, offering massages and a variety of other body treatments using desert plants, herbs, and minerals. In April, the resort completed a multimillion-dollar renovation of its circa-1912 ranch house, which now opens into the resort lobby. The resort, the oldest in Tucson, has 244 guest rooms and 8,000 square feet of meeting space.

The 428-room Sheraton El Conquistador Resort and Country Club has completed the final phase of its $5 million renovation. The lobby's Southwest design was enhanced, and its floor was excavated to create a sunken lounge with a dance floor. Also, 140 guest rooms received new carpeting and bathroom remodeling.

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 spa, and a 27-hole championship golf course.

Miraval, set on over 135 acres of secluded desert in the Santa Catalina Mountains north of Tucson, has 106 casita-style rooms and suites, and a trademarked Life in Balance system of recreational, stress management, and self-discovery programs. Guests can choose from among yoga, meditation, t'ai chi, a challenge course, nutrition consultation, and activities including hiking, biking, horseback riding, aerobics, tennis, and swimming. The Personal Service Center offers skin care/facials, hair and nail care, massages, and body treatments. The all-inclusive resort's personal trainers provide one-on-one fitness consultations to develop effective exercise routines designed to be continued at home.

Getting There 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 America West Airlines and Southwest Airlines. Most area hotels and resorts are within a 30-minute drive of the airport. A cost-effective way of getting to area hotels is by SuperShuttle, which operates vans 24 hours a day. An individual, one-way fare between the airport and the Arizona Biltmore in Phoenix is $10, for example; and to The Phoenician in Scottsdale, $15. A group can arrange for exclusive use of a SuperShuttle van.

Major airlines serving Tucson International Airport are America West, American, Continental, Southwest, Delta, North- west, 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 nonstops to Tucson are Chicago (American), Cincinnati (Delta), and Minneapolis-St. Paul (Northwest).

In Tucson, Arizona Stagecoach provides airport van service. The individual fare to the to most resorts is is $21; for those traveling in a group, the fare is $15 per person.

How's the Weather? Temperatures in the desert range from the bracing--average highs in the 60s during the winter--to the stultifying--100-degree readings throughout the summer. February through April are ideal months to visit, with average highs in the 70s, average 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.

Evening temperatures in the desert dip into the 30s and 40s December through February.

Tax and Money Matters 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.

Venue Menu When fire destroyed 40 percent of Old Tucson Studios in 1995, the venerable Old West tourist attraction and film set--created by Columbia Pictures in 1939 for the movie Arizona--dusted itself off and rebuilt. Many of its facilities are spanking new, such as the Hotel and Saloon, a 7,000-square-foot show venue that seats up to 400 persons; and Town Hall, which accommodates up to 300 for meetings, receptions, and dinners. Old Tucson Studios has Tucson's greatest special-event capacity: an outdoor picnic area can host 2,500 persons, and groups of up to 4,000 can take over the entire facility.

Downtown Phoenix's newest attraction, the Arizona Science Center, won't be its newest attraction for long, not with the Bank One Ballpark, future home of the National League's Arizona Diamondbacks, going up just a couple of blocks away. The science center, which moved into its new building in April, has 350 hands-on exhibits. The lobby accommodates up to 300 for a sit-down dinner and up to500 for a reception. A theater seats 285, and a planetarium seats 200.

FOR MORE INFORMATION Mesa Convention and Visitors Bureau Bob Crouse, dir. of sales and mktg. * (800) 283-MESA Fax: (602) 827-0727 www.arizonaguide.com/mesa

Phoenix and Valley of the Sun Convention and Visitors Bureau Peggy Whitman, Leighann Parrish,managers, national convention sales * (800) 535-8898 Fax: (602) 253-4415 www.arizonaguide.com/phoenix

Scottsdale Chamber of Commerce Kathy McCarthy, convention sales manager * (800) 877-1177 Fax: (602) 947-4523 www.arizonaguide.com/scottsdale

Tempe Convention and Visitors Bureau Debra Woodrow, director of sales and marketing * (800) 283-6734 Fax: (602) 968-8004 www.arizonaguide.com/tempe

Metropolitan Tucson Convention & Visitors Bureau Susan Skinner, director of sales * (800) 638-8350 Fax: (520) 884-7804 www.arizonaguide.com/visittucson