Arizona continues to be a destination of choice for medical meeting planners — and the hospitality community is aiming to keep it that way with renewed efforts to cater to the meeting industry and the addition of new venues.
Steve Moore, president and CEO of the Greater Phoenix Chamber of Commerce, says the city is accommodating more short-term bookings with as little as 30 days lead time. With 51,000 hotel rooms in the Valley of the Sun, the destination certainly has the available inventory.
Phoenix will add 2,200 rooms to that total by year's end, when the JW Marriott Desert Ridge adds 950 rooms; the Westin Kierland, 750 rooms; and the Sheraton Wildhorse Resort & Spa, 500.
In Tucson, Rick Vaughn, vice president, sales andfor the Metro Tucson CVB, reports slower bookings. He says that in an effort to attract business, the area is making value-added offers to groups. He hopes this will help to boost hotel occupancy, which is down 7 percent over last year.
In Scottsdale, three new resort spas have opened recently: The Golden Door Spa at The Boulders, The Spa at Sanctuary on Camelback Mountain, and Willow Stream — The Spa at Fairmont at The Fairmont Scottsdale Princess. In December 2001, We-Ko-Pa Golf Club opened, and it has been named one of the top 10 new courses in the world by Sports Illustrated. Also in Scottsdale, the Desert Botanical Garden has completed a recent $17 million expansion, including Dorrance Hall, a 400-seat reception hall and gallery.
For Diane Snyder, marketing associate and meeting planner for Eli Lilly and Co., Indianapolis, the third time at the Four Seasons Hotel and Resort, Troon North, in Scottsdale, was a charm — but not an unexpected one.
“We've been here three times now, and each time it gets better,” says Snyder. Her first exposure to the property was on a site visit when the hotel first opened. “Then, we brought in 35 people for our first meeting,” she says. “Our second visit in 2000 was with 35, and in July we had 39 delegates. Consistency is what I like about the Four Seasons. Also, while there are a lot of larger properties around, we aren't a large group, so we look for something more intimate,” she explains. “Another big draw for me is their rates.”
Snyder's groups usually meet for three days, with little time for recreation. “It's mostly business for us,” she says. Snyder has seen service consistency — and a staff that is second to none in terms of personalized service.
“We are pleased with the various options for food they make available to us. They think of everything up front.” Snyder says she's also impressed with the room amenities, which include high-quality sheets, robes and slippers, and oversized hot tubs.
“We walk away talking about the property,” she says. “A fourth trip is definitely something we're going to do.”
It was a simple, midseason baseball game featuring the Arizona Diamondbacks — but it turned out to be everyone's favorite event. Michael Sarka, executive director, Vacation Rental Managers, a trade association for the vacation rental industry, took his group of 150, including insurance managers, to BancOne Ballpark in Phoenix during the group's meeting in May.
“We took most of our group to the game, and some said they hadn't been to one in years,” says Sarka. “Some had never been at all, so it wasn't like we had a group of rabid baseball fans. But it was enjoyable for all.”
And, as part of the baseball experience, eating became the favorite pastime of those attending. “They have great ballpark food,” says Sarka. “The entire evening was a total experience.” Sarka says his group enjoyed the fact that they could order concessions from their seats and have the items brought to them in a matter of minutes, a feature most parks don't have.
“The Diamondbacks were great to work with, and they worked hard to seat us all together,” says Sarka. “I am a very critical person, and yet I found that they were very professional. They even referred us to unusual restaurants around the ballpark.”
“We know we made the right choice because nearly everyone wanted to stay a couple of extra days,” he says. And, like so many who bring groups and conventions to the Valley of the Sun, Sarka says he would return without hesitation.
Great food was also on the minds of 183 attendees at a meeting held by RBC Dain Rauscher Investment Services Inc., headquartered in Minneapolis, who stayed at The Four Seasons Resort at Troon North in May.
Sydney Zech, CMP, senior meeting planner for the company, said the Dinner in the Desert was a standout for most attendees.
“We held it at a ranch about 10 minutes from the property,” says Zech. “The Four Seasons catered it and did a wonderful job,” she says. “We had barbecued chicken, steaks cooked to order, and baby back ribs.”
On arrival, Zech and her group were met by five horse-drawn hay wagons and a singing cowboy. After a sunset ride, they were treated to a cowboy band, after which attendees could gaze at the stars through telescopes.
The group also enjoyed golf at Troon North, flat-water floating trips, and a trip to Sedona. “It's a magical property,” she says.
“We've been to the four seasons, scottsdale, three times and each time it gets better.”
— Diane Snyder, Eli Lilly and Co.
The world-renowned Heard Museum, two miles from downtown Phoenix, focuses on the art and culture of American Indians and the Southwest region. Its artifacts and historical arts trace American Indian heritage back 1,500 years. The museum is capable of hosting more than 2,000 people for a meeting. It has catering facilities, a theater, reception areas, and breakout rooms.
Call (602) 252-8848 for more information.
The Marriott Desert Ridge Resort, located on a 5,700-acre master-planned community, is set to open in November. The resort will have 950 rooms and state-of-the-art amenities, including 10 restaurants, a 28,000-square-foot spa, a tennis pavilion, and two Nick Faldo — designed 18-hole golf courses. The resort will have 200,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor meeting space.
The $180 million, 750-room Westin Kierland resort is on schedule for an early 2003 opening. On 33 acres surrounded by a golf course, the resort will feature 60 suites, a full-service spa, and a fitness center.
The Sheraton Wild Horse Pass Resort and Spa, a 500-room property, is scheduled to open late this year.
At the 33,000-square-foot Golden Door Spa at the Boulders in Carefree, north of Phoenix, the West Wing houses a 4,000-square-foot fitness center and movement studios, while facilities in the contemplative East Wing include treatment rooms, a salon, and a circular tea room.
The Royal Palms Hotel and Casitas will open a luxury, 9,000-square-foot spa at the end of December. Alvadora, Spa at Royal Palms, will have a complete fitness center and full-service salon, and will offer signature treatments and products. The locker rooms will open onto the garden with Jacuzzis and cold plunge pools.
The Westward Look Resort has expanded its meeting facilities with a new rooftop terrace and a 4,500-square-foot ballroom, which can accommodate 300 banquet-style.
PHOENIX Civic Plaza convention center is on schedule for a late 2003 or early 2004 completion of a $300 million renovation to double its meeting space, which is now 375,000 square feet. (602) 254-6500; www.phoenix.gov/CIVICPLAZA/plazaidx.html
TUCSON Convention Center has 124,000 square feet of floor space and features the Galleria, which is a connector to all areas; the exhibition hall; the grand ballroom; and the arena. A music hall seats 2,100, and the Leo Rich Theater seats 500. (520) 792-4101; www.visittucson.org
Greater Phoenix CVB
• Fax: (602) 253-4415
Metro Tucson CVB
(800) 638-8350, (520) 624-1817
• Fax: (520) 884-7804
• Fax: (480) 947-4523
Sedona Chamber of Commerce
(800) 288-7336, (928) 204-1123
• Fax: (928) 204-1064