The Southwest and Southern California region of the U.S. continues to experience phenomenal growth, fueled by business, entertainment, recreation, and convention investments. Topping the list, of course, is Las Vegas, which has successfully morphed into an entertainment destination with something for everyone--families, conventioneers, gaming fans, shoppers, gourmands, and even art enthusiasts. The just opened Bellagio Resort, for instance, features nearly $300 million in fine art. The city will have an estimated 2.7 million square feet of shopping space by 2000, while the number of top-tier restaurants continues to grow, including Wolfgang Puck's Spago's, Emeril's, and Coyote Cafe.

Currently there are 20,000 new hotel rooms under construction, adding to a base of 106,000 rooms. Instead of competing for just gaming travelers, the city is gunning for its share of the world leisure market. The 26 new gates at McCarran International Airport, plus new nonstop service to Tokyo will help. As for conventions, the city is still ranked number one in terms of number of Tradeshow 200 events hosted, and that record should grow with the expansion last year of the city's convention center to 1.9 million square feet. And city officials are already discussing another expansion.

In Arizona, last year Phoenix rebranded its CVB, which became the Greater Phoenix CVB, dropping the "Valley of the Sun" part of the name, in hopes of boosting the region's name recognition. With is new science center, renovated convention center, and new Bank One Ballpark, downtown Phoenix is experiencing a rebirth. Financing, however, for a long-awaited third convention hotel downtown had fallen through at press time. A new developer is being sought for the 700-room Westin property.

On a smaller scale, New Mexico's Albuquerque, Santa Fe, and Taos offer affordable, year-round meeting facilities in spectacular settings. A proposal for a new convention center in Santa Fe is under consideration, and several resorts in the area are undergoing renovation and expansion.

And in Southern California, the Palm Springs Desert Resorts (encompassing Cathedral City, Desert Hot Springs, Indian Wells, La Quinta, Palm Springs, Palm Desert, and Rancho Mirage) are a natural for medical meetings. There are more than 90 golf courses in the area.


Metro Phoenix hotel news

* The 250-room Crowne Plaza North Phoenix @ Metrocenter opened last year across the street from the state's second-largest mall. It has 10,000 square feet of meeting space and indoor and outdoor pools.

* Sheraton Phoenix Airport Hotel in Tempe opened in January 1999. The reflagged, renovated hotel features 10,000 square feet of meeting space and 210 guest rooms.

* The 210-room Four Seasons Scottsdale opens in fall 1999 adjacent to championship golf courses.

important info Greater Phoenix CVB (602) 254-6500 (877) 633-8749 Fax: (602) 253-4415

Phoenix Civic Plaza (602)262-6225, (800) 282-4842 Single-story downtown center with 221,000 square feet of exhibit space in five halls, 43 meeting rooms, and a 28,000-square-foot ballroom. The center also features a 2,577-seat Symphony Hall, and 73,000 square feet of terraces for outdoor events. Scottsdale CVB (602) 945-8481, (800) 877-1117 Fax: (602) 947-4523

Total Hotel Tax:10.35% in Phoenix; 10.52% in Scottsdale

Tucson hotel news * All 428 rooms of the Sheraton El Conquistador were refurbished in 1998.

* The 487-room Westin La Paloma has upgraded its Arizona Ballroom, country club, lobby, bistro, and lounge. The hotel has added a water slide and two pools.

* The 304 room Radisson Suites is now the Doubletree Guest Suites.

important info Metropolitan Tucson CVB (520) 770-2143 (800) 638-8350 Fax: (520) 884-7804

Tucson Convention Center (520) 791-4101. A total of 200,000 square feet, including a 90,000-square-foot hall, a 20,500-square-foot divisible grand ballroom, a 9,700-seat arena, a 2,277-seat music hall, a 518-seat theater, and 10 meeting rooms--the largest accommodating 250.

Total Hotel Tax: 9.5%, plus $1 per room night


Palm Springs Area hotel news

* The 550-room Marriott Rancho Las Palmas has received a $32 million face-lift, adding a 20,000-square-foot health spa, a new 10,000-square-foot ballroom, and a children's pool and slide.

* The 226-room Miramonte Resort opened in Indian Wells last year. A Preferred Resort property, the resort has a Mediterranean motif.

* The 287-room Doubletree Hotel & Golf Resort Palm Springs last year completed a $5 million renovation.

* The 640-room La Quinta Resort and Club last year opened a 20,000 square foot spa and a 2,000 square foot fitness club.

* The 338-suite Hyatt Grand Champions Resort has spent $1.4 million to renovate the pool area and has redone a restaurant to an upscale lunch and dinner venue operated by actor George Hamilton.

important info Palm Springs Desert Resorts CVB (760) 770-9000; Fax: (760) 770-9001

Palm Springs Convention Center (760)325-6611. With 66,000 square feet of exhibit space, and 12 meeting rooms.

Total Hotel Tax: 9.25% to 11%, depending on the resort area


Las Vegas hotel news

* The 500-suite Alexis Park, one of the better known nongaming hotels, has won permission from the Planning Commission to add a small casino by converting the existing lobby, and also to convert a 208-room adjacent apartment complex into hotel rooms.

* The 253-room Regent Grand Palms and the 287-room Regent Grand Spa will be the centerpiece of a luxurious golf and spa retreat called the Resort at Summerlin, opening in the spring in the Las Vegas Valley.

* The 1,700-room Mandalay Bay hotel/ casino opened on the Las Vegas Strip in March, with Luciano Pavarotti opening the resort's 12,000-seat arena in April. The property will have 100,000 square feet of convention space.

* The 424-room Four Seasons Las Vegas (a nongaming hotel) is located on floors 35 through 39 of the Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino Tower. The Four Seasons opened in March.

* The Bellagio resort opened on the Strip in October, featuring 3,000 rooms an eight-acre lake, $300 million in fine art, and 125,000 square feet of meeting space.

* Built on the site of the original Sands Hotel on the Strip, the $1.2 billion, Venetian Casino will be the world's largest resort hotel and convention complex under one roof. Phase One, slated for completion by April, will include 3,036 luxury suites, an 116,000-square-foot gaming facility, and a 500,000-square-foot dining and entertainment complex. Another 3,000 suites are to be constructed in phase two. Meeting facilities include the newly expanded Sands Expo Center with 1.7 million square feet of function space.

* The 33-story gambling resort Paris Ca-sino Resort, featuring replicas of Parisian landmarks, 130,000 square feet of function space, and 2,900 guest rooms is slated to open this fall.

* The 1,863-room Riviera Hotel and Casino on the Strip this spring is slated to complete its 85,000-square-foot convention and visitors center, which will accommodate up to 5,700 and have bleacher seating and sky boxes. The hotel already has 100,000 square feet of meeting space

* A 380,000-square-foot conference center opened in March 1998 at the MGM Grand Hotel, with a 63,000-square-foot exhibit hall, meeting rooms, and a 50,000-square-foot ballroom. The MGM Grand intends to transform itself into the "City of Entertainment" with the addition of 1,500 rooms at a new Marriott Marquis at the MGM Grand by 2000, and another 500 at a new Ritz-Carlton at the Grand (no completion date set).

* The Aladdin Hotel closed on the Strip, making way for a new $1.2 billion gambling and hotel complex. Plans call for a 2,600-room Aladdin Hotel Casino and a Middle East-themed shopping center.

important info Las Vegas Convention & Visitor Authority (702) 892-0711

Fax: (702) 892-2824

The Las Vegas Convention Center (702) 892-0711. An expansion of 279,000 square feet of exhibit space, 42,000 square feet of meeting space, and a visitor center was completed last fall. The center now has 1.9 million square feet of function space.

Total Hotel Tax: 18% downtown and 15% on the Strip


Albuquerque hotel news

* The 366-room Radisson Hotel and Conference Center completed last year a renovation of meeting and public space and added 4,000 square feet of meeting space for a total of 29,000 square feet.

* The 276-room Wyndham Albuquerque Hotel has added a 6,500 ballroom and prefunction area, for a total of 12,500 square feet.

important info Albuquerque CVB (505) 842-9918, (800) 733-9918 Fax: (505) 247-9101

Albuquerque Convention Center (505) 768-4575. A total of 167,562 square feet of exhibit space (with 106,200 column-free); plus 30 meeting rooms and a 2,500-seat auditorium.

Total Hotel Tax: 10.81%

Santa Fe

hotel news * Las Posada Hotel is expanding to 159 rooms and adding a 5,000 square foot spa. It will have 5,000 square feet of meeting space by June 1999.

* Bishop's Lodge will add 21 new guest rooms in the fall, for a total of 101. By 2000, the lodge will add a convention center, accommodating 300.

important info Santa Fe CVB (505) 984-6760, (800) 984-9984 Fax: (505) 984-6679

Sweeney Convention Center (505) 984-6760. A total of 10,000 square feet of exhibit space on the main floor, plus five meeting rooms.

Total Hotel Tax:10.25%


important info Taos County C.C. (505) 758-3873, (800) 732-8267 Fax: (505) 758-3872

Taos Civic Plaza & Conv. Center (505) 758-5792, (800) 323-6338. With 13,588 square feet of exhibit space, and 11 meeting rooms, the largest accommodating 610.

Total Hotel Tax:14.87%

Medical Meeting Planners Say Members of the American Society of Health System Pharmacists, Bethesda, Md., know a good thing when they see it: The association draws its biggest attendance in Las Vegas, and that's why it keeps going back, says Marilyn Sullivan, director of conferences and conventions.

ASHSP met at the Las Vegas Convention Center in December, drawing 18,000 registrants and tapping more than 300,000 square feet for its exhibit program. The education-heavy program featured continuing ed seminars from eight in the morning until five in the afternoon. The closing banquet was at headquarters hotel, the Las Vegas Hilton.

Says Sullivan, "There isn't a need to plan a lot of entertainment because, well, this is Las Vegas." She says the group normally goes back to the city every four years (ever since the 1970s), but ASHSP will be returning to Vegas next year.

VenueMenu Here are a few adventure options for groups meeting in the region.

* One of the all time great Southwest adventures is to explore the Grand Canyon in Arizona. There are many ways to do so: by foot, by mule, or by helicopter. For information on these and other options call Grand Canyon Chamber of Commerce at (520) 638-2901.

* For those looking for adventure with a different twist, groups can charter one or more vintage coaches of the Grand Canyon Railway, which makes a daily trip from the town of Williams to the South Rim of the Canyon, about 2.5 hours. For information, call Grand Canyon Railway Group Sales at (800) 843-8273.

* Put attendees in a NASCAR race car, at speeds of 140 miles per hour, at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway. The Richard Petty Driving Experience lets you do it. Call (800) BE PETTY for information.

* Jeep tours are available in many places throughout the Southwest. You'll find this option and much more at the Western theme town of Rawhide, just outside of Scottsdale, offering theme shops and saloons, and outdoor adventure and activities for groups. Call (602) 502-1880.