The long-standing allure of the Southwest continues to cast a spell over meeting planners and attendees. In a region where growth seemingly has no bounds, cities are reveling in the development, and redevelopment, of the world-class facilities on which they have staked their reputations: impressive resorts, scenic golf courses, and luxurious spas. Planners with budgets both large and small need only factor in the natural abundance of dramatic desert scenery, mountain vistas, and Technicolor sunsets to appreciate the full value they stand to get from this high-demand destination.
Convention centers throughout the Southwest have struggled to keep pace with the burgeoning growth. Now, they too are reaping the rewards of their cities' popularity. The recent expansion of convention centers and services in Arizona, New Mexico, Las Vegas, and the Southern California desert is yet another reason to round up attendees for a magical Southwest meeting experience.
In the “Land of Enchantment,” otherwise known as New Mexico, Albuquerque is celebrating its tricentennial throughout 2006. The first phase of a $6 million renovation is under way at the city's 600,000-square-foot convention center. It will add fiber-optic cabling and free wireless Internet “hot zones.”
A short drive away, Santa Fe began construction of a new $55 million civic center in February, with completion expected in fall 2007. By increasing total size from 45,000 square feet to more than 72,000 square feet, the center will offer planners a new opportunity to discover the many cultural, historic, and culinary benefits that Sante Fe has to offer groups.
In January, the official reopening of the Palm Springs Convention Center marked the end of a $34 million renovation and expansion project for the virtually all-new, 261,000-square-foot facility. The center now offers a 20,000-square-foot ballroom, 19 breakout rooms, and a dramatic new lobby with panoramic mountain views. There are 2,700 hotel rooms within walking distance of the center, including the adjoining 410-room Wyndham Hotel, with 30,000 square feet of meeting space, and the new $95 million Spa Resort Casino, with 228 rooms.
A $600 million, multiphase expansion project is elevating the Phoenix Convention Center, formerly Phoenix Civic Plaza, into one of the 20 largest convention facilities in North America. The center will triple in size to more than 900,000 square feet by 2009. As phase one nears completion — 156,000 square feet of new meeting space debuted in July — two hotels have broken ground within a block of the center. The 1,000-room Sheraton Downtown Phoenix and the 175-room W Phoenix Hotel, both scheduled to open in 2008, combined with the convention center expansion and a light-rail project under construction, collectively represent an investment of more than $1 billion in the city's revitalized core.
The 3.2-million-square-foot Las Vegas Convention Center is just the beginning of the mega-facilities available in the city renowned for its lavish commitment to meetings and incentives. New additions to the ever-expanding neon skyline include South Coast Hotel and Casino, Red Rock Resort and Spa, Wynn Las Vegas, and, for small meetings, the Platinum Hotel and Spa.
JW Marriott Desert Ridge Resort & Spa in Phoenix will debut a 25,000-square-foot ballroom and a 15,000-square-foot event lawn in 2007. The 869-room resort offers 200,000 square feet of meeting and event space, including three ballrooms, 11 meeting rooms, and two boardrooms.
In March, the 331-room Wigwam Golf Resort and Spa west of Phoenix opened a 26,000-square-foot Red Door Spa with 16 treatment rooms. The spa is part of a $15 million renovation that also encompassed improvements to the resort's 54 holes of golf.
The 640-suite Pointe South Mountain Resort in Phoenix has completed a $1 million renovation that revamped two ballrooms, meeting space, and the lobby area. The resort's Phantom Horse Spa has doubled in size and now offers 15 treatment rooms and indoor and outdoor meditation areas. Boarding passes can be printed from a new kiosk in the resort's main lobby. Wireless Internet is available in most guest rooms, pool areas, restaurant, and the sports bar.
In 2005, Scottsdale Plaza Resort completed a two-year, $3.5 million renovation of its guest rooms and meeting space. More than 130 suites were gutted and rebuilt. Additional rooms, suites, and villas received comprehensive upgrades. The resort's 30,000 square feet of meeting space features new décor and lighting. High-speed Internet connections were installed in all guest rooms and the central areas of the conference center.
After a $70 million renovation and expansion, Scottsdale's Hotel Valley Ho reopened in December with 194 guest rooms, two restaurants, and a spa. The hotel has 10,000 square feet of meeting space, including two meeting rooms and five boardrooms, and 15,000 square feet of outdoor event space.
Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide Inc. has begun construction of its first W Hotel in Arizona. The W Scottsdale Hotel will open in 2007 with 224 guest rooms, three meeting rooms, a 3,500-square-foot ballroom, a spa, a restaurant, two bars, and an infinity-edge pool surrounded by a sand beach, private cabanas, and a fitness center.
Fairmont Scottsdale Princess Resort has completed a $5.5 million softgoods renovation of all 550 guest rooms and casitas.
Radisson Fort McDowell Resort & Casino opened in December on the Yavapai Reservation adjacent to Scottsdale with 248 guest rooms, a restaurant, fitness center, pool, and casino. The resort offers 25,000 square feet of meeting space, including an 18,000-square-foot ballroom and 15 meeting rooms. High-speed wireless Internet service is available throughout the property.
Solis Hotels and Resorts is investing $185 million in the purchase and conversion of the former La Posada Resort in Paradise Valley, between Phoenix and Scottsdale. Montelucia, a Spanish-themed luxury boutique resort, will open in summer 2007 with 157 casitas, suites, and villas; a 30,000-square-foot spa with 22 treatment rooms, salon, and 24-hour fitness center; and two ballrooms and nine meeting rooms.
In 2005, the Tempe Mission Palms Hotel completed a $2.5 million makeover of 30,000 square feet of meeting space and enhancements to courtyards used for breakouts and special events.
Mondrian, the former James Hotel Scottsdale, adjacent to the Scottsdale Civic Center, offers 200 guest rooms and 10,000 square feet of meeting space.
In Tempe, the 353-room The Buttes, A Marriott Resort is finishing a guest room renovation that is slated to be complete later this fall.
The 167-room Omni Tucson National Golf Resort & Spa has opened a second 18-hole championship course. The new desert target — style course was designed by 2006 Ryder Cup Captain Tom Lehman and features steep elevation changes offering panoramic views.
In 2005, the Hilton Tucson El Conquistador Golf & Tennis Resort completed a $4 million improvement project encompassing the resort's guest room corridors and tennis courts.
On the former site of the Marquis Resort in downtown Palm Springs, the Hotel Zoso opened last December with 163 contemporary-style guest rooms, restaurant, café, pool, fitness center, and high-speed Internet access. The hotel has 20,000 square feet of meeting space and a 22,000-square-foot exhibit area.
Hyatt Grand Champions Resort and Spa in Indian Wells completed a renovation of 295 guest rooms in February. Rooms now offer wireless Internet access. In 2005, the resort completed a $1.1 million upgrade of its 19 private Garden Villas.
The Golf Resort at Indian Wells, a golf-only facility, will remain open while undergoing a multiphase, $45 million makeover that will replace its original 36 holes with two new 18-hole courses. The first course is set to debut in November; the second course, new clubhouse, and new practice facility will open in 2007.
The Platinum Hotel and Spa opened in July with 255 suites offering views of the Las Vegas Strip and the mountains. The Platinum has a fitness center, spa, and poolside restaurant. Meeting and event facilities at the nongaming condo hotel include a 12-seat boardroom, four conference rooms each seating up to 60 attendees, 4,000 square feet of suite space for breakouts, and a 360-degree-view rooftop terrace for groups of up to 250.
The first phase of the $925 million Red Rock Resort & Spa opened in April in Las Vegas with 415 guest rooms, a 94,000-square-foot conference center, nine restaurants, a casino, and a 35,000-square-foot spa.
Also in Las Vegas, South Coast Hotel & Casino opened in January with 1,350 guest rooms; a spa; and 150,000 square feet of banquet, exhibit, and meeting space, including 17 conference rooms.
Aladdin Resort and Casino remains open in Vegas while undergoing a complete transformation that will culminate late this year with the debut of Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino.
Wynn Las Vegas opened in 2005 with 2,700 guest rooms and suites, a golf course, a spa, a casino, and 200,000 square feet of meeting space.
In 2005 in Las Vegas, the 2,548-room, all-suite Rio hotel unveiled 60,000 square feet of new meeting space in a 39,000-square-foot ballroom, nine meeting rooms, and 66 breakout rooms.
The new $289 million Augustus Tower at Caesars Palace in Vegas offers 949 guest rooms, two restaurants, a spa, and 86,000 square feet of meeting space, bringing total hotel meeting space to 240,000 square feet.
New treatments at Albuquerque's Sandia Resort & Casino's 12,000-square-foot spa incorporate New Mexico's desert plant life in a menu of services including a body wrap using local clay and indigenous plants such as juniper and green reeds.
In 2005, the former Sheraton Old Town was rebranded Hotel Albuquerque at Old Town. Plans for the hotel include upgrades to 188 guest rooms, a $3 million penthouse suite, and the addition of 10,000 square feet of retail space.
La Posada de Albuquerque is closed while completing a multimillion-dollar remodel of all guest rooms, meeting rooms, and event space. The hotel had been expected to reopen in August, but that has been pushed back and a final date has not been set.
A $5.5 million remodeling of the Doubletree Hotel Albuquerque in late 2005 encompassed improvements to 7,500 square feet of meeting space, new guest room furnishings, and the addition of wireless high-speed Internet service.
In late 2005, the 310-room Marriott Pyramid North completed a $3 million renovation of a ballroom and breakout rooms as well as enhancements to public areas, pool areas, and business center. The hotel also added a new restaurant.
In the mountains of Mescalero, Inn of the Mountain Gods completed an expansion and renovation in 2005. The property has 273 rooms and suites, 40,000 square feet of meeting space, a 38,000-square-foot casino, and an 18-hole championship golf course. Among its recreational offerings: big-game hunting for elk and bear, skeet shooting, horseback riding, and fishing. It is operated by the Mescalero Apache Tribe.
Built in 1703, Sante Fe's historic Galisteo Inn completed an extensive refurbishment and expansion in 2005 and reopened with new furnishings and interior décor, restaurant, and wireless Internet access. The 13-room boutique hotel also added a 50-foot heated lap pool, a hot tub, and an indoor sauna.
The 128-room Radisson Sante Fe has changed its name to The Lodge at Sante Fe. In addition to 7,000 square feet of meeting space, it has a new courtyard that can host up to 300 people.
Greater Phoenix Convention & Visitors Bureau
(877) CALLPHX, (602) 254-6500
Total Hotel Tax: 12.07%
(800) 782-1117, (480) 421-1004
Total Hotel Tax: 11.92%
Total Hotel Tax: 12.07%
Metropolitan Tucson CVB
(800) 638-8350, (520) 624-1817
Total Hotel Tax: 11.5% to 13.5%, depending on location
Palm Springs Desert Resorts CVB
Total Hotel Tax: 9% to 12.5%, depending on location
Las Vegas Convention & Visitors Authority
(877) VISITLV, (702) 892-0711
Total Hotel Tax: 9%
Total Hotel Tax: 12.75%
Santa Fe CVB
(800) 777-2489; www.santafe.org
Total Hotel Tax: 14.76%
Nearly all of Tucson's top resorts are located a considerable distance from the airport. Be sure to factor the transportation charge for hotel vans or a private shuttle service into your budget and also to build sufficient travel time into the itinerary.
Golfing in Santa Fe gives you more bang for your buck. Not only does the area offer spectacular courses for a fraction of what it costs to play at comparable courses across the nation, but the region's high altitude means your ball will fly about 20 percent further.
Even though they are only 100 miles apart, Phoenix/Scottsdale and Tucson aren't as similar as you might think. Tucson offers loads of historic southwestern character, is closer to the mountains, and is usually cooler. The Phoenix metro area has a big-city vibe with shopping, chic restaurants, and lots of choices for excursions.
The desert resorts in and around Palm Springs offer substantial seasonal savings from Memorial Day to Labor Day. Great rates abound at hotels, golf courses, and even restaurants. It's a cost-effective way to provide a top-tier meeting experience in a highly desirable destination.
Active groups will enjoy discovering Tucson's treasures by following the new Presidio Trail, a self-guided urban walking tour of historic and cultural points of interest. A turquoise line painted on the sidewalk connects 23 sites on the scenic two-mile loop, including several restaurants. Walkers visit an archaeological dig at the original Spanish Presidio of Tucson, an outdoor shrine for lost lovers, and a cafe in the 1920s-era Hotel Congress where the infamous John Dillinger gang was arrested. All you need to “walk the line” is a brochure and map from the Tucson CVB. www.visittucson.org
Fifteen miles south of Santa Fe, the historic Rancho de las Golon-drinas (“Ranch of the Swallows”) now serves as a living history museum where visitors can watch authentically attired “ranch hands” make rope, roll tortillas, and string chiles. Docents in period costumes guide visitors through the sprawling former ranch, which dates from 1710. In addition to two homes, a molasses mill, a blacksmith shop, a winery, and a vineyard, the adobe compound offers three plazas, a catering kitchen where meals for 400 guests cam be prepared, a covered outdoor dining pavilion, and a meeting room for up to 100 attendees. www.golondrinas.org
After 35 years in north Scottsdale, Arizona's largest Western-themed attraction has relocated to the Gila River Indian Reservation near Chandler, south of Phoenix. Rawhide at Wild Horse Pass is sited on 163 desert acres and offers a 52,000-square-foot, climate-controlled pavilion; a 50,000-square-foot event lawn; indoor function rooms; private cookout sites; and a restaurant. Attractions include gunfights, a shooting gallery, stagecoach rides, live country music, and stunt shows. www.rawhide.com
The new Bud Light Paseo is a key feature of a recently completed $70 million expansion and renovation at the 18,422-seat US Airways Center, formerly America West Arena, in Phoenix. The outdoor meetings and events venue specializes in staging light shows. The center hosts the NBA's Phoenix Suns, concerts, and special events. www.usairwayscenter.com
Empire Polo Club in Indio, near Palm Springs, can be booked for group events ranging from golf cart polo to private parties, exhibits, and receptions overlooking 30 acres of lush polo fields. Features of the 175-acre club include a tropical lake with 24,000 square feet of adjacent event space, a three-acre rose garden with a 5,000-square-foot events pavilion, a 16,000-square-foot permanent tent, 17,500 square feet of terraces, and a 48,000-square-foot, fully enclosed, clear-span superstructure. www.empirepoloevents.com