Phoenix Tourism Making a Comeback

The Arizona meetings boycott may prove to be only a short-term stumbling block in Phoenix/Scottsdale's post-downturn revival.

Essential Tool Box

Pinnacle Awards Go To:

• Hilton Scottsdale Resort & Villas
• Scottsdale Resort & Conference Center

Convention Centers & Facilities:

• Phoenix Convention Center (2.5 million sf, including 872,000 sf of meeting and exhibition space)

For More Information:

After a terrible 2009, the Scottsdale incentive and meetings market's first quarter of 2010 was good, says Brent DeRaad, executive vice president of the Scottsdale Convention and Visitors Bureau. After the combination of the recession and anti-meeting and anti-incentive sentiment took the wind out of the Scottsdale-Phoenix area's group business— thanks to its hard-won reputation as a top luxury destination—the beginning of the year was looking up.

"Our peak season is January to April," he says. "We had 10-12 percent higher occupancy rates than in 2009."

Yet this was not the 2010 the Arizona meetings market was looking for. In the spring, the state passed a highly controversial immigration bill. Opponents cried racial profiling, and one of the state's own congressmen called for a boycott of his state—which a number of cities and private convention groups followed, in a very high-profile manner.

"The boycott calls after the first quarter hurt," says Kristen Jarnagin, a spokesperson for the Arizona Hotel & Lodging Association. While only a few meetings were canceled outright, "the phones just didn't ring," Jarnagin says. "There were people who told our hotel sales teams, 'We love you, but we can't risk the controversy.'"

While the convention business "slowed considerably," says DeRaad, "there was only minimal attrition." Jarnagin agrees that many conventions and trade shows during that time had excellent attendance numbers. Phoenix Convention Center Communications Director Cynthia Weaver says only two groups canceled, and after adding two new buildings that tripled its size, the PCC reopened to its best year ever in 2009.

In Scottsdale, the incentive business— hardest hit by the AIG effect last year—was only mildly affected, DeRaad says. And a federal court's delay of the immgiration law's controversial sections took steam out of the boycott.

"We are seeing optimism from resorts for the fall/winter season," DeRaad says. "They don't think occupancy will fall."

On the facilities side, the two biggest projects are on the Salt River Pima- Maricopa Indian Community lands, just east of Scottsdale. A new, 12-field baseball spring training facility that will house both the Arizona Diamondbacks and Colorado Rockies is under construction and set to open in February 2011. The complex will also have an 11,000-seat stadium and separate training and practice facilities for the two teams, as well as a number of venues designed for group activities.

In July, Talking Stick Resort opened on the same lands. The 15-story casino resort has more than 100,000 sf of meeting space (50,000 sf of it outdoors), including the 25,000-sf Salt River Grand Ballroom, 22 state-of-the-art meeting rooms, and a 10,000-sf showroom that seats more than 750. The hotel has 483 rooms and 15 suites, 10 lounges, bars and restaurants, and a 240,000-sf casino. Guests have access to Talking Stick Golf Club's courses, 26,000-sf clubhouse, and Tim Mahoney Golf Academy.

Kimpton's 250-room Hotel Palomar is scheduled to open next year in CityScape, a 1.8-million-sf mixed retail and entertainment district near Phoenix's downtown sports arenas.

In February 2011, the Westin Phoenix Downtown will open in Phoenix Civic Plaza with 242 rooms and 10,000 sf of meeting and function space. The Westin Kierland Resort & Spa launched a $20 million guest room renovation and will add a ballroom and outdoor terrace to its existing 183,000 sf of meeting space. Scottsdale's Carefree Resort & Villas' $6 million makeover is set to finish early next year.

Originally published Sept. 1, 2010