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May 4, 2012

Why Phoenix is on the money

Phoenix, Arizona, is probably not a top pick for meetings and conventions during the summer, when the desert city regularly sees triple-digit temperatures. But Scott Dunn of the Greater Phoenix Convention & Visitors Bureau says that during the warm season, the city and its surrounding areas are a very cost-efficient destination for groups. 

“The value is our biggest selling point,” Dunn says. “Last summer was our biggest summer ever. The value is so high in summer that big groups can’t ignore it.” The city has hosted everything from large religious meetings to a volleyball festival with high school kids to the Elks. “They come because they can get rooms and space at a deep discount.” While room rates vary among different properties, Dunn estimates that the discounts from peak season can be between 30 and 60 percent. “That can become a pretty big deal at the Four Seasons Scottsdale, where you can get a room for $129 in summer down from $600 in the peak season.”  

But even during the prime winter months, the city is cost-efficient, he adds, and groups can find good value from the moment they book their trip. Phoenix Skyharbor Airport is one of the top 10 busiest airports in country, and is a hub for low-cost carriers USAirways and SouthWest. “It’s very affordable to fly here,” Dunn says. The downtown area of the city, where many of the hotels and the Convention Center are located, is very compact. “You can walk everywhere. There are nine hotels in walking distance from the convention center. They can get here cheaply, meet in the new and nice center, and then stay and eat all within walking distance.” For those looking to go beyond downtown, the four-year-old light rail system charges $3.50 for an all-day pass.

“Phoenix’s appeal has always been strong because of the weather and the full spectrum of hotels and resorts,” Dunn says. “We have 61,000 hotel rooms here, and while a lot of cities our size have similar numbers, we have the resorts, and two-thirds of their business is meetings. Because we have so many and they’re all competing, there’s a good competitive environment, so they are all constantly upgrading. It’s great for our market.”


New Developments at Hotels

That is significant, since Phoenix, like many places throughout the country, has struggled to maintain its momentum as the recession continues on its roller-coaster ride. “Phoenix is not unlike a lot of places in that expansions had the brakes put on when the recession hit and the housing market tanked,” Dunn acknowledges. “A lot of [projects] in development halted. The Gaylord project in Mesa is on hold for now.” But expansions on existing projects have continued in the years since the recession hit. “The convention center went through a huge expansion in 2009 and the Phoenician had an expansion in November 2011.” 

Last year, the Fairmont Scottsdale Princess broke ground on a $20 million conference center, which is scheduled to open this fall. Hotel representative Valerie Lee says that the new center will give the property the most meeting space of any Fairmont in the world. “Right now, the walls are up and we’re ahead of schedule,” she says. “It will give us more opportunities for larger groups and different kinds of meetings.”  

The new conference center will add 52,331 square feet of indoor meeting space to the hotel, adjacent to the new 23,000-square-foot Palomino Ballroom near the resort’s main entrance. The new event spaces will reportedly have “nano” walls that open up to the outdoors for open-air meetings or banquets, and all meeting rooms will be wired for latest-generation audio-video and high-speed Wi-Fi. Existing meeting rooms will also be updated, and private walkways will be added between the two spaces. In total, the entire 106,000 square feet of indoor space includes 47 meeting rooms, several with their own patios. 

In the meanwhile, new hotels are on the horizon for the downtown area, including a new Westin and the Hotel Palomar by Kempinski, which is due to open this summer within the one-year-old multi-function CityScape complex. 


The Convention Center

And then there’s the convention center itself (pictured), which completed a $600 million expansion project in 2009. Dunn, with complete objectivity, declares it to be “one of the most beautiful convention centers in the country. It’s not a concrete box. It was inspired by the Grand Canyon, with big windows and red rock stone. People are kind of blown away by how nice it is.” Better yet, of the city’s 61,000 hotel rooms, 3,000 of them are within walking distance to the convention center. 

Before the 2009 convention center renovation, Dunn acknowledges that Phoenix, while appealing, was not able to host the big-time meetings. “Now we’re one of the top 25 meetings destinations in the country, and we can host 80 percent of the big association meetings out here.”



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