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Success in Scottsdale

Meetings and events in this desert city offer an abundance of local culture, memorable venues, and standout lodging

By Pamela Dittmer McKuen

Outdoor dining area at Talavera in Four Seasons Resort Scottsdale at Troon North || Courtesy of Four Seasons Resort Scottsdale at Troon North

Scottsdale, Arizona, is such a winning destination for meeting and event planners that many return again and again. One is Joanna Puchalski, senior meeting planner at New York City-based Opal Group, whose client groups have convened in the desert oasis for more than a decade. 

“The weather is ideal,” she says, citing numerous reasons for the repeat visits. “Scottsdale is a pretty small city, so you can have your program, and everything else is within reach. The resorts are gorgeous, the views are gorgeous, and the activities you can do are amazing.” Experience Scottsdale Vice President of Sales and Services Kelli Blubaum adds, “We love to welcome back groups and have new people fall in love with our destination as well.” 

Scottsdale is neighbor to Arizona’s state capital of Phoenix and blends the beauty of its natural landscape with a cosmopolitan vibe. The city sits at the foot of the McDowell Mountains within the Sonoran Desert, the only place in the world where majestic saguaros grow and where jeweled sunsets are legendary. 

“When people think ‘desert,’ they think of the Sahara and sand,” Blubaum says. “They come here and are blown away by just how lush and diverse the Sonoran Desert is. It’s an inspirational backdrop.”

Another draw is Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, where nearly two dozen major carriers operate to collectively offer nonstop flights to and from more than 130 cities worldwide. Last year, the airport was ranked No. 1 among large airports in the Wall Street Journal’s annual “Best and Worst U.S. Airports” list.

Within Scottsdale, home to a population of nearly 250,000, getting around is relatively easy, says Madison Farrell, director of sales for San Diego-based Access Destination Management Co. and a Scottsdale resident. “You’re not spending hours on a bus with your attendees to have a wow experience,” she says.

Cultural Enrichment

Besides its scenic environment, Scottsdale boasts 70-plus hotels and resorts, meeting rooms up to 24,500 square feet in size, 200 golf courses, 50 resort and day spas, and more than 400 trail miles. Those are the metrics. The city is also rich in cultural diversity, which is sure to engage a spectrum of special interests among attendees. Visitors can find a wealth of amenities and attractions that highlights art and architecture; outdoor recreation; health and wellness; cuisine and mixology; and Old Western, Native American, and Mexican heritages.

At the heart of the city lies vivacious Old Town, where Scottsdale was first settled in 1888, and today teems with casual and upscale dining, chic boutiques, luxury retailers, historic sites, nightclubs, and performance venues. The streets are lined with public art installations and dozens of galleries, plus two world-class museums—the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art and Western Spirit: Scottsdale’s Museum of the West, a Smithsonian affiliate. A longtime Old Town tradition is the weekly free ArtWalk every Thursday evening (except on Thanksgiving).

5.29.24 "Light Forest" by Liquid PXL was one of the featured public art installations at Canal Convergence 2023 at the Scottsdale Waterfront in Old Town
“Light Forest” by Liquid PXL during Canal Convergence 2023 in Old Town Scottsdale || Courtesy of Scottsdale Arts

Where to Stay

Scottsdale’s lodging possibilities range from sleek, glassy, midrise towers with rooftop terraces to sprawling hacienda-style campuses—and everything in between. Amenity packages are robust, including signature restaurants, golf courses, pickleball courts, spas, swimming pools, and indoor and outdoor meeting spaces equipped with state-of-the-art technology.

Nearby in Paradise Valley are three memorable properties for planners to consider. The iconic JW Marriott Camelback Inn Resort & Spa, which sits at the foot of Mummy Mountain and faces Camelback Mountain, started it all as the first luxury resort in the area in 1936. Its 450 casitas are interspersed among lavish xeriscape gardens. Andaz Scottsdale Resort and Bungalows sports 185 rooms and an artsy ambience in a secluded in-town location. The Ritz-Carlton Paradise Valley, The Palmeraie, is scheduled to open later this year with 215 rooms as well as an enclave of 60 luxury shops and 15 distinctive restaurants.

5.29.24 Rita’s Cantina & Bar at the JW Marriott Scottsdale Camelback Inn Resort & Spa
Rita’s Cantina & Bar at the JW Marriott Scottsdale Camelback Inn Resort & Spa || Photo by Experience Scottsdale/Tom Mackie, courtesy of JW Marriott Camelback Inn Resort & Spa

To the north of the city, Four Seasons Resort Scottsdale at Troon North has 210 casitas and backs up to Pinnacle Peak Park, surrounded by saguaros and copious desert flora.

“With such a variety of hotels, you can have something luxurious or something budget-friendly and still have the same off-site experiences in the great city,” says Puchalski, who has booked groups at several properties in the area. 

5.29.24 Hotel Valley Ho in Scottsdale
The hip Hotel Valley Ho near Old Town Scottsdale || Courtesy of Hotel Valley Ho

In and adjacent to Old Town, hotels tend to be on the boutique side, but there are exceptions. A classic property is Hotel Valley Ho, notable for its impeccably preserved midcentury modern architecture. The 240-room hotel opened in 1956 and became a movie star hideaway—some of the first to stay at the property were Natalie Wood and Robert Wagner. 

Newly opened in March is the 250-room Caesars Republic Scottsdale. The contemporary 11-story tower is the brand’s first nongaming hotel in the country and features 265 guest rooms, 20,000 square feet of event space, and a rooftop pool and lounge overlooking Camelback Mountain.

Larger groups often anchor at one of the outlying resorts and shuttle into Old Town for dine-arounds and shopping forays, Farrell says.

Enduring Experiences

Groups wishing to spend their free time exploring the city and beyond will find many excursions and attractions at hand in Scottsdale. A few popular outdoor adventures include hot-air balloon rides, hiking the trails of the McDowell Sonoran Preserve, horseback riding, and off-road desert touring. Cultural crowd-pleasers include the Heard Museum and its collections of Native American fine arts and handicrafts, and Taliesin West, the winter home and studio of architect Frank Lloyd Wright and a UNESCO World Heritage site.

5.29.24 Taliesin West in Scottsdale
Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin West in northeast Scottsdale || Photo by Jill Richards, courtesy of Experience Scottsdale

If some attendees might prefer to indulge in the amenities and resources of their anchor hotels, options could include golf and pickleball tournaments, cooking lessons, fitness classes, and more.

Westfall Gold, fundraising consultancy to nonprofits based in Atlanta, Georgia, has been bringing client groups to the Four Seasons Resort Scottsdale at Troon North for almost 20 years. Anna Brawner, a company meeting planner, says a typical agenda calls for meetings in the mornings and evenings, with free time booked in the afternoons. Most attendees remain on the property to golf at two adjacent courses, book spa appointments, or bask in the natural environment at the pool or on the on-site hiking trails. A moderately intense 2-mile (one-way) trail leads from the resort to photogenic Pinnacle Peak, a granite summit with a 1,300-foot elevation gain. No rock-climbing skills are required.

“The resort is so peaceful and serene there,” Brawner says. “They have it set up for you to choose your own adventure, and there are lots of options.” Farrell adds, “Some people might want to stay at the resort because it’s an insane spa, so why leave the property?” 

Many groups elect to incorporate community service projects into their agendas as well, says Jacquelyn Dazzo, destination sales executive at JW Marriott Camelback Inn Resort & Spa.

“We have done build-a-bike or made teddy bears for children, or wellness kits for the homeless population,” she says. “The groups can choose the communities they want to support.”

Perfect Timing

With more than 330 sunshine-filled days a year, planners can be reasonably confident their outdoor team-building activities and alfresco dining won’t be hampered by adverse precipitation (although backup plans are always a good idea, Farrell says). The Scottsdale area has three seasons—spring (which begins in January) and fall are the busiest and priciest.

5.29.24 Sonoran Desert landscape overlooking Scottsdale
Sonoran Desert landscape overlooking Scottsdale || Photo by Tom Mackie, courtesy of Experience Scottsdale

“Spring is when you see all the wildflowers and cactus blooms,” Dazzo points out. Summer daytime temperatures often soar to triple digits, but those heat waves can be advantageous. Room rates and greens fees are heavily discounted, and Experience Scottsdale offers financial incentives to groups that gather between Memorial Day and Labor Day.

“It’s always 74 degrees in the meeting rooms,” Blubaum says. “Groups that are content-heavy, that are meeting from 8 to 5, tend to do really well because it doesn’t really matter what is going on outside.”

A number of full-service properties such as Talking Stick Resort, Hyatt Regency Scottsdale Resort & Spa at Gainey Ranch (soon to be rebranded as a Grand Hyatt), and The Phoenician Resort & Spa are climate-controlled under one roof, so attendees don’t have to traipse outdoors from building to building.

“We have done groups in the summer, which is great if you are looking for more value to your program,” Puchalski says. “The rates are more attainable if you have a small budget. Our attendees from the Midwest and Northeast definitely love Scottsdale in January.”

Recommendations for beating the heat from meeting planners include activities like early-morning tee times and paddleboard yoga, dinner, concerts under the nighttime stars, and night-vision Jeep and Hummer tours.

Or, you can combine indoor/outdoor venues like the Desert Botanical Garden nearby in Phoenix, where attendees might watch a demonstration or participate in a craft class, and then wander the gardens. Tour the Musical Instrument Museum before dinner in the shady courtyard.

“Once we freeze them in the air conditioning, they can thaw [themselves] outside,” Farrell says jokingly.