Meetings Mean Big Business For Phoenix And Scottsdale — Even In Summer

By Christina Estes
Published: Friday, August 17, 2018 - 7:08am
Updated: Friday, August 17, 2018 - 4:47pm

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Mike Ronnau
Christina Estes/KJZZ
Mike Ronnau helped organize the annual convention of the International Plastic Modelers Society, USA Branch in Phoenix.

The Valley’s high temperatures bring a drop in tourism. But they also bring lower prices which attract certain groups.

Selling Phoenix

On an August afternoon in downtown Phoenix, Mike Ronnau stood inside the Phoenix Convention Center’s West Building.

“This is the vendor hall,” he said. “We’ve got at least 75, 000 square feet of space here.”

More than 200 tables were covered with plastic model kits, tools, and paint. Ronnau helped organize the annual convention of the International Plastic Modelers Society, USA Branch.

“At last count I heard we had 500 registrants,” he said. “And we’re hoping for 2-300 more walk-ups.”

They come from across the country to network, shop, build and compete.

“There are several different categories: aircraft, armor, ships, automotive, miscellaneous,” Ronnau said.

Pitching Phoenix to members wasn’t the easiest sell.

phoenix visitor graph
Sky Schaudt/KJZZ

“Part of our advertising is the convention hotel is right across the street at the Hyatt so it’s about 120 feet, well, a 120 steps-ish, so you go from the air conditioned hotel to the air conditioned convention center,” he said.

Summer Discounts

“We have a lot of groups that are very value-oriented,” said Convention Center Director John Chan.

Many religious, social and sport groups take advantage of lower rates that are written in law. A city ordinance grants a 33 percent discount on convention events between Memorial and Labor Days. And, depending on the group size, there could be more discounts.

“Because the objective is really, what do they do for the economy? How many people are they bringing that are going to be using the downtown restaurants and bars and hotels?” said Chan.

For the first time, Experience Scottsdale, formerly known as the Convention and Visitors Bureau, launched a summer campaign for meeting planners.

“We’re not denying it’s hot here,” said Stephanie Pressler, director of community affairs. “Our campaign is called ‘The desert is hot.’'

“We’re not denying it’s hot here.”
— Stephanie Pressler, Experience Scottsdale

She said nearly 30 hotels and resorts are offering rebates over the next three summers. And while they talk a lot about well-misted patios and ample air conditioning, they still promote desert experiences.

“One group outing that they could consider is doing paddle boarding or kayaking in the lower Salt Lake in the morning if it’s early enough it’s cooler out,” she said.

Preferences And Perceptions 

During its last fiscal year, Experience Scottsdale said it booked 589 meetings which accounted for nearly half of all revenue at resorts and hotels.

A new industry study, Destination MAP, reveals meeting planners preferences and perceptions when it comes to 40 North American markets.

Pressler said Scottsdale scores higher for safety and cleanliness than Phoenix while Phoenix is viewed as a better value and easier to get to.

scottsdale meetings graphic
Sky Schaudt/KJZZ

"So, as we’re talking to meeting planners we really want to stress that Sky Harbor is just a 10- to 15-minute drive from Old Town Scottsdale,” she said. “We also want to stress there are options for all budgets in Scottsdale.”

Eric Kerr oversees research for Visit Phoenix, the main broker for the Phoenix Convention Center. Using the same study, his group wanted to see how Phoenix compares to Anaheim, Austin, Denver and Houston.

“We picked those cities because we tend to see them most often when we’re competing, not only against conventions that will fit into a hotel or resort, but also when we’re targeting the convention that’s going to be using our convention center,” he said.

Kerr said Phoenix scores high on upscale hotels and outdoor recreation, but comes in last among its competitors for nightlife. He called it an opportunity to educate meeting planners.

“So much has been built, so much has been added to downtown Phoenix and the central corridor that the Phoenix they may have experienced five years ago is not the experience that they would have if they came out and had a meeting today,” he said.

Every time Phoenix, Scottsdale or another Valley city secures an event, tourism leaders say the entire region wins. Because even if a group — like the International Plastic Modelers Society — spends most of its time meeting indoors, visitors eventually need to eat and sleep. And that generates not just city, but county and state tax dollars.

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