While to the untrained eye Southern Arizona may conjure up visions of a relatively homogenous expanse of desert and giant cacti, the city of Tucson boasts a diverse selection of cultures, natural lures and hotel and resort variety that suits a variety of price ranges.
"The thing about our destination is that there’s something for everyone," says Graeme Hughes, director of convention sales for the Metropolitan Tucson CVB. "We’re known for our spectacular resorts—from five-star Ritz to Loews and Westward Look [Resort and Spa] to several others. And while we’re known for resorts and spa and golf, what a lot of people don’t realize is we have a good midtown set, brands like Doubletree, Marriott, Radisson Suites, Hilton.
"We have a JW Marriott [Starr Pass Tucson Resort & Spa] with 570 rooms, to adobe bed-and-breakfasts, and everything in between," he continues.
And even though Tucson offers the niceties one would associate with a resort destination, Hughes says it manages to fly under the perception radar.
"We actually have a very good offering for planners," he says. "They want the climate in the Southwest but don’t want the perception issues with a resort."
The availability of choices doesn’t end with the hotel product, either, as it extends to the very social fabric of the city.
"We have a very diverse and rich local cultural arts scene," Hughes says. "There’s a blending of three very unique cultures that were here before we became a tourism destination: Native American culture, Mexican-American and Hispanic influence and Anglo-Western culture."
The area’s topography is no slouch in the variety department, either. Although one may rightly associate the Tucson area with its signature flora, the giant saguaro cactus, or perhaps conjure images of a Wile E. Coyote cartoon, the area boasts the natural diversity of Sabino Canyon—where one can escape the summer heat via a tram ride to the top—to the varied topography of Saguaro National Park.
The rugged mountain environs means Old West-themed activities are at the ready for groups.
"With five mountain ranges that surround the area, even if you’re staying at a midtown hotel you can go out to one of the ranches and have a three-hour program with a dinner and cowboy singer," Hughes says.
Accessibility is also a plus, according to Hughes, who says that Tucson International Airport offers nonstop service to 15 cities, many of which are major hubs.
"When I get a chance to engage planners, I really emphasize accessibility into our marketplace," he says. "You can get here easily from anywhere."
New projects coming online include the Sol Casinos Hotel and Convention Center, which will be an expansion of the Casino Del Sol facility, owned by the Pascua Yaqui Tribe. Scheduled for a fall opening, the property will offer a 161,000-square-foot hotel and convention center with 215 guest rooms, along with a multi-restaurant entertainment complex with an amphitheater and casino.
For a high-flying group outing, Hughes says planners should check out the Pima Air and Space Museum, which maintains one of the most impressive collections of aircraft and spacecraft in the world.
"It’s a great option for a group that wants to get off-property," he says. "You can bring in a name-brand chef locally and put yourself into that upper tier of off-site options. And just because of the unique nature of that venue, you don’t have to spend money to dress it up. All you need to do is choose your menu and entertainment."