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2/22/2004

Phoenix bends over backward to land patrons

The Arizona Republic

PHOENIX — One chief executive officer arrived by helicopter at his company event and rappelled down the side of the building in a James Bond-like stunt.

Another company entertained its people with a performance reminiscent of Cirque du Soleil.

When it comes to the business of corporate meetings, Phoenix area hotels and resorts go to great lengths to ensure these guests get what they want, leave happy and, above all, return. While the groups pay for most of their own events, accommodating their requests can be an exercise in resort flexibility.

“We’ll make it happen,” said Greg Hanss, marketing director at Four Seasons Resort-Scottsdale, where the CEO of a financial services group rappelled the resort walls for an elaborate 007-themed gala in the ballroom.

It also had no complaint about displaying an expensive Mercedes on a pedestal last September when Fortune magazine recognized corporate America’s 50 most influential women in a gathering co-sponsored by Mercedes. The car company shipped about 40 vehicles, including one model that sells for about $350,000, to the resort for the women to use as courtesy cars and perhaps whet their appetites for future purchases.

“(Corporate and group business) is an incredibly important part of what we do as an industry,” Hanss said.

The business, often involving companies trying to impress clients, showcase products or train or reward employees, fills about 60 percent of rooms annually, with comparable revenues, according to several operators of Phoenix area resorts and hotels.

At the meeting-focused Scottsdale Resort & Conference Center, which began seeking more leisure travelers after a remodeling and name change, corporate and group business is the bread and butter. It fills 85 percent of rooms but accounts for 95 percent of revenue, according to David Reed, marketing director.

“Corporate business is all good business,” Reed said.

The attendees are valuable visitors for a Phoenix tourism economy that the Greater Phoenix Convention & Visitors Bureau pegs at $6 billion annually. Tourism supports about 225,000 jobs, from hotel and restaurant workers to tour operators and other vendors.

While corporate business softened with the economy, Phoenix’s strong leisure appeal allowed it to weather the recessionary storm better than more business-centric destinations.

The market’s tourism breakdown is about 71 percent leisure, 29 percent business and convention, according to the bureau.

Amid signs that corporate travel is rebounding, hotel and resort operators are hopeful for improving revenues.

Properties will do what they can to get the business.

If a group wants to play golf when the Phoenician is scheduled to overseed its courses, the grass will wait, spokeswoman Debora Bridges said.

“If you can’t move around your (seeding) dates, then you’re going to lose your business,” she said.

In Scottsdale, Reed pitches the property’s longtime focus on meetings among its differences from big hotels that rely heavily on leisure travelers.

“We only do one thing; we can do a better job,” he said.