Approximately 75 delegates from around the country converged on Tucson’s Desert Diamond Resort this week to take part in the 15th Annual Spotlight on the Southwest Tourism Conference.
Presented by Free Spirit Vacations and Events in Gibert, AZ, the conference is designed to better acquaint tour operators with destinations, hotels, attractions and restaurants in the Southwestern United States. Speakers, brainstorming and networking sessions, a supplier trade show and area touring are among the activities offered to delegates each year.
This year, Jay Smith of Sports Travel and Tours in Massachusetts and Melinda Hughey of The RH Factor/Girlfriend Factor in Tennessee addressed the gathering, delving into the topic of niche markets attracting younger travelers.
Delegates were treated to performances by Regina and Bernard Siquieros of the Tohono O’odam Nation Cultural Center and Museum at the opening reception, sponsored by Desert Diamond, while the closing luncheon sponsored by the Southern Regional Office of the Las Vegas Convention & Visitors Association featured a performance by ERock, a Kansas City-based Elvis tribute artist. He is a past Ultimate Elvis Contest Winner in Branson and performs there periodically.
A progressive dinner afforded tours of The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, where docents led delegates through desert trails to view native wildlife; Old Tucson Studios, where a rousing musical revue entertained the group and the Pima Air & Space Museum, where the crowd toured three separate hangars housing vintage aircraft of all types.
Prior to the conference, the Tucson Convention & Visitors Bureau and Red Rock Hotels of Arizona partnered to host 20 of the conference delegates on a three-day pre-FAM of the area. Departing Tempe, the group toured major sites in Tucson, including BioSphere2, called one of the “50 must-see wonders of the world; Tohono Chul, a 49-acre botanical garden recently named one of the ten great botanical gardens in the world; the De Grazia Gallery In The Sun, a ten-acre foothills retreat featuring the art and architecture of acclaimed Arizona artist Ted De Grazia; Kartchner Caverns State Park and a tram tour of Sabino Canyon Recreation Area. The group was taken off-the-beaten-path to the town of Florence, where they were treated to a hayride, stage coach rides and dinner at Windmill Winery, plus a chance to hone their quick-draw skills in a shooting exercise at the town Rynning’s Ranger Museum.
Free Spirit Owner and Conference Organizer Sue Arko also announced an autumn event. The HooK , to be held September 29 – October 1 in Elko, Nevada. The Nevada Commission on Tourism and Partners will host a Pre-Fam for buyers from September 25-29.
“We in the travel business don’t sell tours, vacations, hotel rooms, destinations, or attractions. We sell dreams,” Arko said. “TheHooK, a Spotlight Event – it is a tourism and special events conference which combines educational seminars, networking functions and a trade show. Buyers are tour operators, travel agents, and activity directors and range from small operations to large national companies. The ratio of suppliers to buyers is never more than two to one. TheHooK is casual and intimate and is not just about networking. but about building mutually successful and long-lasting business relationships. New tour itineraries, featuring special events are highlighted.”
Free Spirit Vacations, www.freespiritvacations.com