More than 70 delegates from around the United States, Canada, and Mexico converged on Tucson, Arizona in April to take part in the 20th Annual Spotlight on the Southwest Tourism Conference.

For the first time in the conference’s history, Sonora, Mexico had a large presence, particularly the village of Puerto Penasco (Rocky Point).
Co-produced by Free Spirit Vacations and Events in Gibert, AZ and Red Hot Celebrations in Lakewood, CA, the conference was designed to better acquaint tour operators with destinations, hotels, attractions and restaurants in the Southwestern United States and Sonora, Mexico. Speakers, brainstorming and networking sessions, a supplier trade show and local area touring were among the activities offered to delegates.
Big business is done in small groups and Spotlight was the perfect example.   Delegates discovered the cultural and historical treasures of the region, while experiencing the great networking opportunities that have made Spotlight conferences so popular.

Attendees had a grand time at the early-bird reception sponsored by the Desert Diamond Hotel and Casino.   The next day, a keynote panel sponsored by Marriott International, included J. Felipe Garcia from Visit Tucson, Luis Gonzales from the Sonora Tourism Office, Agustin Caporros from A Closer Look Tours, Andre Barragan from Marriott International and Leslie McClendan from Visit Yuma CVB.  The group discussed both the inbound and outbound Mexico Travel Market, both challenges and opportunities.  Both sides continue to become more bi-lingual and bi-cultural. Additionally, Luis Gonzales addressed the group during lunch, which was sponsored by Sonora Tourism Office, Come to Rocky Point and A Closer Look Tours.

A trade show sponsored by Southern Nevada Destinations and an itinerary planning session filled the third day of the conference. An evening round of drinks was sponsored by Boyd Gaming and was followed by a progressive dinner, sponsored by the Visit Tucson.  A tour of the Arizona Historical Society Downtown Museum was followed by a stop at Presidio San Agustin del Tucson Museum.  The evening concluded with a fabulous dinner and entertainment at La Cocina.

The final day began with a new Spotlight event – the Koffee Klatch, sponsored by Visit El Paso.  During the trade show, partners had the opportunity to schedule Koffee Klatch meetings with those they needed to get additional information from or finalize bookings.  The conference concluded with the sharing of itineraries and best practices.
Prior to the conference, tour operators experienced the beaches of Puerto Penasco and the Desert of Yuma, AZ on a five–day pre-fam tour.  Come to Rocky Point and the Penasco del Sol Resort Hotel rolled out the red carpet for the operators, who were treated to a Sunset Cruise, Dinner on the Beach and a Yacht Cruise out to Bird Island.  Whales and dolphins sighted along the way and delicious food embellished the Rocky Point experience.   A stop was made at El Pinacate World Heritage Site, where the dormant volcanic Pinacate Shield of black and red lava flows.
Visit Yuma hosted the second part of the FAM, where the group toured the Colorado River State Park and the Yuma Territorial Prison State Park.  A special highlight was the “Farmers’ Wives” dinner and entertainment at St Paul’s Church.  More incredible culinary experiences and special activities like   “Welding Like a Girl”, a painting class, and a visit to the legendary Lutz Casino were also included.

The group concluded the FAM at Tohono Chul Garden with a tour, cooking demonstration, and lunch, sponsored by Visit Tucson.
Chris Reid, from the Pinal County Historical Museum comments, “This is my third Spotlight and I will tell you, I am from a small town off the beaten path and this is a phenomenal opportunity to showcase my town and meet operators and other vendors.  I strongly recommend Spotlight to anybody who wants to build awareness of their area.”
Myron Stamm from Daytripper Tours adds, “This is my 1st Spotlight on the Southwest and I am loving it because we have been in business for 31 years and we are very excited because we are discovering new attractions that I never new existed. We are planning all kinds of new ideas for itineraries that we have never had before so this has been a great first experience. I would recommend Spotlight to anybody who wishes to learn more about the Southwest.”

The following dates were announced for future Spotlight Travel Network Conferences.
5th Annual Spotlight on the Southeast – July 9-11, 2018 – Birmingham, AL
3rd Annual Spotlight on the Northwest – August 26-28, 2018 – Pendleton, OR
2nd Annual Spotlight on the Mid-Atlantic – October 10-12, 2018 – Dover, DE
21st  Annual Spotlight on the Southwest – April 24-26, 2019 – El Paso, TX
Registration information is available online at or by contacting Sue Arko at 480-926-5547or via e-mail at