Approximately 80 delegates from around the country converged in Las Vegas, Nevada to take part in the 18th annual Spotlight on the Southwest Tourism Conference April 23-25.

Presented by Free Spirit Vacations and Events, 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.

The host for this year’s Spotlight was the Suncoast in Las Vegas. The conference began with an Early-Bird Reception sponsored by Suncoast and Boyd Gaming. During the reception, Spotlight delegates Jasmin and Dick Shaw surprised the group by renewing their wedding vows, courtesy of Las Vegas Wedding Connection.

SC_Stay-Pool_02-775098-viewerThe following morning, keynote speaker Mark Rowland, chief actualizer for DTP (Downtown Project) Ventures, spoke on the topic “Delivering Happiness to Your Employees and Guests Leads to Success.” Delivering Happiness is something the travel industry does every day, and it is the driving force behind the Spotlight Travel Network, an informal group of travel professionals throughout North America who value and seek mutually successful business relationships.

The trade show featured 32 supplier delegates from throughout the Southwest. The energy in the room was contagious and operators walked away with new information and trip ideas.

Lunch was sponsored by the Southern Nevada Regional Office of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Bureau. Long-time Spotlight supporter Meg McDaniel Spoke of the hidden treasures tour operators can find and around Laughlin, Mesquite, Boulder City and Primm, Nevada.

After lunch all delegates divided into teams and brainstormed to create new itineraries based on the information they received at the trade show. Teams were comprised of both buyer and supplier delegates. The creative juices were flowing!

A progressive dinner, sponsored by Boyd Gaming, followed, beginning with bowling and appetizers at The Orleans. The next stop was the Gold Coast, which hosted a slot tournament as well as a delicious dinner. Sam’s Town concluded the dinner with a laser light show followed by scrumptious desserts.

The final morning, the group convened one last time to present the itineraries that they put together the afternoon before and to share best practices. Then, 25 operators departed on the Post-Fam to Mesquite; St. George, Utah; Zion, Henderson, and Laughin. Highlights were a performance at Brigham’s Playhouse, a lunch cruise on Lake Mead and Casa de Shenandoah.

Free Spirit owner and conference organizer Sue Arko announced the third annual Southeast version of the event (July 11-13, 2016 in Asheville, North Carolina) and the Inaugural Spotlight on the Northwest to be held Sept. 18-20, 2016 in Albany, Oregon. Also on the drawing board is the Inaugural SPotlight on the Mid-Atlantic slated for Oct. 27-29, 2017 in Baltimore.

A quote from the book Good Morning Beautiful Business by Judy Wicks describes Spotlight perfectly: “When a coin passes from one hand to another, it is not the coin that matters, it is the warmth of the hand.”That is what Spotlight is all about relationships.

For more information on the Spotlight Travel Network and registration details, visit or contact Sue Arko at 480-926-5546 or via e-mail at

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