Approximately 50 delegates from around the country converged in Florence AZ last week to take part in the 17th Annual Spotlight on the Southwest Tourism Conference.

Presented by Free Spirit Vacations and Events, located in Gilbert 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.

Big business is done in small groups – and Spotlight was the perfect example. The entire community of Florence provided a complete southwestern experience as events and meals took place throughout the community. Delegates were able to visit McFarland State Park, the Pinal County Historical Museum, and the Casa Grande Ruins National Monument.

Trade Show

Trade Show

The main portion of the 2015 conference was held at the Windmill Winery. Originally purchased in 2001 to house a nursery, the property has transformed into one of the premier event ranches in the Southwest. The barn, which housed the trade show, was brought in from Green Bay WI and was meticulously reconstructed piece by piece on the site. New this year at the trade show, suppliers shared tables with others from their destination, so when an operator approached the table, an entire itinerary suggestion was provided. It worked out great as both suppliers and operators loved the concept.

Keynote speaker Louis Thiele discussed “Building Your Network with People You Trust”. This 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 final morning began at the host hotel, the Holiday Inn Express, with a breakfast sponsored by the Mount Athos Greek Restaurant and concluded with the sharing of itineraries and best practices.

Prior to the conference, Red Rock Hotels, the Tempe CVB, Flagstaff CVB, Tucson CVB, the Desert Belle, Red Rock Jeep Tours, and the Anthem Outlet Mall partnered to host 12 of the conference delegates on a four-day pre-FAM of Arizona. The group toured major sites in Tempe, Sedona, Flagstaff, and Tucson before arriving in Florence.

Jim and Sue

Jim and Sue

Free Spirit Owner and Conference Organizer Sue Arko announced the second annual Southeastern version of the event to be held July 27-29, 2015 in Covington LA. Spotlight on the Southeast is produced through the partnership of Free Spirit Vacations and Events and Melinda Hughey from RH Factor. The two organizations affiliated in 2013 after realizing the potential for expanding the regional Spotlight Conferences across the country.

The first 25 operators to sign up will be included in the Spotlight Southeast pre-fam July 24-27, which includes New Orleans, the Louisiana Cajun Country and Plantation Country. Highlights include dinner at the famed New Orleans School of Cooking and a city tour of The Big Easy before heading to Lafayette to discover a completely different culture. The people, the music, the food, the joie de vivre found in Lafayette doesn’t exist anywhere else in the world. A tour of Acadian Village, Avery Island, and Cajun food and dancing are highlights. Then, it’s off to famous Louisiana River Road, including the Nottoway Plantation, the largest antebellum home in the country at 55,000 square feet, and the Houmas House & Gardens, one of the area’s most beautiful plantations.


Arko also announced that the 18th Annual Spotlight on the Southwest will take place in April of 2016 in Las Vegas. Exact dates are yet to be announced. Also, plans are in the works to launch the Inaugural Spotlight on the Northwest Conference in the fall of 2016. This will be a partnership between Free Spirit, Tish Losure from Lead USA and Cynthia Billette from Columbia Crossroads.

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. It’s all about relationships.”

More information on Spotlight and registration information for Spotlight on the Southeast is available online at or by contacting Arko at 480-926-5547or via e-mail at