The Hyatt Tamaya, located on the Santa Ana Pueblo near Rio Rancho, New Mexico was the host property for the 13th Annual Spotlight on the Southwest, April 3-5, 2011. Over 80 travel industry professionals participated in the three-day tourism conference, which included networking opportunities, a trade show and educational seminars.

Big business was conducted over the three-day period in this small group setting.  In fact, Spotlight has become so popular that due to the success and sustainability of the conference, it was announced that there will be two annual Spotlight events – each with a different twist.

From Oct. 18-20, 2011, the premiere of “Spotlight on Travel Experiences and Events” will be conducted at the South Point Hotel in Las Vegas, Nev. The theme for this conference will be creating tours and events that touch guests psychologically, evoke passion and trigger emotional connections. Discussions will involve enhancing existing tours to allow guests to feel the heartbeat of the destination and participate in a favorite activity or special event.

It was also announced that the 14th Annual Spotlight on the Southwest will be held March 26-28, 2012 at the Holiday Inn Bayside in San Diego, Calif.

“San Diego and the Holiday Inn San Diego Bayside are honored to be selected as your hosts for Spotlight on the Southwest in March 2012,” commented Dana Irby, director of sales for Bartell Hotels. “This is a perfect opportunity to showcase the many reasons our city is the ideal destination for tours of every kind. Plans are being made now to wow our guests by highlighting San Diego’s Big Bay, downtown restaurants and world-class attractions.”

Spotlight 2011 was a huge success. “Hosting Spotlight on the Southwest in Rio Rancho was a perfect opportunity for us to highlight the many attractions, historical sites, accommodations and restaurants in Central New Mexico,” said Greg Pena, group sales manager for the Rio Rancho CVB. “We were pleased with the mix of tour operators and suppliers that attended. We walked away feeling that the conference provided strong networking and business opportunities for all in attendance.”

Domestic tour operators (including Canada) who attended Spotlight 2011 ranged from small operations to large receptive companies (and everything in between).   Anne Basile of Mirage Tours commented, “Spotlight is one of my favorite annual conferences. It is great for developing relationships as I have made so many good business contacts and friends over the years. I have attended 12 of the 13 past conferences and plan on attending all future ones.”

The ratio of suppliers to operators was less than 2 to 1. “We don’t just network – we build relationships at Spotlight,” said Spotlight Coordinator Sue Arko of Free Spirit Vacations and Events.

“This was one of the most enjoyable conferences that I have ever attended,” added Bernadette Anthony of CasaBlanca Resort in Mesquite, NV. “It was a pleasure meeting some new friends and getting reacquainted with friends from the past. I attended the conference as a supplier, but feel like I left as a true partner. ”

Spotlight began with a welcome reception, dinner and entertainment sponsored by Santa Ana Star Casino. The following day, keynote speaker Vern Biaett spoke on Blue Ocean Strategy. Blue Ocean is one of the most fascinating and up-and-coming marketing strategies in the world today. Based on a study of 150 strategic moves spanning more than a 130 industries, Blue Ocean proclaims that tomorrow’s leading companies will succeed not by battling competitors, but by creating “blue oceans” of uncontested market space ripe for growth. Such strategic moves—termed “value innovation”—create powerful leaps in value for both the firm and its buyers, rendering rivals obsolete and unleashing new demand.

A two-hour trade show followed the keynote address. Tour operators were asked to take notes on special themes that could be used to create new niche itineraries to different Southwest regions. A delicious lunch was provided courtesy of the Hyatt Tamaya on a beautiful outdoor patio. Then the group divided into teams and comprised six themed itineraries, based on the information they learned at the trade show.

The day concluded as delegates boarded a Dreamers coach and traveled to several of Rio Rancho’s favorite restaurants for a progressive dinner. The evening was sponsored by the Rio Rancho CVB, and participating restaurants included Turtle Mountain Brewing Company, Joe’s Pasta House, Toro Tequila Bar and Grill, Las Cazuelas Mexican Grill and Hot Tamales New Mexican Food.

The final morning began very early for 16 lucky delegates, each of whom won a “Golden Chile” earlier in the conference. Their prize was a hot air balloon ride with Rainbow Ryders, New Mexico’s premier Hot Air Balloon Company.

Navajo Nation Hospitality provided breakfast and then attendees were intrigued by Suzanne Slavitter’s seminar on the power of social networking. (Anyone interested in tourism to the Southwest can join the Group “Spotlight on the Southwest” on Facebook –!/group.php?gid=114998145199522)

Twenty four tour operators participated in a five-day, pre-Spotlight FAM spearheaded by Mark Trujillo, North America tour trade director of the New Mexico Tourism Department with the support of many New Mexico Tourism partners.

“The Southern New Mexico FAM was out of this world,” exclaims Trujillo. “We visited the Wild West with Billy the Kid in Ruidoso to Space Port America in Truth or Consequences. The excitement and questions the FAM participants showed in their eyes leads me to believe New Mexico is on their list.”

For more information on Spotlight on the Southwest, visit