Three of the last four years have been record-setting years for conventions in Denver. In an extremely competitive marketplace, where other cities are constantly adding new hotels and convention centers, Denver has risen to be one of the top ten convention destination cities in the nation. We are well positioned to continue this string of success with one of the top convention centers, a world class hotel package, one of the busiest airports in the world, a vibrant downtown, and an incredible destination appeal. In 2012, Denver will host the same number of groups as in 2011, but with a slight reduction in the total number of delegates, which should rank 2012 as the 5th best year in Denver’s convention history. Looking ahead to 2013 and beyond, Denver is keeping pace. However, as other cities continue to increase the supply of new mega hotels and convention centers, the competition will become increasingly stronger because the convention industry has not seen a corresponding increase in the number of meetings to fill all the new space.
2. What are Governor Hickenlooper and Mayor Hancock doing to help support the meetings and tourism industry in Colorado?
Governor Hickenlooper has been a long-time supporter of the convention and tourism industry. When he was Mayor of Denver, he met with nearly 100 groups in seven years, both groups we were bidding on and ones that were committed to meeting in Denver. He helped establish a program with VISIT DENVER that encouraged physicians and staff at the Anschutz Medical Campus to promote Denver for future medical meetings. This resulted in the booking of tens of millions of dollars of future business.
Mayor Hancock, as both mayor and as a former City Council president, has also been a long-time supporter of VISIT DENVER’s efforts to solicit meetings for the city. During his tenure on the City Council, he was one of the biggest advocates for increasing international non-stop flights to DIA. This is particularly important because international attendees represent one of the largest growth markets for association conventions and meetings. Since he has been Mayor, he has already helped sell future convention groups and welcomed several other conventions at their general sessions.
3. As the economy as a whole, including our industry, starts to rebound from the recession, how do the hotels in Denver stand? In particular, in comparison to other same size cities and possible hotel foreclosures.
The rebound is taking longer than expected, but Denver and Colorado are moving in the right direction. In 2011, the largest number of new jobs in Colorado came from the tourism industry and in Denver, the hotels collected the largest amount of Lodger’s Tax in the city’s history. The hospitality industry is responding very much like the macro economics of the country – tourism recovery matches other economic recovery in the region. Some geographic areas, especially on the coasts, are recovering quickly, while others are lagging. Most analysts agree the recovery will be slower than expected and we might not see full recovery until 2014.
4. Would you offer a few suggestions on how meeting professionals can best work with CVBs?
I would say the best thing a meeting professional could do is to think of convention and visitors bureaus first. From the very start of their planning, we can help them find the right facilities for any size meeting. We have a comprehensive view of the destination; local expertise on hotels, restaurants and amenities; and extensive in-market relationships. And our services are free, paid for by our members and our respective cities – so why not use us?
5. What is one piece of advice you would give to someone entering the hospitality industry today?
This is a growing and diverse industry. Technology is revolutionizing the industry, but human interaction is still the lifeblood. If you are looking for an industry that will soon be the number one employer and represent the United State’s largest GNP, you should consider the hospitality industry. Like all careers, if you are well trained and passionate, you will do very well. It can also be a lot of fun, with great opportunities for upward mobility.
Richard W. Scharf Jr.
President & CEO
VISIT DENVER, The Convention & Visitors Bureau
Richard W. Scharf Jr. was named President & CEO of VISIT DENVER, The Convention & Visitors Bureau, in March 2004. His career in the hospitality industry began with Hilton Hotels in 1983.
Under Scharf’s supervision, VISIT DENVER has won all of the meeting industry’s top convention service awards for the past 18 years. In 1999, Scharf was the second person to be awarded the Colorado Hotel Sales & Marketing Association’s Hall of Fame Award. In 2000, he won the Executive Excellence Award, given by the Association of Convention Operations and Management; in 2002 he won the Governor’s Tourism Award and in 2007 he was named Business Person of the Year by the Rocky Mountain News. In 2007, he was awarded the Meetings Industry Council of Colorado’s Leadership Award. And in 2009, he was awarded the Hall of Fame Lifetime Achievement Award by the Readers of Colorado Meetings & Events Magazine. In 2009, he also received an honorary degree, Doctor of Business Administration in Travel-Tourism-Hospitality Management from Johnson & Wales University. In 2011, Scharf was named one of Denver’s 50 most influential people by 5280 Magazine.
Scharf is an active member in all travel industry associations. Scharf is the past chairman of the board of the Governor’s Colorado Tourism Office. He was past president of the Tourism Industry Association of Colorado (TIAC), where he played a significant role in the effort to restore state tourism marketing funding. Scharf currently serves on the board of directors for the Destination Marketing Association International (DMAI), US Travel Association, Colorado Sports Hall of Fame, and is a past board member of the Colorado Business Committee for the Arts, Destination Colorado, the Metro Denver Sports Commission, and Destination Marketing Association International (DMAI) Foundation. Scharf is also a member of Colorado Concern, which is a nonpartisan association of CEO’s who work towards solutions to mutual statewide business challenges.
Scharf is a graduate of Purdue University.