Book

Sid Wilson

Sid Wilson has operated A Private Guide for over 20 years. During that time, he has become an important fixture in the city's tourism industry.

He currently serves on the boards of VISIT DENVER, the Denver Zoo, and the Denver Public Library Foundation, while having served in the past as chair or a board member of the Black American West Museum, Historic Denver, the Colorado Historical Society African American Advisory Council and the Academy of Travel & Tourism. He is a founding member and Board Chair of the James P. Beckwourth Mountain Club, and the University of Colorado's Emeritus Director of the Center of the American West.

YOU GOT INTO THE TOURISM INDUSTRY LATE IN LIFE. HOW DID THAT HAPPEN?
After 14 years at Lockheed Martin as a telecommunications operations manager, I could see the company was downsizing. There wasn't anybody else in my department to lay off, except me. I was almost 50 and my wife and I decided, at this stage in my life, why don't you do what you really want to do? I saw an ad on Sunday for the International Guide Academy, located right here in Denver, that said 'be paid to travel.' By Wednesday, I was enrolled as a student. I spent two years as a volunteer guide and docent at many different museums, meeting people, learning the business, and in 1992, I opened A Private Guide.

WHAT'S THE BUSINESS MODEL FOR A PRIVATE GUIDE?
We started by bringing bus groups from Denver up to Central City and Black Hawk for gambling. There were a lot of other shuttles, but we offered value added - we put tour guides on our buses to give the history of Clear Creek Canyon and the gold rush. A lot of people didn't know that history.

That morphed into offering other tour products for pre-formed groups of 30 or more who are here for conventions, corporate meetings, reunions, or student tours. We now have 150 different itineraries that we offer, but the most popular are the City Highlights & Foothills Tour, which takes groups around the city and out to Red Rocks. 

We inventory every tour based on time, so we have tours of 2, 4, 6, and 8 hours that we can customize to a group's time constraints. But we also do extended stay tours of 3, 4 or 5 day itineraries for pre and post convention groups and students.

WHAT DO YOU LIKE ABOUT THE TOURISM BUSINESS?
Everything. You can't beat it - there's nothing better. I get to write myself into the script, so I'm researching new destinations constantly, 24-7, every day. I get to experience everything that the industry has to offer first hand before we offer it to our clients. When you're out snowboarding, that's just research. How do the suppliers engage the clients? What's the rental equipment like? What's the terrain?

For me, I have to experience everything first hand, whether it's outfitters, horseback riding, rafting, hiking ... all of these elements are incorporated into my lifestyle and have served me well these past 20 years.

And, my kids were beneficiaries too. In the early days of building the business, sometimes these experiences were the benefits. I'm 67, but I'm still riding my snowboard, still dancing, still scratching around in the mountains, because I have to stay proficient enough to lead selective clients as a professional guide myself.

HOW DO YOU THINK TOURISM BENEFITS DENVER?
It's an economic engine. There's nothing cleaner. They come, they have a good time, they leave all their money, and they go. Most of the population living here don't really see Denver the same as they see Montego Bay or Cabo San Lucas or wherever their favorite place is.

They don't see that the same thing happens here. Colorado is a world class destination. People come from all over the world - every day there are big airplanes full of them coming in - they've saved $5,000 to come to Colorado and they're coming with the same sense of anticipation that we have when we go to Africa or Mexico or wherever you love to go. And the best thing - they don't want to bring money home!

ANY ADVICE FOR YOUNG PEOPLE ENTERING THE HOSPITALITY INDUSTRY?
Let's face it, tourism is about service. And there's no greater art for a human being to participate in than the art of giving service. If you understand how to get along with people, how to listen, how to serve - you understand everything. It doesn't take a lot of overhead. The cost of entry is a smile. When someone is unhappy, that's the greatest opportunity. This is your chance to turn a frown upside down. This is showtime at the Apollo. Pull out your bag of tricks and see what you can do.

Because it's all about service. And the art of service will carry you across the planet. There is no greater industry to provide you with that training than hospitality. You don't have to learn pi r2. Just smile with the package. That's the express to success.

It's the greatest industry of all time and it's on the ascendency. Every few seconds, a baby boomer retires. They're not going quietly into the night, so there is an endless source of new revenue from baby boomers who have money.

Tourism gets a bad rap about the pay scale at entry level, but the hospitality industry starts at the same level as the box stores, but the trajectory in tourism - the sky is the limit. And great jobs on cruise ships, hotels, resorts and dude ranches. The potential for being self-employed is also great. They talk about "The Secret." This is The Secret. Hospitality. And the start up? All you've got to do is smile, brother.