DENVER (February 14, 2017) –  Denver’s $5 billion tourism industry will honor some of the cultural facilities, teams and organizations that led to another record-breaking tourism year at the Denver & Colorado Tourism Hall of Fame dinner, on Wednesday, March 8 at the Seawell Grand Ballroom at the Denver Performing Arts Complex.  The 18th annual gathering will also induct four people into the Denver & Colorado Tourism Hall of Fame: Broncos President & CEO Joe Ellis, former Colorado Governor Roy Romer, and Restauranteur Holly Arnold Kinney.  A special posthumous award will be presented in honor of Frontier Scout and Showman Buffalo Bill Cody.

The Tourism Hall of Fame Dinner is the premier annual event for Denver’s travel industry – which registered its best year ever in 2015 with 16.4 million overnight visitors, generating more than $5 billion in spending. The industry supports more than 54,000 jobs in the metro area.

The gala is a fund-raising event for the VISIT DENVER Foundation, which has awarded a total of $842,000 in scholarships to 310 Colorado students pursuing higher education in the fields of tourism and hospitality.

For ticket information, please contact Meagan Logan at or 303.571.9405.

Eight Tourism Stars

Eight “Tourism Star” awards will be presented to organizations, attractions, events and teams that had a significant impact on Denver’s tourism industry during the preceding year.

“There are many people and organizations behind Denver’s phenomenal growth as a tourism destination, and with these awards we like to recognize those who do so much to help our economy, while improving the culturally diverse lifestyle that we enjoy in Denver,” said Richard Scharf, President & CEO of VISIT DENVER. 

Winning “Tourism Stars” for their contributions in 2016 in the areas of art, culture, entertainment and science will be three of Denver’s cultural attractions:

  • Denver Art Museum
  • Denver Zoo
  • Red Rocks Amphitheatre, celebrating its 75th Anniversary


“Once again, in 2016 Denver had an amazing array of special cultural events that brought thousands of people to the city,” Scharf said. 

In 2016, the Denver Art Museum opened Star Wars™ and the Power of Costume, a dramatic presentation of more than 70 original costumes from the Star Wars™ saga, including 300 additional objects sourced directly from Skywalker Ranch.  Chewbacca, Princess Leia, R2-D2, C3-PO, Queen Amidala, and Darth Vader are among the many iconic cinematic characters featured in the exhibition.  The creative process, a driving force behind the exhibition narrative, focused on bringing characters to life by presenting historical design context and artist concept drawings in a quest to transform the essence of George Lucas’ memorable characters into a dynamic reality. Star Wars and the Power of Costume was developed by the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service in partnership with the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art and in consultation with Lucasfilm Ltd, and will be on view at the Denver Art Museum through April 2, 2017.

Denver Zoo hosted “Washed Ashore, Art to Save the Sea,” presented by CH2M, an exhibit that was as much fun as it was educational.  Some 15 giant sea sculptures from sea turtles to parrot fish were made from debris that has washed ashore on beaches around the world.  The exhibit chose a whimsical way through art to educate the public about the challenges of pollution.   Lead artist Angela Haseltine Pozzi organized people of all ages to help her remove thousands of pounds of debris from beaches and then turn it into gigantic works of art, 90 percent of which were made from petroleum-based products such as plastics, nylon ropes and fishing nets.  This was the first time this exhibit had appeared in a land-locked city, helping children and adults understand the dangers that pollution presents to our oceans.

A third Tourism Star will be presented to Red Rocks.  Even with 9,525-seats, Red Rocks Amphitheatre is not large enough to hold all the accolades, awards and distinctions it has already received as the greatest outdoor concert venue and amphitheater in the world.  But for its 75th Anniversary, it was time for the tourism industry to recognize how much Red Rocks has meant to Denver.  “There is probably no greater single icon for Denver that is more revered and known around the world than Red Rocks,” Scharf said.  In its 75th year, Red Rocks staged numerous special events and photo contests and city officials began preparations to add an additional 98 acres to the park, which will allow for more hiking trails.  In recent years, Red Rocks has dramatically grown the number of paid events at the amphitheater, setting a record high 138 paid shows in 2016 that drew more than 1 million people – nearly three times the amount who attended paid shows in 2006.  In addition to these shows, the venue hosted many other activities including the world renowned Film on the Rocks, high school graduations, fitness programs, weddings, private meetings and a wide range of tourists visiting from across the country and the world. The revenue generated from all these events not only pays for all Red Rocks operations, but also helps fund other Denver cultural facilities and events. 

The Star Behind the Curtain – The Scientific & Cultural Facilities District (SCFD)

“While cultural shows and attractions are big visual events that are important in generating tourism, the real ‘superstar’ in Denver’s cultural tourism scene for the past 30 years has been behind the curtain much of the time,” Scharf said. He noted that in 2016, Denver voters reaffirmed for the third time with 64 percent of the vote how important they think SCFD is to this city.  “And so does the tourism industry, which is why we are presenting SCFD with a special Tourism Star Award,” Scharf said.

In 1988, metro-Denver approved a first-of-its-kind regional Scientific & Cultural Facilities District (SCFD), funded by a dedicated sales tax of one cent on every $10 spent.  Today, SCFD provides financial support to nearly 300 small and large cultural facilities with an estimated $50 million of funds each year.  Since the district began in 1989, attendance at cultural facilities has climbed 95 percent and today SCFD provides funding to twice as many cultural organizations as it did when it was created.  SCFD has a tremendous impact on the region’s economy, generating $1.8 billion in annual economic activity, creating 10,731 jobs.   Equally important to the tourism industry, it spurs $520 million in tourism spending every year.  For residents, SCFD funding provides 4 million educational experiences for school children. More than 100 free days are provided by recipient organizations annually.  “If we look back at the history of Denver, certainly the turning point in the city’s reputation as a cultural destination was the creation of SCFD, and we are thankful to the organization and to the voters in Metro Denver for once again re-affirming this valuable addition to the city,” Scharf said.

Sports Stars

In the area of sports, three major events brought worldwide attention to Denver in 2016.

In 2016, for the second time in three years, the Denver Outlaws won the Major League Lacrosse Championship, becoming the definitive champions of this growing sport.  The Outlaws have led league attendance for nine of the past 10 years, and were also champions in 2014.  But the Denver Outlaws are an organization not only committed to winning MLL Championships, but also to growing new lacrosse fans, making a positive impact on the community, and providing superior entertainment, value, and service.   They have been a strong partner to the tourism industry and to Denver and are one of the reasons that Denver has been called “The Sports Capital of the U.S.A.”

Another major sporting event in 2016, was the NCAA Division II National Championships Festival, which brought more than 750 student-athletes to the Metropolitan State University of Denver in May for a competition that featured 76 teams and 20 other qualifying individuals competing for NCAA titles in six sports: men’s and women’s golf, women’s lacrosse, softball and men’s and women’s tennis. The festival also included opening and closing ceremonies and community engagement activities throughout the week. The festival is unique in the NCAA championships mix because it has an Olympic feel and is structured specifically to enhance the student-athlete experience for those who earned berths to the Division II championships. This was the ninth NCAA Division II national championships festival and the first one to be held in the Western region of the country.  Opening ceremonies took place Monday at Mile High Stadium. This event was particularly important for Denver since it showcased to the NCAA the ability that Denver has in hosting major sports events, and opens the door to future NCAA championship events.

A third major sports event winning a Tourism Star Award is the 2016 Coors Light NHL Stadium Series at Coors Field.  The first outdoor NHL game in the history of the Colorado Avalanche was a smash success, playing before a sell-out crowd as well as on prime time NBC television across the country.  The game, witnessed by 50,095 people, shows the possibility of outdoor winter sports in Denver and Colorado, and coming on the heels of last year’s World Alpine Championships in Vail, establishes Denver and Colorado as a center for outdoor winter sports.   The Avalanche played their arch rivals, the Detroit Red Wings, who they have faced six times in playoffs (the winner going on to take the Stanley Cup in four of those years).  Between the two teams, they won the Stanley Cup five times in a seven year period.  Unfortunately, the Red Wings won this game, but Denver was the real winner with a wildly successful and popular outdoor winter event.

Celebrating Diversity

Winning the eighth Tourism Star was Denver PrideFest, produced by the GLBT Community Center of Colorado.  Denver PrideFest is the largest LGBT event in the Rocky Mountain West, which in 2016 not only celebrated its 41st anniversary, but also set huge attendance records with an estimated 380,000 people attending the two day festival at Civic Center Park.  The Coors Light PrideFest Parade had a record 147 entries with more than 120,000 spectators watching the parade as it marched down Colfax Avenue.  PrideFest attracts visitors from across the nation, and particularly from the Rocky Mountain West, where there are a limited number of similar events.  “This is a wonderful expression of how we celebrate diversity and inclusivity in Denver, and we are grateful to PrideFest, not only for the tourism they bring to the city, but for their 41-year history of bringing music, art, and fun to Civic Center Park,” Scharf said.  This year’s PrideFest was particularly poignant because six days before the festival, 49 people were killed and 53 wounded in the deadliest mass shooting in American history at the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, Florida. Instead of responding with fear, PrideFest turned out record numbers with participants flocking to a special memorial at the center of Civic Center Park created by local artist Lonnie Hanzon. Guests wrote their thoughts and expressed their emotions with colored chalk on a giant black cube created in memory of the Orlando victims.