Every year, on behalf of the city’s tourism industry, VISIT DENVER, The Convention & Visitors Bureau, recognizes several “Tourism Stars” – organizations that went above and beyond to create an especially impactful visitor experience. This year, Denver’s multi-billion dollar tourism industry – ranked as its second largest industry pre-pandemic – will honor eight events and attractions that have significantly contributed to the city’s recovery.
Richard Scharf, president & CEO of VISIT DENVER, stated, “We all know that 2021 was a rollercoaster year for the tourism industry, with many peaks of optimism that the pandemic was finally waning, only to have new variants and outbreaks slow things down again. But in Denver, we have been exceptionally fortunate that during this transition year, we were able to complete and open outstanding new attractions while also hosting major cultural and sporting events, priming our city for a dynamic recovery. When travel reopens completely, Denver will emerge as an even better destination with more to offer visitors than ever before.”
The awards ceremony will take place at the Denver & Colorado Tourism Hall of Fame Dinner on Wednesday, March 9, 2022 at the Mission Ballroom. In addition to the Tourism Star awards, four people will be inducted into the Denver & Colorado Tourism Hall of Fame: former Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce leader and Chancellor Emeritus for the CSU System, Joe Blake; former CEO of Denver International Airport, Kim Day; and co-CEOs of Karsh Hagan advertising agency, Pocky Marranzino and Kathy Hagan.
The Denver & Colorado Tourism Hall of Fame Dinner is the premier annual event for Denver’s travel industry, which supports as many as 60,000 jobs in the metro area. The dinner is also a fundraising event for the VISIT DENVER Foundation, which in its history has awarded more than $1.2 Million in scholarships to 450 Colorado students pursuing higher education in the fields of tourism and hospitality.
For ticket information, please contact Lauren Huffer at firstname.lastname@example.org or 303.515.1220.
Tourism Stars 2021: Cultural Institutions & Attractions
Denver Art Museum: Opening of the Martin Building, Sturm Grand Pavilion, Sie Welcome Center, renovation of Ponti-designed building and two blockbuster exhibitions: Paris to Hollywood and Whistler to Cassatt
Another major development for Denver’s tourism product opened to the public in October 2021 with the long-anticipated opening of Denver Art Museum’s Lanny and Sharon Martin Building, Anna and John J. Sie Welcome Center and Sturm Grand Pavilions well as new outdoor public spaces. After almost four years of construction and installation work, the $175 million project offers a unified, expanded campus complete with new welcome center, educational spaces, and more inclusive collection presentations, as well as a complete renovation of the historic Gio Ponti-designed building, now dubbed the Martin Building. The new offerings include a gorgeous new restaurant; the repurposing of two rooftop areas into outdoor gathering spaces with spectacular views; 30,000 sq. ft. of new exhibition space over seven floors; and the brand-new welcome center that greatly improves the visitor experience. News stories across the country heralded this as one of the biggest cultural events of 2021. Already one of the top attractions in the Rocky Mountain region, the new Denver Art Museum has become a “must visit” and a “must re-visit” attraction that will bring tourists back to Denver again and again.
In addition to the renovation, Denver Art Museum also staged two major exhibitions in 2021 that brought people to the city during a pivotal time period. First, Paris to Hollywood: The Fashion and Influence of Véronique and Gregory Peck examined the evolution of fashion as women’s role in society changed throughout the 20th century through one of the most famed and fashionable couples of the time. Then, Whistler to Cassatt: American Painters in France (running through March 13, 2022), unveiled the first comprehensive examination of France’s stylistic impact on American painting from the late 1800s through the early 1900s. For these accomplishments and additions, Denver Art Museum is certainly one of the Tourism Stars of 2021.
Denver Center for the Performing Arts: Van Gogh Alive & Renovation of Theatres
Beginning in March 2016, the Denver Center for the Performing Arts embarked on the most ambitious project in their master plan. The renovation of the Bonfils Theatre Complex was a $54 million investment to reimagine a world-class home for magical theatre and memorable events. Completed in 2021, it resulted in tremendous upgrades to the main entrance, technology, accessibility, backstage and support areas, and the renovation of two theatres: The Marvin & Judi Wolf Theatre (formerly Stage Theatre) and The William Dean Singleton Theatre (formerly Ricketson Theatre).
In addition, DCPA helped bring Van Gogh Alive to Denver, a large-scale, COVID-safe digital art experience, giving visitors the unique opportunity to immerse themselves into Van Gogh’s artistry. Visitors had the opportunity to find themselves interacting with art in ways they never imagined. From start to finish, spectators were surrounded by a vibrant symphony of light, color, sound and fragrance that has been called an ‘unforgettable’ multi-sensory experience. Van Gogh’s masterpieces came to life, giving visitors the sensation of walking right into his paintings, a feeling that was simultaneously enchanting, entertaining and educational.
For these huge improvements to the theatres and for bringing a fun, interactive art installation to Denver, DCPA is truly a tourism star in 2021.
Denver Museum of Nature & Science: T. rex, Stonehenge, and Guitar Exhibits
In 2021, the Denver Museum of Nature & Science staged three fantastic exhibitions that brought visitors from around the nation. SUE the T. rex is the most complete, best-preserved Tyrannosaurus rex ever discovered, and the traveling exhibition SUE: The T. rex Experience brought the 40-foot-long, 13-foot-tall dinosaur to Denver in all her frightening glory with animations and a fleshed-out replica of what SUE would have looked like while once roaming Denver. Stonehenge, the groundbreaking exhibition, included 400 artifacts, plus breakthrough science behind some of the latest discoveries about this prehistoric monument. GUITAR: The Instrument That Rocked The World (running through April 17, 2022) is a fascinating exploration of the science, sound, history and pop culture behind the world’s most popular instrument, including a chance to strum the world’s largest playable guitar, measuring in at 43.5- feet-long and certified by Guinness World Records. Together, the three shows helped Denver attract visitors and provide captivating glimpses of the world – past and present.
Luminova Holidays at Elitch Gardens
Luminova Holidays made its Colorado debut at Elitch Gardens in 2021 with more than 3 million dazzling lights. Every evening, the holiday spectacle transformed the theme park into a winter wonderland with Santa, rides and more. The experience boasted a 65-foot-tall Christmas tree, a 25-foot snowman that never melts, 200-foot candy cane tunnel, gigantic ornaments and presents, a 300-foot wall of lights, rides on limited Elitch Garden attractions, interactive activities, strolling holiday entertainers and a gala show with Old Saint Nick and his elves. Luminova Holidays enhanced the nearly two decade long Mile High Holidays campaign that has helped Denver become a major, nationally recognized holiday destination; and, given the success of its inaugural year, the event is sure to become a holiday tradition. Luminova Holidays earned its status as a Tourism Star in 2021.
Meow Wolf’s third permanent exhibition, Convergence Station, opened in Denver in September 2021 and is an unforgettable, transformational and not-to-be-missed experience. Four years in the making, Convergence Station uses art from 300 creatives, including more than 100 from Colorado.
The four-story exhibition is home to more than 79 unique installations, rooms and portals. Together, they tell a wildly imaginative, cathartic tale of what happens when a Denver city bus crashes into a rift during a rare cosmic event and opens a portal to four converged alien worlds. In addition to the immersive art experience, the exhibition includes function rooms for meetings and gatherings, a fusion café called HELLOFOOD with grab-and-go food and drink options from local vendors, and a 488-capacity live music and private events venue called the Perplexiplex. In just a short time, Meow Wolf has become one of the most talked about and nationally publicized attractions in Denver, making it without question, a Tourism Star of 2021.
Tourism Stars 2021: Sports
Colorado Rockies Baseball Club, for the MLB All-Star Game + Draft + Playball Park
On April 5, 2021, Denver was awarded the 2021 MLB All-Star Game and MLB Draft. Normally, it takes multiple years to prepare to host this event – Denver had 13 weeks. It took more than a village to pull this off. It took the entire state. In the end, 49,184 fans attended the All-Star Game – what was the largest public event in Colorado since the start of the pandemic in 2020. Hundreds of thousands more participated in dozens of festivities surrounding the game, including the MLB Draft at the Buell Theatre and Playball Park fan festival at the Colorado Convention Center. The game was broadcast across the world on 60 media platforms in 14 languages in 197 countries. More importantly, it showed the world that Denver was open for business and ready to host major events. The event would not have been possible without the help of Colorado Governor Jared Polis, Denver Mayor Michael B. Hancock, The Colorado Rockies and Denver Sports Commission, who all share in making the 2021 MLB All-Star Game a 2021 Tourism Star.
Concacaf Nations League Finals
More than 144,000 fans came to Empower Field at Mile High for the 2021 Concacaf Nations League Finals. This was the final tournament of the 2019-20 Concacaf Nations League, the inaugural edition of the international football competition involving the men's national teams of all 41 Concacaf member associations. The tournament was held June 3-6, 2021, featuring the men’s national teams of Mexico, Honduras, Costa Rica and the United States. The tournament consisted of four games – two semi-finals, a third-place play-off, and final to crown the inaugural champions.
The United States defeated Mexico 3-2 after extra time in the final to become the first Concacaf Nations League champions. Not only did the games fill Empower Field and bring economic development to the area, but through international media coverage, they showed that Denver was capable of staging major sporting events. The success of these games demonstrated the city’s credentials as a first-class sporting destination at a crucial time, with Denver also bidding to be a host city for the FIFA World Cup 2026. The 2021 Concacaf Nations League Finals proved that when it comes to hosting sports events, Denver and Concacaf are Tourism Stars.
Tourism Stars 2021: New Development
Opened in 2021 in the heart of Lower Downtown Denver (LoDo), adjacent to Coors Field, McGregor Square ushered in a new entertainment experience for visitors and residents alike. A new Colorado Rockies Hall of Fame Experience and unique gathering spaces combine with 12 restaurants and bars, five retail outlets – including a new home for beloved independent bookstore, Tattered Cover – the new 182-room Rally Hotel, and a gigantic 17,000 square foot plaza complete with a stadium-sized LED screen, to make McGregor Square the newest hotspot for tourists. Just two blocks from Union Station and light rail, the center of the square is the outdoor plaza, a pre- and post-game stop for Rockies fans, as well as a year-round destination for concerts, festivals and movie nights. Offering something for everyone, McGregor Square has already become one of the focal points of downtown Denver and a true Tourism Star.