The Tourism Hall of Fame serves as the highest award for Denver’s travel industry – which registered its best year ever in 2011 with 13.3 million overnight visitors, generating more than $3.3 billion in spending. The industry supports nearly 50,000 jobs in the metro area.


The 14th Annual Tourism gala will honor five “Tourism Stars” and induct three people into the Denver & Colorado Tourism Hall of Fame:  rock n’ roll concert promoter Barry Fey; former Denver Art Museum director Dr. Lewis I. Sharp; and popular Denver tour operator Sid Wilson of A Private Guide. 


Five “Tourism Star” awards will be presented to organizations and attractions that had a significant impact on Denver’s tourism industry during the preceding year. “This was truly a significant year for Denver tourism with an unprecedented five tourism stars helping to showcase our city as a center for art, sports, sustainability, history and innovation,” said Richard Scharf, president & CEO of VISIT DENVER.


Winning Tourism Star Awards are: the Denver Art Museum for their blockbuster original shows Yves Saint Laurent: The Retrospective and Becoming Van Gogh; the Denver Zoo for their new and ground-breaking Toyota Elephant Passage exhibit; the History Colorado Center for bringing Colorado history to life with their new building and exhibits; the NCAA Women’s Final Four, which created $20 million economic development and national television exposure for Denver; and United Airlines and Denver International Airport for securing a new nonstop flight between Denver and Japan, which will begin in March 2013.


The gala is a fund-raising event for the VISIT DENVER Foundation, which has given out more than $460,000 in scholarships to 189 Colorado students pursuing higher education in the fields of tourism and hospitality since 1999.


For ticket information, please contact Keely Asbury at (303) 571-9405 or


2012 Tourism Stars:


Denver Art Museum for Yves Saint Laurent: The Retrospective and Becoming Van Gogh


In 2012, the Denver Art Museum (DAM) raised the national and international recognition of Denver as a major cultural center by hosting two unique blockbuster shows, both of which generated outstanding press and visitors from all over the world. Yves Saint Laurent: The Retrospective was a sweeping examination of the designer’s 40 years of creativity, featuring a stunning selection of 200 haute couture garments along with numerous photographs, drawings, and films that illustrated the development of Saint Laurent's style. The exhibition was held in Paris and Madrid, before coming to Denver. The DAM was the only United States venue for the exhibition, which attracted a huge local, regional, national, and international audience, and also sold more than 1,000 hotel packages. The museum followed this up with the world-exclusive Becoming Van Gogh, an in-depth exploration of Vincent Van Gogh’s unconventional path to becoming one of the world’s most recognizable artists. The exhibition displayed more than 70 paintings and drawings by Van Gogh, along with works by artists to whom he responded such as Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec and Camille Pissarro. The show was wildly successful, selling out an unprecedented period where the museum was open for 40 hours straight for the final weekend. Together, these shows generated press around the world establishing Denver as a major center for the arts.


Denver Zoo for Toyota Elephant Passage


The largest project in the history of Denver Zoo opened to international acclaim, not only for its beauty, but for its sustainability. The $50 million, 10-acre exhibit contains six large animal habitats with more than 100 animal transfer gates managed from a control center, connecting two miles of trails for animals to explore. It can hold up to 12 Asian elephants, including eight male bull elephants, making it one of the largest of its type in the world. Toyota Elephant Passage is the first large animal exhibit complex in the country to achieve Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification at the Platinum level, the highest green construction certification available. Record-breaking crowds helped boost Denver Zoo (consistently the top paid attraction in Denver) to break the 2 million visitor mark for the first time, setting an all-time attendance record in 2012.


History Colorado Center


Imagine pairing History Colorado's creative vision for storytelling through immersive, hands-on, high-tech exhibits and programs with a stunning and green-built 200,000-square-foot cultural facility designed by Denver firm Tryba Architects with a goal to create a modern-day museum experience that connects its visitors from what “was” to what’s “next.” That is the new $110 million, experiential History Colorado Center.


Visitors get a sense of Colorado’s diverse geography when they walk into the History Colorado Center’s four-story-high, sunlit Anschutz Hamilton Hall, where kids and grown-ups alike explore a 40-by-60 foot terrazzo tile floor map by pushing around a Jules Verne-inspired storytelling "time machine" on top of it. Inside its spacious galleries, immersive experiences abound that tackle a variety of topics, some serious and some fun, and all designed to spark a greater interest in both Colorado and history. Visitors of every age explore places like Keota, a dryland farming town from the 1920s; "drive" across the eastern plains in a real Model-T Ford; "yearbook" themselves with early 20th-century styles to post to Facebook; try memorizing a dynamite pattern in a Silverton hard rock mine before pushing the plunger; trade goods at Bent's Old Fort with Chief Yellow Wolf and Kit Carson; learn how to soar off Steamboat Spring's Howelson Hill in a ski jump simulator; and discover the heart, art and whimsy of the city of Denver, starting with "A for Adrenaline" and ending with "Z for Zombies." During their visit, museum-goers may also catch a live performance, museum theater program or speaker, or even attend a workshop in the Stephen H. Hart Research Library. 


Since its April 28, 2012 debut, this signature cultural attraction and Smithsonian Affiliate has provided urban enhancement to downtown Denver's Golden Triangle Museum District, brought food and retail to the area through its Rendezvous Café and museum store, and has attracted new and larger audiences while inspiring statewide tourism. Whether holding a special event, exhibiting Smithsonian or History Colorado artifacts, opening a new core exhibit or bringing in a major traveling show, visitors can expect that something new and exciting is always happening at the History Colorado Center.


2012 NCAA Women’s Final Four


Denver hosted the 2012 NCAA Women’s Final Four last April, a marquee sporting event that brought 30,000 visitors to the city and generated more than $20 million in spending in The Mile High City. ESPN broadcast the games, which were distributed to approximately 177 countries around the world. In addition to the national coverage and spending, the NCAA brought a series of free events for Denver citizens and visitors alike including Tourney Town™ Refreshed by Coca-Cola Zero™, Mile High Dribble, 4Kay® Run Hydrated by POWERADE ZERO™ and more.  The lasting legacy of the 2012 Women’s Final Four on the Denver community included the NCAA Middle School Madness®, NCAA Pinnacle of Fitness®, POWERADE® NCAA Youth Clinics, NCAA Junior Journalism Workshop, Denver Community Challenge, and equipment donations through Wilson® Sporting Goods Co., altogether impacting more than 25,000 Denver middle school and elementary age children. The total contributions of the NCAA Women’s Final Four to Denver schools and charities was more than $150,000.


Denver International Airport and United Airlines for new Tokyo nonstop flight


In May 2012, Denver International Airport (DEN) and United Airlines announced that United Airlines will launch daily nonstop service between Denver and Narita International Airport (NRT) in Tokyo, Japan. With its joint venture partner All Nippon Airways, United’s passengers will benefit from connecting service in Narita to more than 20 destinations across Asia. The flight is scheduled to depart Denver at 12:25 p.m. and arrive in Tokyo at 3:30 p.m. the next day, with the return trip departing Tokyo at 5:00 p.m., arriving in Denver at 12:50 p.m. the same day. The flight is expected to generate an annual impact of $130 million to the state’s economy and bring more than 30,000 new visitors.” In 2011 DEN ranked as the fifth busiest airport in the U.S., and 11th-busiest in the world with more than 1,700 daily flights, including more than 170 worldwide destinations.