Today marks the start of National Travel and Tourism Week, but this year's celebration isn't going far. Travel and tourism have been stalled by the coronavirus pandemic, and even those people who venture outside have been cautioned by Governor Jared Polis to stay within ten miles of home.
But that's given people a chance to rediscover their home town. And as Visit Denver knows, there's a lot to love about Denver.
With no visitors to welcome, Denver's tourism and convention organization decided that the time was right to celebrate this city with those already here. For its #LoveThisCityDenver campaign, Visit Denver took inspiration — and a theme — from the Pat Milbery "Love This City" mural series that debuted in time for the tenth anniversary of Denver Arts Week in 2016. On lovethiscitydenver.com, you can see all six of the murals in that Milbery series, play trivia games for prizes, submit your own reasons to love this city to "Virtually Denver," and search to-go Denver, a list of almost 900 restaurants offering food for pick-up and delivery in the metro area.
During the first weeks of the pandemic, Visit Denver was busy handling cancellations, and while it couldn't do a lot immediately for the decimated hospitality industry, it could for the people of this city. "We needed to get out of the depression and recognize the great things in Denver," explains Visit Denver CEO Richard Scharf.
With #LoveThisCityDenver, "people can share what they love about this city, and have something to look forward to once this starts to minimize a bit."
And to celebrate right now. "We needed to give people a way to support local businesses and attractions," he adds.
Some of those businesses and attractions are highlighted in the prize packages for the trivia contest. "There's a long list who want to participate," Scharf notes, and while most volunteered prizes, Visit Denver made a point of compensating them, since they'd lost enough business already. The Cherry Creek neighborhood package alone has a value of about $600, and should be a great staycation when people can stay in hotels again, he says.
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Here's a question: What are Scharf's favorite places in Denver? "I can't tell you that," he responds, but then spills that he's a fan of Bigsby's Folly, a craft winery run by Chad and Marla Yetka in RiNo. "There are a lot of great people out there. They're doing what they can to sustain their business, and they're being creative. I just think they're a neat couple," he explains. "I enjoy some of the things they're doing, trying to keep people going."
In fact, the people keeping things going may be the real reason Scharf loves this city. "If you really think about our industry...the Uber drivers and the restaurants and the hotels and the museums, the art and culture and the retail...we need these people," he says. "And the owners who have passion make the difference."
While Visit Denver is celebrating the city for people already in and around the city right now, it's also thinking about when it can start marketing Denver again. The Colorado Convention Center is shut down through at least July, outfitted as a temporary hospital facility. But there may not be any big meetings still coming this summer, anyway.
"When do we start talking to visitors?" asks Scharf. That's the big question in his business, he says: "This pandemic has heavily impacted tourism and hospitality disproportionately. One-third of all jobs have been lost in our industry."
And even once meetings are allowed and travel comes back, there's another hurdle. "This is the first time since 9/11 that the travel industry is being impacted by fear," Scharf notes. "Getting on a plane, staying at a hotel, eating at a restaurant...a lot of what we need to do is overcome fear."
To do that, Visit Denver is working with task forces in different industries — restaurateurs and chefs, hotel managers, retail owners and others — on proper protocols and procedures as they reopen, and how to communicate that to consumers. "At the end of the day, it's really not who can do it better, but how can you consistently say that we have protocols in place so that you can feel safe," he says. "We need to give people the confidence to visit."
Visit Denver works with about ten different marketing sites and services, studying tourism trends and "trying to get ready for the next time we market," Scharf says. "What's going to happen next, we're probably going to have concentric circles around who we talk to...first local, then regional, then national."
Right now, it's all local. Visit Denver wants to remind us why we love this city, and to make sure that all those reasons can survive until visitors can appreciate them, too.
While the Visit Denver staff considers the impossible-to-predict future reshaped of this pandemic, they're also looking to the past, coming up with those trivia questions. A few favorites:
How did Titanic survivor Molly Brown (Margaret Tobin Brown) stay in shape?
A. Long walks around Washington Park
B. Boxing Rocky Balboa-style with a punching bag
C. Jumping rope
(correct answer: A)
If you went back in time to the early 1900s, where would you find an electric car factory?
A. Fillmore Auditorium
B. What is now Peyton Manning’s backyard
C. Denver Union Station
(correct answer: A)
In 1859, Denver’s first city government was created in what building?
A. A church
B. A saloon
C. A hospital
(correct answer: B)
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Scharf could answer that last one. He got his early experience in the hospitality industry working as a bartender in what legendary Denver watering hole?
A. Soapy Smith's Double Eagle Bar
B. Govn'rs Park
C. Duffy's Shamrock Bar
The correct answer is C, and it's just another reason to love this city.
Visit Denver's next round of trivia begins May 4; find out more here.