By Peter Marcus, DENVER DAILY NEWS
Denver may be an attractive alternative for government officials looking to hold meetings in cities that don’t have “fun,” lavish stigmas attached to them.
A Wall Street Journal article Wednesday reported that federal agencies — like the U.S. Department of Agriculture — are encouraging conference planners to find cities that don’t come with the price tags associated with places like Orlando and Las Vegas.
With budgets facing significant shortfalls and subsequent cuts given the economic downturn, some federal agencies are looking to stay away from stereotypical “fun” vacation/resort spots, according to the article.
Cities like Denver and Fort Collins are being eyed as alternatives, though city and tourism officials say the reasoning is not because the cities aren’t fun.
“Just because people might not be getting into trouble in Denver doesn’t mean they won’t be having a whole lot of fun,” said Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper.
Vegas trips frowned upon
After it came to light that Wells Fargo & Co. — which accepted $25 billion in federal bailout money — had been planning an employee recognition conference in Las Vegas, President Obama said, “You can’t get corporate jets, you can’t go take a trip to Las Vegas or go down to the Super Bowl on the taxpayer’s dime.”
Wells Fargo ultimately cancelled the trip. Also in February, Goldman Sachs Group Inc. — which accepted $10 billion in federal bailout funds — moved a three-day conference from Las Vegas to San Francisco.
Federal agencies may be employing similar tactics, looking towards cities like Chicago, Denver, Portland, Ore., St. Louis, Washington, D.C., Milwaukee, Phoenix and Fort Collins, according to the Wall Street Journal.
An Agriculture Department employee said the cities were chosen for three attributes: a travel hub, low in cost, and a “non-resort location,” according to the article.
Makes sense to meet here?
Richard Scharf, president and chief executive of the Denver Metro Convention and Visitors Bureau, said it makes sense that Denver is on the list, considering it is easily accessible and a low-cost destination.
And beyond that, Denver also has an “incredible playground,” added Scharf.
“We’ve invested so much in the city and the city center, and with all the museums, and the art and cultural renaissance that’s going on, and then of course having eight professional sports teams, and then incredible weather, it all adds up where I think we’re as well-positioned as we can be,” he said.
Denver last year experienced its best year for conventions and tourism. While the Democratic National Convention helped, Scharf said the city was poised to have its best year even before the convention.
This year, the city has already hosted at least four high profile conventions with groups of more than 10,000. Scharf said conventions are down this year anywhere from 5-10 percent, but he said Denver is still “holding its own” compared to some cities that are experiencing declines of as much as 30 percent.
Convention and tourism officials attribute the city’s success to extensive marketing campaigns.
Fun outside of Denver
Also, with mountain resorts being less than two hours outside the city, Denver may be attractive because meeting attendees can plan for personal time not associated with official business. For example, someone might choose to come to Colorado early or stay late to go skiing or hiking, said Scharf.
Hickenlooper added that another reason Denver may be attractive to government officials is because it is very capable at handling official gatherings.
“We proved last summer we can put on a giant convention like the DNC, but we’re even better at hosting smaller conventions, like for government agencies,” he said.
Scharf added that he considers it an honor for Denver to be considered among such cities as Chicago and Washington, D.C.
“Being in the company of Chicago and D.C. has never bothered me,” he quipped. “And I think those other cities are really up-and-coming cities as well … A lot of convention groups are tired of going to the same six or seven cities — they’re looking for some alternative cities that offer great destination appeal, and I think that’s why we’ve move up the ranks.”
Distributed by Colorado Capitol Reporters