Leading Meeting Professionals

Professional Convention Management Association

April 01 2013

Denver: A City with Mile-High Meetings Appeal

By David McMillin, Staff Writer

Each year, they arrive in mid-October. There are nearly 50,000 of them, and they all share one trait: they’re thirsty.

It’s the Great American Beer Festival, a three-day celebration of the country’s finest craft brews, and there’s no more appropriate place for the world’s biggest beer festival than downtown Denver. While the American microbrew scene has exploded over the past few years, beer lovers around the country agree that Colorado occupies a place at the center of that expansion. In fact, Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper was one of the most important pioneers of beer in the state.

“Our governor really helped start the microbrew movement,” Richard Grant, communications director, Visit Denver, says. “There were only a few brewpubs in the country when he helped found Wynkoop Brewing in 1988. Long before he became governor, he lobbied to change the law when brewpubs were illegal.”

As an amateur beer brewer and professional beer lover, I can attest that Gov. Hickenlooper’s hard work has paid off, making Denver a destination for many of my twentysomething colleagues. According to data from Metro Denver, the city ranks first among large U.S. metros for total population gain in the 25- to 34-year age range between 2008 and 2010.

Plenty of millennials are making Denver their permanent home, but plenty of conference attendees are drawn to Colorado’s capitol as a prime destination, too. Denver helped motivate Mitch Strohm, a 29-year old financial writer, to register for FinCon12, a conference for financial bloggers and writers that was held in Denver in 2012.

“There’s no doubt that the destination sold me on paying to attend the conference,” Strohm says. “There’s an abundance of outdoor activities, a thriving music and art community and an overwhelming amount of quality craft beer.” Learn more at the Visit Denver website.

Farm-to-Convention Center Table Food

Denver focuses on local brewing, but the city is equally focused on local food, too. Just take a look outside the Colorado Convention Center, the first environmentally sustainable meeting venue in the country. There, you’ll find Blue Bear Farm, a 5,000-square foot urban garden where an estimated 3,600 pounds of fresh fruits and vegetables will grow this year.

“As planners continue to work to make their meetings as green as possible, all of our partners are working to make that a reality,” Deborah Park, associate director, communications, Visit Denver, says. “At the convention center, you can work with a representative who is solely dedicated to making sure that your event is as sustainable as possible.”

“Blue Bear Farm reflects that commitment, and it also redefines the idea of convention center catering,” Park adds.

That new definition will certainly hold some appeal to millennial attendees, too. In a study sponsored by the PCMA Education Foundation, statistics showed that more than 45 percent of millennials are motivated to attend an event that embraces green practices and sustainability.

More than Meetings

Away from the convention center, there’s no shortage of opportunities to enjoy a city that prides itself on 300 days of sunshine each year.

“Think of just about any outdoor activity, and you can find it in or around Denver,” Strohm says.

All those activities help make Denver a destination that gives conference attendees a reason to turn three or four days of education and networking into a longer stay. Justin Bresler, vice president, marketing, Visit Denver, says that an estimated 50 percent of attendees that travel to Denver will schedule pre- or post-conference activities.

Bresler tells me that soon enough, guests will have even more to look forward and more options for accommodations.

Union Station, the city’s train hub, is being completely redeveloped, and the plans include a new 112-room hotel at the station. Just three blocks north of the station, another developer is converting a 1920s bank into a 240-room hotel that will open in December. In 2016, the city is gearing up for a big addition: the extension of its commuter rail line that will carry travelers from Denver International Airport directly to downtown.

Once they arrive downtown, I’m hoping they’ll be greeted by another big addition: more microbreweries.

Want a first-hand view of what Denver can do for a meeting? Register for the PCMA Education Conference to experience the Mile High City.

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