Colorado Governor’s Tourism Conference Goes Virtual, Recognizes Industry Accomplishments During Unprecedented Times

Denver, Colo. (Sept. 18, 2020) – Attracting record-breaking registration, the first-ever virtual Colorado Governor’s Tourism Conference on Thursday honored top tourism industry achievers and shared the latest thinking and inspiration from several of the nation’s top tourism leaders and experts.

Live-streamed from Red Rocks Parks and Amphitheatre, with the support of Denver Arts and Venues, the Colorado Tourism Office’s annual educational conference centered on a theme of “Forge Ahead.” Programming focused on the fortitude of the industry that accounts for the second-largest source of Colorado jobs. The daylong format also was deeply influenced by the national conversation around equity, diversity and inclusion. Conference attendees were able to engage with the content live by responding to polls and making comments throughout the day. Total engagements including poll votes and comments was 3,330.

“This year’s Gov Con theme, Forge Ahead, expresses the grit and determination that so many of our forebears brought to past challenges,” said Governor Jared Polis. “These are the qualities that already are key to the strides we are making to restore the strength of our state’s economy, and especially our tourism economy.”

Colorado Tourism Office Director Cathy Ritter noted that while some destinations of Colorado turned in better summer seasons than expected, many aspects of Colorado tourism -- especially the food and beverage industry, cultural institutions, destination marketing organizations and hotels -- continue to grapple with significant challenges. Since early March, Colorado travelers have spent an estimated $5.11 billion, down nearly 58 percent from the $12.08 billion spent during the same period in 2019.

“It’s been a year of highs and lows, heart-breaking decisions, walking fine lines, and extreme impacts for the travel industry,” Ritter said. “We are here to set the pace for the future, to share ways that we will Forge Ahead and to build back our Colorado travel industry better, stronger and more attuned to future opportunities.”

This year’s conference featured keynote sessions from both Roger Dow, President & CEO of the U.S. Travel Association, and the association’s chair, Elliott Ferguson, President & CEO of Destination D.C. Ferguson led a keynote panel on inclusivity in travel. MMGY Global CEO Clayton Reid shared a showstopper keynote, sharing his outlook for travel while ascending Steamboat Mountain in a gondola. Breakout sessions touched on topics including destination stewardship, “new normal marketing tools,” a look at the travel media landscape, and an outlook for Denver International Airport.

“COVID-19 is testing our tourism industry here in Colorado like never before, yet it's important to recognize the bright spots shining through this storm,” said Colorado Tourism Board Chair Courtney Frazier, who lifted up the city of Colorado Springs as an example. “This city was listed as No. 1 in the country in terms of summer occupancy at 66 percent* and fared better than most of the country in leisure and hospitality job losses by regaining nearly 85 percent of employees by July. There are many other hopeful stories just like this. As Coloradans, the amount of ingenuity, adaptation and collaboration I have seen these past several months is truly inspirational.”

Though virtual and shortened to a one-day format, the conference incorporated a long-time highlight, the annual awards ceremony honoring top achievements for the prior year. The 2020 honorees are as follows:

- The Colorado Tourism Office Board Chairman’s Award is awarded to extraordinary individuals’ commitment to tourism in Colorado. This year’s award was presented to Doug Price, president and CEO of Visit Colorado Springs for the past six years. Price serves as vice chair of the Colorado Tourism Board and previously served as senior vice president for professional development for Destinations International in Washington DC.

- The Outstanding Community Tourism Initiative Award is presented to a community or region that has demonstrated excellence in a tourism event, promotion or project. This year’s award recipient was the Roaring Fork Valley Goes For the Gold and The Aspen Snowmass / Roaring Fork Valley Gold-Level IMBA Ride Center. This regional Gold-Level IMBA Ride Center is only one of seven in the world.

- The award for Outstanding Sustainability Initiative, Project or Program was awarded to Gunnison County and the National Forest Foundation’s STOR Corps. This partnership has created a sustainable and replicable model that will address land-stewardship projects in the Gunnison Valley well into the future and set an example for perseverance and public health in a challenging time.

- The Governor’s Award for Outstanding Individual Contribution to Colorado Tourism is presented to an individual to recognize his/her tireless contributions to advancing the Colorado tourism industry. This award was presented to Debbie Braun, president and CEO of the Aspen Chamber Resort Association, for her long-time contributions.

- The Governor’s Award for Outstanding Marketing Program recognizes an event or project undertaken by a community or region to promote tourism in Colorado. This award went to Colorado Stargazing: Experience the Night. The initiative was a collaboration between Vista Works and the towns of Westcliffe, Silver Cliff, La Veta, Cuchara, Creede and Lake City.

- The Jack Snow Volunteer Award is presented to an individual who selflessly dedicated time and energy to furthering tourism in Colorado and bettering the visitor experience in the state. This year’s award goes to Pamela Mahonchak, who has shared about 50 years of volunteer service to Denver and the Molly Brown House.

The Colorado Tourism Office is planning next year’s conference for Sept. 22-24, 2021, in Snowmass.

*According to Smith Travel Research

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About the Colorado Tourism Office: The Colorado Tourism Office (CTO) is a division of the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade. The CTO’s mission is to generate traveler spending through promotion of Colorado as a four-season, four-corner, world-class travel destination and development of compelling, sustainable travel experiences. In 2019, Colorado travelers directly spent $24.2 billion, generating $1.49 billion in local and state revenues. Replacing those revenues would have cost each Colorado household $707 in additional taxes last year. Tourism is the state’s second-largest employer, directly supporting 181,200 jobs in 2019. For more information, please visit