There’s a lot of talk about Denver someday hosting the Super Bowl or the Olympics, but less well known is an event coming May 19-23 that will have an even bigger economic impact on Colorado than those two events. It’s called IPW.  

Don’t feel bad if you’ve never heard of it. IPW is an annual travel business convention that moves around to different tourist places in the country (usually Orlando, San Francisco, New Orleans, Miami, Las Vegas, or Washington D.C.) where U.S. destinations meet with international travel buyers from all over the world to sell them on visiting America. It is literally the “Super Bowl” of the international travel industry where $4.7 billion of travel business is conducted. Some 500 media outlets from 70 different countries cover the event.

And this event is coming to Denver in 2018 for the first time since 1992.  To promote it, Denver Mayor Michael B. Hancock flew to Washington D.C. to last year’s IPW to hold a press conference for 250 international media. Why is IPW so important? Because studies show that a city that hosts IPW can expect to see $1.7 billion of new international travel spending in just the next few years.  So if you start hearing a lot of French, German, Spanish and Chinese being spoken around Denver in the next few years, it’s because IPW has made Denver a major international tourism destination.

How does it work? Every state, city, county, and attraction in America has a booth at IPW and they try to sell international travel buyers (the ones who put together travel packages) on their destination. But obviously, the city that hosts the meeting has a lot better chance to sell their destination than someone at a booth, because the travel buyer is actually seeing the destination.  And in Denver, they’ll see a lot. Denver will host a concert at Red Rocks, a party at Mile High Stadium and a reception at the Denver Performing Arts Complex. They’ll take tours, visit breweries, go biking, ride trains, eat in great restaurants, and visit mountain resorts like Vail and Breckenridge.

“A lot of international tourists are familiar with Disney World and New York and Las Vegas, but they don’t really know much about Denver and the Rocky Mountains,” says Richard Scharf, CEO, and president of Visit Denver the Convention & Visitors Bureau, who is organizing the event. “This is perhaps the greatest opportunity the city has ever had to showcase what Denver offers to an international visitor and encourage them to visit here,” he adds.

So what do more international tourists mean for you in Denver? More traffic, more gentrification?  Hardly. Most internationals get four weeks’ vacation, so they travel farther and spend more money.  They may fall in love with Denver, but they’re not going to move here. They’re going to come, spend their money, create jobs, pay taxes, and then go home. A lot of them travel by public transportation, and since they are on vacation, they don’t travel on weekends like locals, but instead travel during the week.

And jobs in the travel industry in Colorado are important and good jobs.  Tourism supports 165,000 jobs in our state and tourists pay $1.2 billion in taxes.  That’s $650 in taxes a year for every Colorado family – taxes that those people from Texas and Kansas and Wyoming and France and Japan pay – which you don’t have to pay.

But the best thing is that there is no color barrier in the hospitality industry. Most successful people in hotels and restaurants started at the bottom and worked their way up to good, high paying jobs.  If you’re good, there’s plenty of room for advancement as the industry continues to grow.
Look at Barney Ford.  He was a slave born in Virginia in 1822 who was “loaned” out by his master to work on a steamboat as a cook and porter. Then he saw his opportunity.  When the steamboat was docked in Illinois, a free state, he was able with the help of the Underground Railroad, to literally step off the boat and escape.  

Then he began a series of adventures that could fill several novels. He went to Nicaragua, crossed the West, and panned for gold in the California Gold Rush of 1849. But it was in the Colorado gold rush of 1859 that he achieved fame and fortune.  

The laws of the day did not allow Black men to file mine claims. Barney found and worked a gold mine with white partners, but they cheated him and stole his mine.  It was then Barney discovered the one area in the West at the time where he could work freely and where there was no color barrier – the hospitality industry. Barney went back to his previous skills and opened a hotel and restaurant – the Inter-Ocean Hotel at 16th and Blake in Denver. Within a short time, he was one of the richest people in the new mining town of Denver with a horse and carriage and a white driver.

Barney always said that people “appreciate good quality food and accommodations, but they pay for service.” His philosophy paid off. He became one of the most famous restaurateurs in the West, opening restaurants in Cheyenne, Denver and other locations that were all known for their consistency and quality, but most of all for their service.

Unfortunately, none of the hotels or restaurants survived. Most of them burned down in fires or are long forgotten. However, Barney and his wife built a gorgeous mansion on Main Street in Breckenridge, and the house is open today as the Barney Ford Museum. The museum does an excellent job of telling the story of Barney Ford, and how, because there was no color barrier in the hospitality industry in the West, he was able to amass a fortune by providing something that was in short supply – quality food, outstanding accommodations and excellent service. Barney Ford died in 1902.  There is a stained glass portrait of him in the Colorado State Capitol and in March 2018 he will be inducted into the Denver & Colorado Tourism Hall of Fame.

But the lessons of Barney Ford live on. Tourism is a great career choice, and it’s only going to get better in Denver because of IPW.  So if you hear a lot of different languages in Denver on May 19-23, say hi to those folks, welcome them to Denver, and ask them to please send more visitors our way.


Editor’s note: Sid Wilson is the owner of A Private Guide and has spent two decades in the hospitality industry. Like Barney Ford, he is also a member of the Denver & Colorado Tourism Hall of Fame.