When Bruce Dalton took over as president and CEO of Visit Aurora (Colorado) in April 2017, his welcome mat could have read “Gaylord Rockies Resort and Convention Center.” The $800 million Gaylord project will add 1,500 guest rooms to the nearly 9,000 total (from 54 hotels) that Visit Aurora represents. It will also deliver 485,000 square feet of new meeting space when it opens in late 2018, transforming Aurora into a serious player for big meetings in the region. Dalton got candid with us about his new job, the forthcoming hotel and pursuing new business.
Colorado seems consumed with the arrival of Gaylord. Is the hoopla deserved?
It’s the largest hotel construction project currently taking place in the U.S. When I walked in the door at Visit Aurora last April, someone said to me, “Be careful with the ‘G’ word.” It’s coming; it’s a huge deal; and we’re making good headway.
Prior to Gaylord, where have most of Aurora’s meetings come from?
We do a great deal with sports and faith-based groups, have a huge medical community and are home to Buckley Air Force Base, [which brings] a lot of government business.
Where will you be pursuing groups in the future?
Washington, D.C., will always be a primary market, but we’re also looking to the West Coast for corporate and association business. Those two are big deals for us.
You’ve recently added a national sales manager and have postings for other jobs. How big does your once tiny staff need to grow?
One of my priorities coming in was to change how things operate to focus more on the sales and marketing of Aurora. Our goal is to hire people with national sales experience for high-volume group opportunities.
So you’re ramping up to compete head-on with Denver for similar group business?
Exactly. We’re kind of separating the ties from being a suburb of Denver into being a meetings destination of our own.
What role does Visit Aurora have in marketing Gaylord Rockies in the run-up?
We’re a full partner with Gaylord, so we’re helping them with overflow bookings, site visits and showing people Aurora’s shopping, dining and other assets. It’s also my role to educate Aurora’s elected officials and businesspeople about how meetings and tourism impact the city.
What have you learned on the job that you didn’t know about Aurora previously?
It’s a fairly big city with a small-town passion, similar to my experience in Grapevine, Texas [he was managing director of sales there from 2005 to 2014]. The people in leadership here—Mayor [Steve] Hogan, the council members—are one reason Gaylord chose Aurora.
What else, besides Gaylord, is going on in Aurora now?
Economic development is a top priority—the city is growing in all areas. RIDA Development Corporation, the main Gaylord developer, is planning Rockies Village [a mixed-use project with office space, retail and hotels] on 130 acres adjacent to the Gaylord site.
How are the city and the CVB working to ensure that the rest of Aurora doesn’t get lost in the Gaylord hype?
The city of Aurora was very aggressive in pursuit of the Gaylord project, including $300 million in incentives. My message is that having the Gaylord here will bring more group business and tourism to the area in general, and that’s a good thing for all of us.