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Once upon a time, a hotel was simply a place to sleep. But a spate of new hotels that opened in Denver in 2014 (482 new downtown rooms) offer guests more than just clean sheets, free HBO, and tiny shampoo bottles. Murals by Allen Tupper True greet lodgers at the 10-month-old Renaissance Denver Downtown City Center Hotel, while the elegant Crawford Hotel, which opened last July, crowns the happening Union Station. Aloft Denver Downtown, a hipster-inspired concept from Starwood Hotels that debuted in December, uses live music to lure locals and tourists alike to its first-floor lounge. This trend illustrates the importance of “experience,” the latest buzzword in Denver hospitality that supposes a hotel should be more than a place of respite between tourist traps—it should be an attraction, too.
New cultural draws—from world-class art exhibits to Peyton Manning to legalized pot—have turned Denver into a prime vacation spot instead of just a stopover for business travelers and powder hounds. In 2013, the “marketable” leisure tourist tally (those who could travel to any destination, but specifically chose Denver) increased by 13 percent to make up a record 5.5 million of Denver’s 14 million overnight visitors. National chains—such as the 519-room Westin Hotel at Denver International Airport and the 361-room Hyatt Place/Hyatt House downtown, both set to open this year—are trying to capitalize on the Mile High City’s growing market, but they don’t always appeal to leisure tourists looking for Instagram-worthy moments. “Millennials in particular are becoming a bigger part of the travel equation,” says Robert Benton, a local hospitality industry consultant, “and they’re a lot different than older generations, who got very loyal to points and brands. Millennials are looking for unique experiences.”
Perhaps no new arrival epitomizes the experience trend more than the Art Hotel, which opens this spring. Davis Partnership Architects, the firm that worked with Daniel Libeskind when he designed the Denver Art Museum’s iconic Frederic C. Hamilton Building, designed the new nine-story hotel, which is being constructed near the DAM in the Golden Triangle. But guests won’t have to leave the grounds to view original work: The hotel’s galleries will boast around 40 paintings and sculptures, and each floor will be dedicated to a different artist. Bill Butler, founder, chairman, and CEO of Kentucky-based Corporex, the developer, says people will come to the Art for the (you guessed it) “experience”—one that, for $300-plus a night, better not scrimp on the sheets either.