AURORA | The Gaylord Rockies Resort and Convention Center is still two years away from opening, but that hasn’t stopped guests from booking stays at the swank Aurora hotel well in advance of their visits.
Already, the hotel has booked more than 150,000 guest nights, according to Gaylord officials, a figure that tops similar yet-to-be-built projects in Houston and Chicago.
And of the conferences and businesses booking space at Gaylord, company officials say 88 percent have never visited Colorado for a conference in the past.
Michael Kofsky, director of sales and marketing at Gaylord Rockies, said the company started booking space at the hotel around the groundbreaking in January. The company already has a staff of 11 people dedicated to booking the Gaylord Rockies project, including five working out of a small office in northeast Aurora just a short ride from the future site of the hotel.
Before the hotel opens the rest of the sales staff will relocate to the Aurora office, Kofsky said.
For now, the hotel is mostly booking conventions for 2019, Kofsky said, just in case construction hiccups push the opening beyond that late 2018 projection. If construction goes as planned, he said they will book those days after the “soft opening” sometime down the road.
Mike Wainwright, vice president of sales for Marriott Americas and Gaylord Hotels, said the company has close to about 2 million potential customers “in the funnel” who they have reached out to about staying at the new Aurora hotel when it opens.
About two thirds of the customers booked so far are part of a Gaylord “rotation,” according to the company, meaning they stay at a different Gaylord property for annual conventions.
Mike Stengel, senior vice president for Gaylord Hotels Operations, said that while bookings have been strong so far, they will pick up as construction progresses.
“They need to see the building, and that’s the last piece of the puzzle,” he said.
Over the next six months the company will bring customers to the construction site to see the project, he said.
“When you bring them out they get attached and get a sense of ownership,” he said.
The company expects about 75 percent of the business at Gaylord Rockies will be conference and convention business, while the rest will be business travelers and locals.
Stengel said the company has high hopes for that local piece of the business, especially among customers along the Front Range.
“We believe this is an enormous staycation location,” he said.
The 1,500-room hotel has been in the works for more than five years and saw its share of stumbling blocks — including a lawsuit backed by several Colorado hoteliers — before eventually breaking ground in January.
The city of Aurora pledged about $300 million in tax breaks for the project, and the state of Colorado threw in another $85 million in tourism tax credits to fund the project.
The Aurora Economic Development Council has estimated the project will create around 10,000 construction jobs and company officials said there are already about 300 workers on site. When it opens, AEDC projects the hotel — which covers 1.9 million square feet on 85 acres south of Denver International Airport — will create about 1,550 permanent jobs.