Denver Int’l Stages Year-Round Special Events for Passengers & Community

Denver Int’l Stages Year-Round Special Events for Passengers & Community
Laura Wavra
Published in: 

Most passengers don’t expect ice skating, lawn games or beer tastings at the airport, but Denver International (DEN) provides them—and much more. For three years running, the airport has hosted an “Events at DEN” series, and the lineup is proving so popular it also attracts visitors not flying into or out of the airport.

The year-round schedule is designed to “surprise and delight” passengers, community members and staff, explains DEN Arts and Events Director Heather Kaufman. Most events are free and open to the public. 

The series was launched in 2016, shortly after DEN debuted the glass canopied open-air plaza that links its Jeppesen Terminal to the on-airport Westin hotel and transit center for commuter train and bus connections. Many of DEN’s special events are held in the inviting, pre-security space. 


Project: Special Events

Location: Denver Int’l Airport

Program Name: Events at DEN

Free Public Activities: Ice skating, lawn games, mini golf, ziplining, outdoor movies, fitness classes, etc.

Paid Event: $10 beer tasting

Outside Financial Support: United Airlines sponsored ice rink in 2016 & 2017; numerous companies & organizations donate goods & services

Staff-Only Events: Thank you picnics; division golf tournaments

Key Benefits: Enhance passengers’ travel experience; connect with local community; provide stress relief/perks for employees

Wide-Ranging Schedule

The DEN Skating Rink, a perennial favorite among non-ticketed guests, is open from November to January. Free ice skating on the plaza, complete with complimentary use of skates, is now in its third year and continues to grow in popularity. Airport spokesperson Emily Williams reports that about 16,000 people laced up their skates at the airport in 2017, nearly doubling volume of the event’s inaugural year. 

United Airlines sponsored the event in 2016 and 2017, garnering high-visibility logo exposure on the roughly 40-by-60-foot rink and in marketing materials. As of early October, the airport did not have a confirmed sponsorship for this winter. 

The airport’s fifth annual Beer Flights Beer Garden is scheduled to coincide with the Great American Beer Festival in Denver and Oktoberfest celebrations worldwide. Also held in the outdoor plaza, it features some of Colorado’s top microbreweries and brew masters, plus live music, trivia contests and table games. DEN partners with the Colorado Brewers Guild to organize the event, which costs $10 per person and is available to those 21 and older. 

Other popular events have included a zipline, outdoor movies and a bike skills course. DEN also features smaller indoor events such Star Wars Day and Puppy Bowl in the Great Hall. 

This summer, the airport added a new event from July to September. Crews transformed the outdoor plaza into a lush pop-up park, complete with gardens featuring native Colorado trees and plants, lounge seating, lawn games and lunchtime fitness classes. Mini golf ran from May to June, and featured a custom built 18-hole course as in previous years. 

Both events were free of charge and proved quite popular with passengers and airport staffers, reports Kaufman. 

Staff-oriented events include thank you picnics and division golf tournaments.  

Planning & Execution

Management and administration of the special events requires some outside contractors as well as participation from nearly every airport department—from security and internal guides to fleet and field maintenance. “It takes a village,” Kaufman muses. Once-a-month roundtable committee meetings help keep things running smoothly, she adds.  

The event series is largely funded with airport enterprise dollars, and is budgeted for accordingly. “DEN is a world-class airport, and we definitely put a lot of focus and energy into making sure the events are successful, safe and well-staffed, while remaining mindful of the budget,” Williams explains. 

Thus far, United is the only company to provide event sponsorship, but the airport has a long list of other partners that provide donations or services. For example, the U.S. Open has given tournament tickets for use as prizes; and the Colorado Horse Rescue brought rescued horses and ponies to an event. One year, GolfTEC enhanced the mini golf attraction by supplying a virtual driving range; the following year, it provided a golf pro, who gave putting lessons. 

Denver Parks and Recreation and Alamo Drafthouse Cinema have also been valued partners.  

Marketing for the series includes paid digital and print advertising, digital promotions and in-airport signage. Last year, the digital campaign reached more than 35,000 badged airport employees, passengers, local residents, Westin hotel guests, and family/friends greeting passengers at DEN. In-airport promotional media include floor decals, window clings in the plaza vestibule and Great Hall, digital boards, breakroom flyers, and signage wraps on the information booth, train station columns and elevators. 

Raising Expectations

As one of the first U.S. airports to offer large-scale customer events and activities, DEN is helping set a new standard for the air traveler experience. “We want to provide something fun and lighthearted, to take the stress out of air travel and make it easier,” Kaufman says. 

According to feedback from in-person surveys and social media posts, DEN is accomplishing its goals. Kaufman reports that customer response is overwhelmingly positive and events are well attended. Last year, more than 22,000 people attended events at DEN. Many were passengers, but some came to the airport just for the fun.  

The special series also has a positive effect on staff morale, adds Williams. Participants report that activities such as golf tournaments and lunchtime yoga sessions in the pop-up park leave them happier and better equipped to deal with stressful situations they sometimes encounter on the job. 

Turning Vision to Reality

Inspiration for DEN’s event series came from none other than Chief Executive Officer Kim Day, who saw a volleyball game being played on the public plaza at Munich Airport. Given her background in architecture, Day saw the opportunity to create a unique public venue in the open space between a soon-to-be built hotel and DEN’s existing terminal. 

Her goal was to provide customers with a breath of fresh air upon arrival or between flights and serve as a connection place for people and the community. Day’s vision was manifested in an 82,000-square-foot open-air plaza, just steps from DEN’s Jeppesen Terminal, the on-airport Westin hotel and commuter rail station. Since its debut, the airport has leveraged the space to win the hearts of customers, community members and staff. 



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