For more than a quarter century, Richard W. Scharf Jr. has been instrumental in growing all aspects of convention and tourism business in Denver. He has been president & CEO of VISIT DENVER, The Convention & Visitors Bureau, since March 2004, managing a staff of 65 associates, which includes regional offices in Chicago and Washington D.C. With 1,300 private business members and an annual budget of $42 million, VISIT DENVER is a non-profit association responsible for marketing Denver as a convention and leisure destination. Under Scharf’s leadership, Denver has set new tourism records for the last 15 years, culminating in 2019 with a record 31.9 million total visitors who spent more than $7 billion dollars. Since 2006, Denver has seen a 68 percent increase in leisure visitors, compared to only a 24 percent increase nationally over the same time period.
Scharf has also been responsible for greatly increasing VISIT DENVER’s marketing resources, leading a public vote campaign in 2005 that successfully increased the organization’s marketing budget by 50 percent. In 2017, he worked with the Hotel Association to create a new Tourism Improvement District, which will help pay for the $233 million expansion of the Colorado Convention Center, and greatly increase VISIT DENVER’s marketing dollars. He has also been involved in adding tourism and convention infrastructure, serving as a chief consultant on the 2004 expansion of the Colorado Convention Center and played a major role in the development of Denver’s adjacent 1,100-room Hyatt Regency Convention Center Hotel. In 2015, Scharf worked closely with the National Western Association, to lead a successful public vote campaign to expand the Colorado Convention Center and completely redevelop the National Western complex. In 2017, Scharf worked with the City of Denver and the Colorado Hotel and Lodging Association to successfully create a Tourism Improvement District (TID) tax to help pay for a major expansion of the Colorado Convention Center expansion and greatly supplement VISIT DENVER’s marketing efforts.
In 1999, Scharf was the second person to be inducted into the Colorado Hotel Sales & Marketing Association’s Hall of Fame. In 2000, he won the Executive Excellence Award, given by the Association of Convention Operations and Management; in 2002 he won the Governor’s Tourism Award; and in 2007 he was named Business Person of the Year by the Rocky Mountain News and won the Leadership Award from the Meetings Industry Council of Colorado. In 2009, he also received an honorary degree, Doctor of Business Administration in Travel-Tourism-Hospitality Management from Johnson & Wales University. In 2021 he was honored with the Colorado Hotel & Lodging Association’s Chairman’s Award.
Scharf is an active member in all travel industry associations. He served two terms as chairman of the board of the Governor’s Colorado Tourism Office and is a past president of the Tourism Industry Association of Colorado (TIAC), where he played a significant role in restoring funding for state tourism marketing. He currently serves on the board of directors for the U.S. Travel Association, Destination International (DI), Colorado Hotel & Lodging Association, Colorado State University’s Master of Tourism Management, Metro State University’s Hospitality Leadership Council, Von’s Vision, and the Denver Police Foundation. He is a past board member of the Colorado Business Committee for the Arts, Colorado Sports Hall of Fame, Destination Colorado, Metro Denver Sports Commission, and Destination International Foundation. Scharf also served on the Mayor and Governor’s Olympic Exploratory Committee as chairman of the Operations Committee and is currently serving on the 2026 World Cup Bid Committee. He is a member of Colorado Concern, which is a nonpartisan association of CEO’s who work towards solutions to mutual statewide business challenges. In addition, he is a member of Trinity United Methodist Church and is a graduate of Purdue University.