Magazine Online    The Authority On African-American Conventions, Incentives, & Leisure Travel
Issue: December 2008/January 2009
Tour Operator Profile: Sid Wilson
By: Edith Billups


Colorado resident Sid Wilson was a corporate executive at Lockheed Martin in 1989 when the defense industry suffered a major setback. "With the demise of the Soviet Union, defense contractors began downsizing and there were wholesale layoffs. Over a million people lost their jobs," said Wilson. "I was responsible for downsizing in my department, and it occurred to me that I should start thinking about my future myself."

Wilson said that he and his wife, Claudia-Marie, also in telecommunications, "made a decision that whoever took a hit should start thinking seriously about what they really wanted to do." An ad in a local newspaper about the International Guide Academy relocating its headquarters to Denver would later turn out to be a blessing in disguise.

Wilson registered for classes and obtained a certificate. For two years, over the weekends, he volunteered at museums and destination management companies. By the time he left Lockheed Martin in 1992, he had enough knowledge of the tour industry that he was confident enough to start his own company. Today, as co-owner of A Private Guide, Inc., Wilson has gained a solid reputation in the group tour industry and has become known as the dean of African-American heritage tourism in Denver.

According to Wilson, "We are not travel agents. We are a service company that operates event transportation and group tours. We deal with a wide range of products that for Colorado is really special. The type of experiences we provide include soft adventure (ie: white water rafting, horseback riding, hiking, etc.) and then there is the heritage tourism and cultural tourism."

For Wilson, the bulk of his business comes from corporate meetings and conventions, "and in the summertime, we have a reunion or two every weekend. We arrange to meet people at the airport, help them with their luggage and provide motor coaches to transport them to their hotels.

"We will arrange express check-in and will arrange for them to have registration packets, for instance, in their rooms. We take them to dinner and will even arrange the menu."

Some of Wilson's clients have included The National Basketball Association, The International Map Collectors; and the International Grand Boule. Other business comes from African-Americans who are seeking unique itineraries around the African-American experience in the west.

According to Wilson, 65, "We have a number of sites that allow us to represent that, experience. We are very fortunate to have the Black America West (Black Cowboy) Museum. Also, during (former mayor) Wellington Webb's administration, he was the prime mover of bringing to Denver the Blair Caldwell African American research library. It's maybe one of six in the nation and has a fabulous museum and a special collection of Black literature focusing on the west."

Wilson noted that, "There also were a number of historical figures that lived here, and we have been able to convert their stories into a tourism commodity. Up in the mountains, we have the legacy of Barney Ford. He was an escaped slave who came to Colorado in early years and opened one of the finest hotels here in the 1870s.

"He was instrumental in bringing voting rights to Blacks in 1876 and actually held up the admission of Colorado into the US as a state because the territorial constitution denied suffrage to Blacks. He was a miner, millionaire and politician."

Wilson said that he has been able to assist with securing historical African-American sites in Deerfield, CO and Lincoln Hills, CO. "I've been instrumental in restoring the James Beckworth legacy, one of the greatest mountain men of his time. He lived around Quincy and was the Muhammad Ali of mountain men." Through A Private Tour, African-Americans also can learn about Bill Pickett, the famous rodeo star and visit Denver during the Bill Pickett Black Rodeo. The company also provides tours to more modern day African-American inspired historical sites such as the monument of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in Denver's City Park.

For people wanting to move into the tour or travel industry, Wilson says, "It doesn't really require super special skills, but it does require a willingness to be gracious and attentive."

It also helps, according to Wilson, to be willing to become totally involved in the local community. "When I was a tour guide, I learned that the cultural institutions were the fastest way to get access to people who were doing things. I was asked to be on a number of boards and there were incredible leadership opportunities. The people who got to know me were willing to take a chance on my services." Wilson said that he was able to take the experience of being downsized and "reinvent myself." In turn, he has been able to reap rewards that include being able to work from home and spend quality time with his wife, son and daughter.

People interested in learning more about A Private Tour can visit or call 303 758-8149.