In what may be the city’s boldest bid ever to expand tourism, Houston First Corp. and the Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau unveiled a plan to increase the number of annual visitors by more than 30 percent in the next three years.
The new tourism initiative is part of a renewed effort to target leisure visitors from both domestic and international markets. The goals:
- grow visitation from 14.8 million people in 2014 to 20 million annually by 2018*
- add 20,000 new jobs in the hospitality sector to the 129,000 that already exist in the metro area
- increase the $1.1 billion in local and state sales tax revenue generated by the industry by 25 percent
- enhance Houston’s image
- bolster civic pride among residents
- attract more talent to Houston
“People all around the world are finally realizing what we as Houstonians have long known-our city is a global capital, a city filled with amazing experiences and where anything is possible,” said Mayor Annise Parker. “With significant media attention, new domestic and international flights and major events like the Super Bowl and Final Four on the horizon, Houston has an unprecedented opportunity to build its reputation as a first-class destination.”
The Houston metro area already has a strong hospitality base from which to grow, boasting more than 10,000 restaurants and bars, world-class museums and performing arts and popular attractions such as Space Center Houston and the Kemah Boardwalk. Add to that the $1.5 billion in new investment in the Downtown Convention District, 75,000 existing hotel rooms and eight new hotel projects now under development Downtown alone, and the building blocks are there , says Jorge Franz, senior vice president of tourism.
“What we are doing with this initiative is confirming, unequivocally, that we are serious when it comes to tourism,” Franz said. “Tourism growth means a stronger economy; it means cash and jobs for our community. When you think about it, economic development-bringing new companies and talent to Houston-often begins with a visit by a tourist. If we make a good impression, the ripple effect can be tremendous. Now is the time to think big and set lofty goals, and we’re confident that with our plan of action, we will reach them.”
The new initiative grew out of the 2014 alignment of the Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau and Houston First Corp. and a recent study showing areas where the city could improve its tourism reach, from increasing spending on leisure promotion to engaging more effectively with civic leaders and the public at-large on the city’s tourism attributes. In 2015, the organization is allocating $8.8 million in leisure promotion and advertising in target areas regionally, nationally and internationally far more than it has spent in recent years.
Other components of the plan already in the works include:
- A launch of Houston’s first major advertising campaign in the Mexico market. The city already draws roughly 1 million tourists from Mexico annually, but new flights create opportunity for growth.
- An initiative to educate key stakeholders, including civic leaders and hospitality industry executives, about the effort through face-to-face presentations and events, such as those planned for National Tourism Week.
- Convene a regional Tourism Summit scheduled for Sept. 10.
- A matching grants program that will encourage hospitality organizations to partner with one another. An example might be a local hotel partnering with one of the museums and a transportation company to create a package deal.
- Partner with existing events to promote additional leisure visitation. An example might be collaborating with the Houston Marathon or Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo to create packages that would encourage participation by more out of town visitors.
- The development of new relationships with online travel agencies, wholesalers and other third-party service providers to increase visitation.
- The creation of satellite visitor centers in highly trafficked areas where tourists tend to congregate.
- A renewed effort to draw a major new attraction or identifiable icon to the area.
“I’ve been involved in the Houston hospitality industry for over 40 years and I believe this is the most exciting time I’ve ever witnessed in our industry,” said Nick Massad Jr., chair, GHCVB and president and CEO of hotel operator American Liberty Hospitality Inc. “I’m confident this new effort will allow Houston hotels to build on their success in attracting weekday corporate business by driving weekend leisure travelers to their properties, generating additional revenue and growth in the market.”
*figures represent domestic and international visitation combined