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These Fast-Growing Texas Markets Have It All for Meetings

Austin skyline

There’s little “small” talk when describing the immense scale and indomitable spirit of the Texas experience. 

“There’s a vastness here, and I believe that the people who are born here breathe that vastness into their soul,” Conrad Hilton once observed, who launched Hilton Hotels in Cisco, Texas in 1919. “They dream big dreams and think big thoughts, because there is nothing to hem them in.” 

Often compared to John Steinbeck, who described Texas as “the obsession, the proper study and the passionate possession of all Texans,” famed Texas-born writer George Sessions Perry published a historical guide to Texas in 1942 titled Texas: A World in Itself. Today, road trippers can visit the Texas towns of Paris, Moscow, Berlin, Vienna, London and Dublin in a 1,000-plus mile loop that includes Dallas, San Antonio and the outskirts of Houston.

Founded in 1963, the Texas Tourist Development Agency, now Travel Texas, did not exactly dazzle with early slogans such as “Texas is a whale that flies” and "America's biggest winter vacation bargain.” Yet these and other campaigns got Texas on the tourism map, later followed by larger-than-life messaging such as 1988’s “Texas: It’s Like a Whole Other Country.” 

The current “Let’s Texas” campaign is “a friendly challenge to explore all the state has to offer” with the message of "Get Your Own Trip to Texas."  

Not everything is bigger in 267,000-square-mile Texas, but the possibilities are endless. With a globally ranked economy and 9% of the U.S. population, ever-expanding Texas has a giant presence any way you slice it. From multibillion-dollar infrastructure investments to industry gatherings with global impact, here are showcase examples of the scale of the opportunity for groups.

San Antonio Wows the World at IPW 2023

IPW 2023 closing party at The Alamo in San Antonio
IPW 2023 closing party at The Alamo, San Antonio. Courtesy Vanessa Velazquez Photography for U.S. Travel Association

According to the U.S. Travel Association, overseas visitation to the U.S. is still catching back up, with arrivals lagging 2019 levels by 26% as of May. That same month, U.S. Travel brought the 54th edition of its preeminent international travel trade show, IPW, to San Antonio. The five-day event, which serves as the largest generator of travel to the U.S., created measurable momentum for accelerating the continuing recovery process. 

First-time IPW host San Antonio welcomed some 5,000 delegates from 60 countries to the Henry B. González Convention Center and other venues. Attendees came to do business, with 90,000-plus scheduled appointments over three days, or 13,000 more B2B meetings than the 2022 show in Orlando. 

Founded in 1718, San Antonio provided a fitting historic stage for the occasion. The city’s original settlement, La Villita (“Little Village”) from 1722, hosted the opening night party, which included an honorary parade on the adjacent River Walk. Buyers and some 500 media toured San Antonio’s culinary and cultural riches, including the Pearl District and Witte Museum. 

Delegates will long remember Travel Texas’ “Spirit of Texas” closing party at The Alamo as the hallowed former mission and battleground undergoes a major transformation. Opened in late 2022, the new Exhibition Hall & Collections Building quintuples prior available space for exhibitions including British rock star Phil Collins’s priceless collection of Alamo and Texana artifacts. The new Visitor Center and Museum, with 40,000 square feet of gallery space, is slated for 2026.

Industry veteran Sheema Vohra, an International Advisory Committee (IAC) Chair for IPW representing India, Nepal and Sri Lanka since 2001, had high praise for San Antonio, crediting “the destination, its charm and people” for “making IPW 2023 special.”

The afterglow includes a major anticipated return on investment. San Antonio forecasts 395,000 new global visitors producing more than $610 million in global visitor spending within the next three years, with more than $1 billion in “ripple” effect international spending in Texas.

[Related: Texas CVB Leaders Share Meetings and Events Outlook for 2023 and Beyond]

Dallas Lives Up to its “Big D” Nickname

Dallas Arts District
Dallas Arts District. Credit: Visit Dallas

Reportedly coined by broadcaster Lee Myres at the Texas Centennial in 1936, Dallas’ enduring “Big D” moniker took off as the title of Dallas Morning News reporter Paul Crume’s beloved six-days-a-week, front-page column which ran from 1952 until Crume’s passing in 1975. Recorded by Bing Crosby, the song “Big D” from the 1956 musical The Most Happy Fella with its refrain "Dallas: "Big D, little A, double L, A, S" further cemented the label.

Chart-topping credits include the Dallas Arts District. Representing the nation’s largest contiguous urban arts district, the 188-acre campus features the most Pritzker Prize-winning buildings, architecture’s highest award, of any location in the world. 

America’s ninth-most populous city is home to the largest hotel in Texas, the 1,840-key Sheraton Dallas, offering 230,000 square feet of flexible space. Dallas continues to attract new hotel development as the current U.S. pipeline leader.

The big group news of the moment is the creation of a dynamic new Convention Center District. Part of a $4 billion multi-point master plan with long-term economic development as the overarching goal, the project calls for a brand-new $2 billion, 2.5-million-square-foot facility. 

“Our new convention center is being designed to make Dallas the premier destination for meetings across the country,” said Visit Dallas President and CEO Craig Davis. “With 800,000 square feet of exhibit space, 430,000 square feet of meeting space, including a 105,000 square foot divisible ballroom, we will be able to host most existing business events.”

Anticipation is high, with more than 30 sight-unseen bookings to date and counting. Aiming for Q2 2028, the venue, surrounded by multi-use entertainment districts, is designed to bring new connectivity to Downtown Dallas that will serve as a catalyst for growth in the region.

“The new and expanded Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center Dallas won’t just change meetings, it will change Dallas. And we can’t wait,” Davis said.

The Austin Convention Center Expands for the Future

Austin Convention Center
Austin Convention Center. Credit: Austin Convention Center Department

With a booming high tech-driven economy and ever-expanding skyline, Austin officially became the 10th most populous city in the U.S. this May. Additionally, the larger Austin-Round Rock-Georgetown area was the fastest-growing large metro region in the country for the 12th consecutive year. 

Founded here in 1987, the annual South by Southwest, or SXSW Conference & Festivals, is among the world’s most influential events. The 2023 edition attracted an estimated 345,066 participants, one-fifth of them from 126 countries abroad. 

Spanning six city blocks with more than 12,000 downtown hotel rooms within a two-mile radius, the Austin Convention Center, a principal venue for SXSW daytime conference programming and other major shows throughout the year, is a national leader in sustainability and technology. 

Yet, its clout does not include size. Currently the 59th largest convention venue in the U.S., the Center has lost business amid consistent demand from larger groups wanting to book Austin. That’s set to change via an estimated $1.6 billion redevelopment and expansion project, announced in May 2023, that will double the existing 376,000 square feet of rentable space within the building’s existing footprint. 

As of mid-July, the Austin Convention Center Department had released three solicitations in support of the project, an RFQ (Request for Qualifications) covering Design and Engineering (already closed), an RFP (Request for Proposal) for Construction Management, and an RFQ for Project Management and Technical Services.

“After each submission window has closed, staff will conduct an evaluation process of all the respondents and make three recommendations to the City Council for approval,” explained Katy Zamesnik, the department’s assistant director. “We will then negotiate contracts with the approved firms. We anticipate completing this process by the end of the calendar year and begin designing in early 2024.”

The current timeline has building closure, demolition and construction activities commencing in 2025 for completion and reopening in 2029.

“In the last few years, we’ve seen roughly 50% of our convention center leads lost due to the lack of space or availability, so we know the demand for a new center is there,” stated Visit Austin President and CEO Tom Noonan in a release. “This new center will allow us to be more competitive within the state and with our major national competitors.”
Plans call for integrating the new building into the surrounding Palm District and reopening street grids to create a more community-centric destination. 

“To give the community, visitors and attendees the true authentic Austin experience, we want the new Austin Convention Center to be an iconic, innovative and symbolic meeting location,” stated Austin Convention Center Department Director Trisha Tatro in the same release. “Along with providing more rentable space, we want a signature design that will provide state-of-the-art technologies and be an industry-leading facility that is ready to exceed future clients' needs.”

[Related: 6 Storied Texas Music Venues for Special Events]

Arlington’s Convention Campus Keeps Growing

ARLINGTON The District
The District, Arlington. Credit: Cara Campbelll for Arlington CVB

In 2008, the two massive curving struts and other superstructure elements of the Dallas Cowboys’ gargantuan new home were in place, providing a tantalizing vision of the future of football and major sporting and other event hosting in Arlington. Today, AT&T Stadium forms part of The District, an approximately three square-mile convention campus that continues to expand following the City of Arlington’s visionary multi-year $4 billion redevelopment plan. 

Having already produced the $250 million Texas Live! entertainment complex and 300-room Live! by Loews Hotel, offering 35,000 square feet of combined space, the investment is set to add two more major venues to the campus. 
Scheduled for February 2024, the luxurious new $550 million, 888-room Loews Arlington Hotel incorporates the new Arlington Convention Center, offering 266,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor meeting space. Situated between AT&T Stadium and Globe Life Field, home of MLB’s Texas Rangers, the new building connects via skybridge to Live! by Loews.

Other assets on the highly walkable campus include Esports Stadium Arlington + Expo Center and the Arlington ISD Performing Arts Center.

Frisco’s Winning Ways

Omni PGA Frisco Resort
Omni PGA Frisco Resort. Credit: Omni PGA Frisco Resort

In 1987, Frisco, some 30 miles north of Dallas, was a farming community of around 5,000 people. By 2003, when Visit Frisco was founded, the population had increased seven-fold. That same year, the arrival of the Texas Rangers’ minor league affiliate Frisco Rough Riders, junior hockey team Texas Tornado and front office and practice facility of the NHL’s Dallas Stars kicked off a continuing sports-driven transformation. 

FC Dallas of Major League Soccer followed in 2005. Coined in 2017, Frisco’s “Sports City USA” marketing slogan was cemented in 2016 with the opening of The Star, the Dallas Cowboys’ $115 million event-capable world headquarters and training facility. 

Now the state’s 14th largest city with 227,500-plus people, Frisco is home to eight sports organizations, including six professional teams and four major stadiums. In addition to major events like the annual Football Championship Series final, played at FC Dallas’ 20,500-capacity Toyota Stadium, Frisco’s sports ecosystem includes esports and sports medicine, research and technology. 

Sports City USA got even bigger last summer when the PGA of America, relocating from Palm Beach, Florida opened its massive new “Home” in Frisco. 

Opened in May 2023, the adjacent 500-room Omni PGA Frisco Resort, offering 127,000 square feet of highly versatile space, has swung right into action as a group destination.

“As of June, we had already surpassed our room night budget for 2023 and expect to crossover into 2024 at 20% over our budgeted figure,” informed Director of Sales and Marketing Gus Tejeda. “Recent large-scale bookings include a client advisory board for a large financial services company this fall and 4,000-room night incentive program for spring 2024.”

Other leading industries booking the resort include medical, automotive and technology groups.

Likening the $520 million project to “opening with the whole toy box,” Tejeda said that potential and current clients consistently single out the “uniqueness” of the amenities at the 600-acre destination resort. 

Distinctive venues include The Dance Floor, a 70,000-square-foot putting green which can be lit for night play and features a giant screen and 6,000-square-foot event lawn.  

“While averaging 700-plus room nights, we have booked 50-plus programs under 100 total room nights in the past few months, which reinforces our ability to accommodate multiple groups across our varied function space options,” Tejeda said. “I am also pleased about our definite pace for 2025 and 2026, which speaks to the longer-term interest in hosting events at our resort.”

Celebrating 20 years at Visit Frisco in 2024, Executive Director Marla Roe has been at the forefront of the destination’s transformation.

“Nineteen years ago, nobody knew who, what, or where Frisco was,” she said. “Now they get us, especially on the meetings side. We have always been heavy on corporate groups, but now state and national associations, faith-based and incentive groups want to come to Frisco. In 2004, we had one meetings hotel, The Westin Stonebriar Resort & Spa. We now have 26, including recognized brands and at least five with significant meetings space. And our Sports City USA appeal includes great offsite venues like the Ford Center at The Star and the National Soccer Hall of Fame.”

Read the 2023 edition of Meetings Today Texas

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About the author
Jeff Heilman | Senior Contributor

Brooklyn, N.Y.-based independent journalist Jeff Heilman has been a Meetings Today contributor since 2004, including writing our annual Texas and Las Vegas supplements since inception. Jeff is also an accomplished ghostwriter specializing in legal, business and Diversity & Inclusion content.