In the last decade, direct economic impact from the Texas travel industry increased from around $56 billion to nearly $70 billion. From blockbuster convention center upgrades to citywide transformations, expansion has also been the operative word for Texas DMOs. As bureau leaders share here, these impactful times show few signs of slowing.
Phillip Jones had work to do when becoming the Dallas CVB’s president and CEO in 2003.
“I inherited an organization in debt and performing below potential,” Jones recalled. “Today, we are proudly on solid financial ground with several million in reserves.”
Rebranded in November 2016, VisitDallas’ numbers have soared.
“We have since grown group business from half-a-million room nights to more than 2.1 million room nights, and from 10 citywide events to 36,” Jones said. “And, Dallas is the only Texas city ranked in the Top 10 of Cvent’s meeting preference report.”
From game-changers like the Omni Dallas Hotel (see “Sites to Behold,” page 26) and the nation’s largest contiguous art district, the Dallas scene has also been wholly transformed.
“Thriving, growing and vibrant, the new Dallas is a destination where people want to visit and hold conventions,” Jones continued. “We’re excited for the future.”
New divisions, such as the Dallas Sports Commission, and organizational changes, including Jones’ creation last October of a unique C-level role and entire division devoted to customer experience, have energized the bureau as well.
Fort Worth is riding strong on continuing investment in new hotels and venues.
“Previously lacking first-class inventory available in similar markets, Fort Worth gained relevancy as a meeting, convention and tradeshow destination over the last decade through products such as the 2008 reopening of the Sheraton, 2009 opening of the Omni Hotel and 2013 arrival of Sundance Square Plaza,” said Fort Worth CVB Vice President of Sales John Cychol.
Behind massive AT&T Stadium (2009) and a new dedicated sports department (2013), it’s game-on in Arlington.
“Our brand has especially evolved as a sporting destination, from professional through youth levels,” said Arlington CVB Vice President of Sales Jon Hixon. “This helped propel annual bookings from under 80 a decade ago to 140-plus in fiscal 2016, with associated room nights tripling from 30,000 to 90,000-plus in the same period. And national anticipation is growing for major new projects like multiuse Texas Live! and a new Texas Rangers ballpark.”
Grapevine, offering 1 million square feet of meeting space, 11,000-plus rooms and full-bodied, authentic product diversity for up to 9,000-person meetings, has proven fertile ground for expansion.
“Over the last decade, Grapevine has added major hotel and resort brands, new business ventures, world-class restaurants, winery tasting rooms, attractions and amenities that enhance Grapevine’s global reputation as a top meetings destination,” said Brady Closson, the Grapevine CVB’s managing director of sales and marketing.
Adding pillars such as the Gaylord Texan Resort and Convention Center (2004), Great Wolf Lodge (2007) and LEGOLAND Discovery Center and SEA LIFE Grapevine Aquarium (2011), Grapevine supports everything from large-scale conferences to family-friendly off-agenda fun.
“We are always striving for face-to-face meetings and site visits to help maximize opportunities for our stakeholders,” Closson added.
Mesquite has strengthened its presence in the SMERF, association and sports markets over the last decade.
“Successes range from international church groups to expanded sports programming, including arena football, added last year,” said Mesquite CVB Director Judy Skowron. “Having a 5,500-seat indoor arena in our meetings complex has also allowed us to expand our hosting of unique groups with specialized needs, ranging from dog, cat and equine shows to auto racing events and fishing and boat shows.”
Hot for Houston
Named the 10th most joyous place on Earth in Conde Nast Traveler’s 2017 “Joy Index” for its art, architecture, dining and more, America’s fourth-largest city, welcoming and inclusive, has much to celebrate.
“Over the last 10 years, Houston has gained national recognition for its global appeal as the ‘Culinary and Cultural Capital of the South,’” said Visit Houston President Mike Waterman.
“Once known solely for its strength in aerospace, biomedical research, health care and energy, Houston is now an attractive destination for both business and leisure visitors alike.”
For groups, evolution meant “flipping the old model of convention centers as big empty boxes, often set apart from the vibrancy of a city,” as Waterman explained.
“Knowing that attendees seek more personality in meeting spaces today, we led the charge, transforming our convention campus into Avenida Houston,” he said.
Part of a recently completed $175 million initiative, the Avenida entertainment district fronts the renovated George R. Brown Convention Center with a 97,000-square-foot, amenity-rich pedestrian plaza.
Long anchored by the AAA Four Diamond, skywalk-connected Hilton Americas-Houston, offering 1,200 rooms and 91,500 square feet of flexible space, the convention campus—largest in Texas—includes the new Marriott Marquis Houston headquarter hotel and Discovery Green park.
“Reimagining our meetings spaces and infusing them with local food, art and entertainment provides groups with a one-of-a-kind, authentically Houston experience,” Waterman said.
Long recognized as a superior place to live and work, The Woodlands, the landmark master-planned residential community north of Houston, also attracts millions of domestic and international visitors each year for shopping, dining, hospitality and entertainment. Now, behind new hotels, major corporate relocations—and a newly energized DMO—count meetings and conventions in the fold.
“Two years ago, The Woodlands CVB switched its focus to operate as a DMO,” explained Nick Wolda, bureau president. “Our board of directors directed us to participate in more state and national conferences and tradeshows to promote The Woodlands as a great destination for meetings and conventions.”
Rebranded as Visit The Woodlands in May 2017, the bureau has much to promote in this lush enclave, just 20 minutes from Bush Intercontinental Airport. Key assets include the world’s second-most popular outdoor concert facility, The Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion, while recent hotel additions have boosted total group capacity to 2,251 rooms and 160,000 square feet of space.