HOUSTON (January 27, 2016) – Houston First Corporation booked a record number of room nights tied to conventions and meetings last year, just as the organization reached new heights in website visitation and tourism-related room nights.
The record successes came in the first full year of the alignment between Houston First and the Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau, which combined their efforts in July 2014 to gain additional resources and create a single clear voice for the city under the brand Visit Houston.
The Destination Sales team booked 732,967 room nights for future meetings in 2015, a 29% increase over the 569,440 nights booked in 2014 and the largest number ever logged by the organization. S.T.E.M. (science, technology, engineering and math), medical and education industry meetings led the increase.
"We have been able to connect our enhanced physical offerings, including the updated convention center and new hotel development, with Houston’s intellectual capital around medical, S.T.E.M. and energy to expand our target base and attract new customers both domestically and globally," said Mike Waterman, president of the GHCVB.
Ric Campo, chairman of the board of Houston First, said the 2014 alignment of the two organizations, coupled with an expanding hotel package and other new offerings in the Convention District, helped a top notch sales team to surpass its goal. "The completion of the Marriott Marquis, scheduled for this fall, will add another 1,000 rooms directly connected to the George R. Brown Convention Center, allowing us to go after much bigger conventions than we could before," Campo said.
With the help of additional resources and attention being focused on the city like never before, Houston First hit other records in 2015 as well. Traffic to the organization’s network of websites led by VisitHouston.com grew to just over 6 million visits, up from 4.6 million in 2014. The Spanish-language site VisitaHoustonTexas.com alone saw a 79% increase in traffic.
On the tourism front, the organization launched new partnerships with online booking platforms for the first time, which included targeted promotions. That effort helped increase hotel room demand and led to a record of more than 100,000 leisure room nights booked for the year. Such new partnerships are part of a broader tourism plan aimed at growing the number of visitors to the city to 20 million by 2018.
Figures on the number of visitors who came to Houston in 2015 won’t be available until later in the year. However Dawn Ullrich, CEO of Houston First, believes the city is poised to shine as a tourism destination. "We have incredible tourism offerings, over 10,000 restaurants, amazing museums and theater, a best-in-class sports campus and world class shopping," Ullrich said. "Houston has already been recognized as the culinary and cultural capital of the South. Now we will be hyper-focused on increasing the awareness of that identity around the world."
Noting their impact on the Houston economy, Mayor Sylvester Turner said he wants to see hospitality and tourism continue to grow under his administration. "I’m pleased with these new figures because they indicate a positive trajectory for an industry that employs over 120,000 workers in our city," Turner said. "With a renewed focus led by Houston First, we can continue this trend for years to come."
A number of elements are aligning to help elevate Houston’s image as a top tier destination. The city was named a top place to visit in 2015 by Conde Nast Traveler, Travel + Leisure and the Boston Globe. Houston was cited as the second-fastest growing destination among international travelers coming to the U.S. And a national report released last summer showed Houston is adding new hospitality related businesses at one of the fastest rates in the country. Meanwhile, the city is gearing up to host the NCAA Final Four in April and Super Bowl LI in February 2017—two events that will bring tremendous exposure.