By Sylvester Turner
As summer draws near it brings to mind the time when travel was almost exclusively a summertime activity. Those of us of a certain age know this.
In Houston, the landscape has changed. Travel and tourism is all grown up. Attracting visitors to our city is a fulltime function and every day is a prime opportunity to welcome new guests to Houston, whether for leisure, conventions or business.
Our goal remains to strengthen our image and help make Houston a top-tier destination. A major initiative in this regard was completed late last year with the opening of Avenida Houston, the district surrounding the George R. Brown Convention Center anchored by a pedestrian-friendly plaza.
Already, this born-again area has been gleefully appreciated by convention-goers, tourists and locals alike. This is the kind of development we want to become a springboard from which visitors fan out to experience the many districts and neighborhoods that make up our diverse city.
Beyond downtown, we are working with groups such as TxDOT and Scenic Houston to improve the major transportation corridors into the city. What began with an investment into the Broadway corridor near Hobby Airport prior to Super Bowl is now extending to the bridges over I-69 connecting downtown with adjacent neighborhoods.
Our tourism point people at Houston First Corporation are also working with major museums and attractions, from the San Jacinto Monument to the Heritage Society at Sam Houston Park, to help make these vital visitor draws even better.
And our efforts don’t stop at the city limits. Visitors to our area don’t recognize boundaries, and so our Houston and Beyond program allows us to collaborate with communities across the region to market what makes them unique to an audience broader than ever before.
Last year was a record year for Houston as we surpassed 20 million visitors for the first time, an increase of 17 percent over 2015. This was particularly gratifying because that milestone was achieved two years earlier than anticipated. This achievement stands as a testament to our growing reputation as a fun, affordable destination, a city that is diverse and welcoming like no other.
Travel is a vital part of our Houston economy and it will be on full display in the days ahead during National Travel and Tourism Week, May 7-13. The industry supports more than 140,000 jobs in our region and contributes $16.5 billion to the local economy.
In addition to the praise surrounding our successful Super Bowl LI host role, Houston has recently received a number of accolades as a destination. Late last year TripAdvisor ranked the city No. 6 on its list of top trending travel spots to book in 2017. Forbes Travel also ranked Houston a top place to visit this year while U.S. News & World Report ranked the city No. 7 on its list of “best foodie destinations.”
We’ve come a long way from being just an oil and gas town. And we’ve come a long, long way from the time when all talk of travel was confined to what one did on their summer vacation.
Sylvester Turner is the mayor of Houston.
Travel and tourism – we’ve come a long way, baby
By Sylvester Turner