City Spotlight: Houston

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by Asif Lakhani

At least a dozen publications have named Houston, Texas, as a top destination to visit in 2019 – all for a variety of reasons. Whether it is the travel value, culinary excellence, invigorating nightlife, or all of the above, Houston is one of the hottest cities in America at the moment.

The city experienced more than 21 million visits in 2017, according to research done by OmniTrak Research Group on behalf of the Houston First Corporation, a local government body created to manage the city’s convention and performing arts facilities.

Nearly 90 percent (18 million) of those 21 million visits in 2017 were made by domestic travelers, while the remaining 3-million plus were international. (The city hosted Super Bowl LI in February of that year.) Still, Houston’s domestic travel numbers are higher than both the state of Texas and U.S. national averages, according to the report.

It only makes sense then that Houston’s hotel scene is scorching hot right now. In just a few years, the city will have completed a master plan that includes bringing 2,300 more hotel rooms online in downtown Houston alone, with hundreds more opening in nearby neighborhoods and communities, according to Visit Houston.

One of the city’s newest hotels, the Post Oak Hotel in uptown Houston, earned a AAA Five-Diamond rating within six months of opening, according to Visit Houston. The 38-story hotel features a Rolls Royce showroom and a Bentley and Bugatti dealership on site in addition to 250 guest rooms, 20 executive suites, and a sizable conference facility.

Recent hotel plans also have included renovating and rebranding the Melrose building in downtown, commonly known as “Houston’s first modern skyscraper,” into a Le Meridien hotel, which falls under the Starwood Hotels portfolio. The building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, according to the Houston Chronicle.

Maybe what’s most remarkable about Houston’s hospitality boom is the 17 percent Hotel Occupancy Tax rate, which is among the highest in the nation. Six percent of the tax goes to the state of Texas, while the remaining percentages split across the city of Houston, Harris County, and the Harris County Houston Sports Authority, according to Houston First Corporation.

Houston First facilitates the success of the city’s tourism scene in multiple ways. Its primary responsibilities include overseeing the execution of 40 major events and 200 smaller ones (trade shows, conventions, etc.) a year, in addition to 600 concerts, theater shows, and civic events annually as well.

One of the biggest events taking place in Houston this year is the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing. To celebrate, Visit Houston has worked with hotels, restaurants, artists, and more to curate a variety of space-themed itineraries for multiple demographics. The offerings include space-themed meals and snacks – some menu items being resurrected from 1960s – at restaurants and hotels across town. (Houston’s food scene, in general, has earned a reputation as being one of the best in the country.) For more local culture, visit the Museum District or arts and crafts vendors in the Avenida Houston District in downtown.

Despite the success of the moon landing, “Houston’s favorite tradition” is the annual Livestock Show and Rodeo, which takes place over the course of three weeks each spring. The 2019 event set records for concert attendance and livestock auctions, while awarding more than 800 scholarships to Texas students, according to Rodeo Houston.

In the end, it’s no surprise that Houston is a marquee destination for 2019 and well beyond. The city aims to please and succeeds in doing so with a multitude of experiences that can either convey big city or represent the unique pride of a small town – sometimes both simultaneously. No matter what the leisure or business objective of a trip to Houston is, it’s safe to say an encore visit will be called for in the future.

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