With diversity driving Houston’s dynamism on many fronts, the city is well positioned to attract both leisure and business travelers in the years ahead.
With the upcoming 2020 census, many cities will be showing off their diversity and the richness of their communities to engage a travel industry more focused than ever on the power of difference.
But while many locales have much to offer in terms of multiculturalism, Houston, Texas, is the only city that can boast that it’s the most diverse megalopolis in the United States. It has no single racial or ethnic majority with nearly one-in-four residents born outside the U.S. and 145 languages spoken within the city. It’s no wonder that the Los Angeles Times reported Houston to be “the most diverse place in America” in 2017, based on research from the National Historical Geographic Information System (NHGIS).
But Houston’s diverse reality is about much more than bragging rights. “It’s this diversity that makes Houston a top talent pool for different industry meetings and allows the city to offer its leisure visitors a myriad of exciting cultural experiences,” said Sylvester Turner, the mayor of Houston.
About 20 years ago, non-Latino white residents accounted for nearly 58 percent of the city’s population. Today, Houston is no longer dominated by any particular demographic group. Its Latino population is almost as big as its Anglo population at 35.3 percent and 39.7 percent, respectively. Meanwhile, Houston’s Asian population has almost doubled since 1990, growing from 3.4 percent to 6.5 percent, and the city’s African American community remains sizeable at 17 percent.
Houston’s demographic makeup makes it considerably more racially diverse than the U.S. as a whole, where the population comprises of 60.4 percent non-Latino whites, 18.3 percent Latinos, 5.9 percent Asians, and 13.4 percent African Americans.
“More than ever before, society is recognizing the tremendous benefits of a diverse community,” said Brenda Bazan, president of Houston First Corporation. “Businesses profit from having a breadth of experiences and perspectives, while leisure travelers can enjoy a world of beautiful culture and delicious cuisine — all in one place.”
The city is host to multiple cultural institutions and neighborhoods that showcase its various communities. For example, Project Row Houses, The Ensemble Theatre, and The Buffalo Soldiers National Museum are dedicated to African American history and culture, while Talento Bilingue de Houston is one of the country’s largest Latino cultural centers.
Diversity Beyond Racial and Ethnic Lines
The city’s racial and ethnic variety is only one of several elements of Houston’s high diversity score. A WalletHub analysis that measures U.S. cities’ socioeconomic, cultural, economic, household type, and religious diversity ranked Houston as the most diverse city in the country, above New York City and Los Angeles.
“Houston truly is a bright spot for a vacation or special events. As a destination, our city offers an unrivaled melting pot of experiences in history, culture, art and cuisine with the friendliness and flair of a multi-faceted community unlike any other,” said Bazan.
With 94 consulates, Houston is home to U.S.’s third-largest consular corps and residents of different nationalities. It also has a cultural and dining scene to match that international diversity.
Worth magazine proclaims that Houston is on its way to being the “cultural capital of the South.” Five of Texas’s 20 cultural districts are in Houston, and the metropolitan area boasts more than 500 institutions devoted to the performing and visual arts, science, and history. The city’s cultural events and exhibitions draw more than 9 million visitors every year.
Houston is also one of the few U.S. cities with resident ballet, opera, symphony, and professional theater companies. Museums of all types fill one of the largest museum districts in the country, including The Menil Collection, which has one of the most notable private collections of the 20th century; the Rothko Chapel, a Modernist religious masterpiece; and the Museum of Fine Arts, the largest art museum in the southwestern U.S. The Museum of Fine Arts is undergoing an expansion that will result in a 39,000-square-foot conservation center and a 164,000-square-foot museum for 20th and 21st-century art, the most significant cultural redevelopment project ongoing in the U.S. right now.
Houston’s food scene is similarly robust. Culinary tastemaker David Chang took to the pages of GQ to name it as “the next global food Mecca.” U.S. News and World Report ranks Houston among the top 10 foodie cities in the country.
“In 2019, Houston’s brand is all about delicious diversity,” proclaimed The Houston Chronicle in March. More than 10,000 eateries feature food from upwards of 35 countries, with particularly strong representation of Chinese, Vietnamese, Hispanic, and Southern cuisines. Tex-Mex and BBQ are Houston food-scene staples, but eager eaters can find everything from Cajun to Japanese to South African cuisine.
Using Diversity to Power the Visitor Economy
“For many years, Houston has been one of the most underrated and overlooked destinations in the country, despite a wealth of attractions and charm,” said Holly Clapham Rosenow, chief marketing officer for Houston First Corporation. “Once word began to spread, it didn’t take long for the world to realize what Houstonians already knew — that ours is one of the most enjoyable and inclusive cities around. The number of visitors climbs year after year with no sign of slowing down.”
Approximately 22.3 million people visited Houston in 2018, up from 2016’s 20 million. Houston is responding by building new resources for travelers to experience that diversity firsthand. One such development is the 97,000-square-foot Avenida Plaza, a walkable urban street scene outside the George R. Brown Convention Center that opened in 2017.
Houston’s diversity also translates into an equally rich talent pool that meeting planners can leverage. The Houston Business Journal ranked Houston among the top 10 cities for millennials and the city is home to major businesses and government institutions such as National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the Texas Medical Center, and 25 of the Fortune 500 companies.
“Diversity and inclusivity are hallmarks of unlimited potential,” said Bazan. “Our complex community is not the byproduct of an economy, government, or culture. In fact, it has been and will always be the source of our greatest success.”
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