“Our message for a while now has been that Houston is open for business,” said Michael Heckman, acting president and CEO of Houston First Corporation. “We’ve been able to balance public health, while also being able to move the city forward. We see an increased desire not only for leisure travel, but also for convention business.”
Indeed, Houston has managed to continue hosting events through some of the most difficult times of Covid-19, through a mix of fortune, planning, and investment. Through industry-wide initiatives such as Houston Clean — whereby hotels, attractions, and public spaces across the city committed to enhanced health precautions — and the new integrated viral protection system at Houston’s George R. Brown Convention Center, Houston was one of the safest places in the country to continue holding events. Further, the city sought GBAC STAR cleaning, disinfection, and viral contagion accreditation for many locations and installed a new virtual studio at the convention center to enable new hybrid events.
“We’ve already demonstrated our ability to host events during the pandemic,” said Heckman, looking ahead to the record-breaking events season the city has in store for the second half of 2021. “By then we’ll be post-pandemic, and still a great destination for meetings, conventions, and events.”
The city has a lineup of 39 events with attendance over 1,000, including 17 city-wide events. On top of all this, the city has seen major growth in its attractions, many of which are newly opened or scheduled for opening through the rest of 2021 into 2022.
NEW ATTRACTIONS TO SUPPORT THE MEETINGS AND CONVENTIONS INDUSTRY
Many new attractions are calling — or will soon call — Houston home, which is all a part of the strategy of bringing major events and conventions to the city. While events might be able to happen anywhere, the attractions of a destination are what really entice attendees. From the Houston Botanic Garden, which opened in September 2020, to the upcoming launch of Blossom Hotel, due to open in 2021, Houston is adding more unique attractions, venues, and icons to the city.
“They bring more tools to our toolbox and more benefits to meeting in Houston, like the ease of getting around, the number of hotel rooms that we have, and the new attractions that will benefit conventioneers and meeting attendees,” said Heckman. “It just continues to add to the appeal that we have in Houston as a meeting destination.”
Three of the most highly anticipated of those new attractions have been in planning for some time.
MUSEUM OF FINE ARTS, HOUSTON: THE NANCY AND RICH KINDER BUILDING
This is the largest cultural construction project in the city in a decade. The $476 million project opened in November 2020 and is devoted to the museum’s international collections of contemporary art. Said Heckman: “It is an enormous addition to our museum district which was already first-class. The expansion to the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, is a stunning addition.”
A new multipurpose center called The Ion opened in March 2021. It aims to support innovation, creation, and collaboration between business, academia, and community to solve big problems. “It’s focused on startups around technology and is a really cool space,” said Heckman. “It will spur development all around that area in Midtown. Rice University owns and has developed it, and has a number of acres around it as well.”
Opening in the old Barbara Jordan United States Post Office in the Houston Theater District, POST HTX will host a range of amenities in the building, within easy walking distance of a range of attractions, as well as downtown and City Hall.
“It will bring together a diverse number of attractions all under one roof,” said Heckman. “As well as flexible co-working spaces, bars, and restaurants, it will have live music, a food court, and a sky lawn with amazing views of downtown.” POST HTX is slated to open in the fall of 2021.
CONTINUING THE BUMPER EVENTS ROSTER BEYOND 2021
Many of the major events planned for H2 2021 in Houston have been moved into that half of the year due to travel restrictions or hesitancy from attendees. But sustained growth is in the plans for Houston.
“As opposed to crawling inside of our shell [during the pandemic], we took the time to be strategic and aggressive,” said Heckman. “We knew there was an opportunity for us to grow and take market share, and the opportunity to introduce more people to Houston. And we have seen that come through with the relocations of conventions to the city. We were organized and thoughtful about how we approached this, so we could be forward-leaning and the first to come out of this.”
The city has had to refuse the hosting of some events in the second half of 2021 due to lack of capacity, but takes this as a good sign for the future.
“We’re very focused on our future pace,” said Heckman. “Houston venues and organizers are having more conversations they haven’t had the opportunity to have before, and Houston First is hopeful for more conventions, meetings, and events to come to the city.”
He concludes: “We believe in the near term that organizers are going to move past 2021, start looking down the road again, and booking at what is more of a normal pace. “We’ve used this opportunity to reconnect with new prospects or existing clients as we’ve firmed up 2021, and also to look to the future.”
Hero image: Kat Ambrose