Texas is diverse in every sense of the word, and when it comes to hotels and convention centers, the state offers everything planners need to make any size meeting a success. No wonder the same groups visit Texas repeatedly and have unique and memorable experiences each time.
‘Big D’ considers itself the star of meeting destinations in Texas — and for good reason. Dallas offers numerous first-class hotels and 1 million sf of meeting space, including the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center Dallas (KBHCCD), which hosted Tyler Technologies Inc.’s (TTI) annual meeting for clients and employees earlier this year. The company also held smaller meetings at the Grand Hyatt DFW, Omni Dallas Hotel and The Adolphus, Autograph Collection.
About 3,900 attendees from every state in the U.S., Canada and Europe participated in the annual meeting. It was the first time TTI, based in nearby Plano, held the meeting in Dallas after having convened smaller events in the city over the years. Initially, TTI had some doubts about selecting Dallas, according to Lee Marquis, TTI director of events marketing. “To be honest, we never really thought Dallas had the draw of some of the other cities we rotated between, and it was a long shot.”
“We had record attendance and positive survey results. The main goals of this event were to provide attendees with education, training and networking opportunities, so easy access to breakout sessions was important.”
But meetings with Visit Dallas officials turned things around. “They did their homework,” Marquis says. “The first time we met, they knew our history, they knew about our company and they even knew what our stock was trading at that day. They took the time to ensure that we saw everything they had to offer from arts to dining to airlift.”
Most convincing of all, Marquis says, “There was a sincerity about wanting our business and a willingness to prove that they would provide a world-class experience.”
Marquis was convinced. “This was an overall home run for this meeting,” Marquis says. “We had record attendance and positive survey results. The main goals of this event were to provide attendees with education, training and networking opportunities, so easy access to breakout sessions was important.”
The event used a total of about 633,000 sf of meeting space citywide, including all available space in the KBHCCD and Omni Dallas Hotel. “Unlike many connected hotels and convention centers, the Omni and the KBHCCD meeting spaces are almost seamless,” Marquis says. “You don’t feel like you are attending separate conferences.”
Marquis also raved about the KBHCCD’s layout and configurable space. “The common areas were large enough to accommodate two large and two smaller tech hubs,” Marquis says. “Hall F provided great column-less space to accommodate an opening session, a general session and a keynote with former President George W. Bush.”
In addition to the ample meeting space, Marquis found meeting costs in Dallas overall to be affordable. “Hotel rates were of average-to-moderate value,” Marquis says. “Rates were less than many of those of comparably large cities but not bargain basement. The great value we received on F&B was offset by extra costs to shuttle attendees from other hotels.”
Marquis also received very valuable assistance on-site. “We experienced tremendous value from the CVB,” Marquis says. “They stepped in to assist with some hotel issues and they were in regular contact with myself and my staff.”
Dallas continues adding to its total of more than 6,000 downtown-area hotel rooms. New properties include the Virgin Group’s 200-room Virgin Hotel, which opens this year in the trendy Design District.
Two mixed-use properties are expected to open next year. Plans are underway for the vacant First National Bank Tower to host a 200-room hotel under the Thompson Hotels flag, and the 164-room Pittman Hotel, bearing the Kimpton Hotels flag, will be located in the Knights of Pythias Temple as part of the Epic mixed-use development.
The Hilton Dallas/Park Cities has undergone a $5.5 million makeover. The 11-story property, in the Preston Center near the Dallas North Tollway and Northwest Highway, offers 224 rooms.
Another property, the 606-room Hilton Anatole is also in the Design District and provides 600,000 sf of function space, including 79 meeting rooms and nine ballrooms. Other properties attracting their share of meetings include the Sheraton Dallas Hotel by the Galleria and the Hyatt Regency Dallas.
Dallas’ neighboring city, part of the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex, attracts its share of meetings with a mix of Western heritage, urban vibrance, meeting space and hotels. Looking to improve its meetings infrastructure, Fort Worth is undertaking major projects.
The 14,000-seat Dickies Arena, a new, $450 million multipurpose arena, is scheduled to open by the end of this year. The arena is just 10 minutes from downtown. Also, Texrail, the new 27-mile commuter rail line connecting DFW International Airport and downtown Fort Worth, operates every day for $2.50 each way.
New properties opening in Fort Worth in 2020 include the 246-room AC Hotel by Marriott and the 200-room Hotel Drover, an Autograph Collection property.
Popular meeting properties near the Fort Worth Convention Center (FWCC) include the Hilton Fort Worth, the Omni Fort Worth Hotel and the Sheraton Fort Worth Downtown Hotel. The Worthington Renaissance Fort Worth Hotel nearby offers 504 rooms and 53,000 sf of meeting space.
Austin reflects its status as one of the state’s most interesting and diverse destinations. The destination’s uniqueness helped attract SANS Institute (SI), which will hold its third meeting in the city for clients later this year. More than 200 people attended SI’s training sessions earlier this year at the Hilton Austin, which connects to the Austin Convention Center (ACC) via an overhead walkway.
According to Rachel Nedelman, CMP, SI’s associate director of event contracting, Austin will continue to be the organization’s first choice. “I don’t know why Austin was initially chosen, but we continue to be in Austin because it is such a cool destination,” Nedelman says. “Who doesn’t enjoy great food, music and a laid-back vibe? And Austin has a lot of tech-based companies, so we get a large local draw,” Nedelman says. “We added a fourth event to our schedule for next year in Austin.”
Next year’s meetings will also take place at the Hilton Austin, which Nedelman says will continue to be a preferred property. “We have partnered with the Hilton Austin for many years for multiple events each year,” Nedelman says. “We receive great service from the sales side and service side. They know our programs and understand our needs and what is important to us.”
Nedelman considers her strong relationship with the Hilton Austin a big advantage. “Some of my favorite sales managers I’ve ever worked with work at this hotel, so it makes doing business there easy,” Nedelman says. “Plus, the hotel continues to renovate and stay current and has lots of space for us to grow into.”
In addition, the meeting space perfectly matched SANS Institute’s needs. “The space at the Hilton Austin is great,” Nedelman says. “They have so many meeting rooms, which works well because we use a lot of small spaces. They also have bigger ballrooms that accommodate our needs perfectly for a couple of programs. The stacked space makes the meeting flow really easy and cohesive. They definitely designed the hotel with a planner’s needs in mind.”
Yet another advantage the Hilton Austin offers is value. “Due to our great relationships, we’ve been able to keep increases pretty low year-over-year, so we feel as though we receive pretty-darn good value,” Nedelman says.
More meeting and convention space is coming to Austin. The Austin City Council recently agreed on a $1.2 billon expansion of the ACC. The proposal would expand the western portion of the convention center and rebuild part of the existing facility.
The newly opened, 37-story Fairmont Austin, which is connected to the ACC, features 1,048 guest rooms and suites. The luxury hotel also offers nearly 140,000 sf of total meeting space, including 40,000 sf of prefunction space and 13,500 sf of outdoor space.
Another convention hotel, the 613-room Austin Marriott Downtown, opens next year with 64,000 sf of meeting space.
In nearby Round Rock, the 350-acre Kalahari Resorts and Conventions Round Rock opens next year with 200,000 sf of flexible meeting space, a 22,000-sf ballroom and a 40,000-sf ballroom.
Thriving, modern and exciting — all describe Irving. The city offers live music every night of the week, 14 full-service hotels and a more than 200,000 sf of meeting space citywide, including the Irving Convention Center at Las Colinas (ICC). Irving offers planners even more since the opening of the new, 13-story Westin Irving Convention Center at Las Colinas located next to the ICC. The 350-room Westin complex offers 30,000 sf of meeting space and a 10,000-sf event lawn between the hotel and the nearby Toyota Music Factory retail and entertainment center. The versatile Toyota Music Factory offers an 8,000-seat indoor/outdoor concert hall, more than 20 restaurants and a wide range of musical acts and bars.
According to Maura Gast, FCDME, executive director of the Irving Convention & Visitors Bureau (ICVB), “With the Westin’s opening, meeting professionals now have a perfectly efficient destination package with the convention center and Toyota Music Factory with its Live Nation Pavilion and restaurant options.”
Downtown San Antonio is filled with meeting options headlined by the Henry B. González Convention Center (HBGCC), with its 1.5 million sf of indoor space. The HBGCC attracts many repeat customers each year, including the annual national meeting of Sport Clips Inc., which includes employees, franchisees and suppliers.
According to Saronna Maldonado, CMP, director of events for Sport Clips Inc., “We were at the convention center with 2,805 in attendance in 2016 and again last year with 3,019 in attendance. We will be back at the center in 2020 and 2021 with projected attendance to be over 3,200 and 3,300 respectively.”
Sport Clips continuously returns to the HBGCC because the meeting space helps the company achieve its goals.
“The convention center has very flexible space,” Maldonado says. “We were able to utilize their new space for last year’s meeting. The meeting rooms can be one big room or broken down into a few smaller ones.”
Maldonado adds, “The space is open and well-lit with lots of natural light coming into the lobby and each floor’s hallway. Being able to use the spaces for multiple purposes was important to us as we were celebrating our 25th anniversary and welcoming a huge group.”
In addition to the HBGCC, Maldonado finds San Antonio’s culture to be a big attraction. “San Antonio’s culture is very unique,” Maldonado says. “When we seek out a venue, there are several things that go into choosing where to go. Proximity to restaurants, bars and entertainment is important as well as if the meeting space will work for us.”
Maldonado characterizes San Antonio’s culture as part of its value. “There’s so much value in that alone,” she says. “Attendees are able to visit a city with a great culture and some of the best, affordable food around.”
The service of San Antonio’s properties and CVB also makes the city a favorite of Sport Clips.
“There isn’t a doubt in our minds when we arrive on-site at our event that we’re in great hands,” Maldonado says. “They take care of their clients because that’s their job, but they also enjoy doing it. It’s one thing for the CVB itself to have a great culture, but it’s another when they can connect us with vendors that have the same vision.”
San Antonio is also rapidly increasing its number of hotel rooms, now totaling more than 38,000. A newly opened property is the 22-story Canopy by Hilton San Antonio River Walk. The hotel offers 195 guest rooms and 3,000 sf of meeting space as well as an outdoor terrace overlooking the River Walk. The property features some design elements of the historic Civil War-era Alamo Fish Market building.
Last year, the 1,003-room Grand Hyatt San Antonio completed an $18 million renovation which included meeting spaces, guest rooms, lobby, bar and corridors. Meeting space updates include state-of-the-art lighting, reader boards and A/V technology.
The Grand Hyatt San Antonio recently hosted a meeting for 140 employees of Tyler Technologies Inc. According to Marquis, “This hotel has been in our housing block for three citywide meetings in the past years, but this is the first time we have actually used its meeting space. They have been great to work with and they came back with the right dates, right spaces and right concessions. We were so confident that we signed a multiyear contract with the Hyatt and received good value.”
Marquis cites several other reasons why San Antonio is a good choice, including its walkability and restaurant variety. “It is appealing because of its relatively central U.S. location and provides good value from a cost perspective,” Marquis says. “We also find that Visit San Antonio and the hotel community work exceptionally well as a team, more so than we find in most places.”
One might think Arlington would be a meeting afterthought due to its location between the much larger destinations of Dallas and Fort Worth. Think again. Arlington keeps adding everything planners need, including meeting space, hotels, attractions and entertainment.
Late last year, Arlington opened Texas Live!, the center of the city’s new $250 million entertainment district located a short walk from the 90,000-sf Arlington Convention Center (ACC) and Sheraton Arlington Hotel.
Texas Live! offers Arlington Backyard, a 5,000-person capacity outdoor event pavilion; a Professional Bull Riders (PBR) bar with two mechanical bulls; and the 35,000-sf Live! Arena for concerts and outdoor festivals. There is also a range of dining options.
In addition, the Live! by Loew’s — Arlington hotel will open this year. The hotel will feature 35,000 sf of meeting space.
Looking to capitalize on the growing competitive video gaming industry, Arlington also created the Esports Stadium Arlington & Expo Center, the nation’s largest venue of its type. The facility, which opened late last year, offers venues for esports events. Arlington spent $10 million to convert half of its convention center into a 100,000-sf, state-of-the-art video game arena. Esports Stadium sits among Globe Life Park in Arlington, home of the Texas Rangers; AT&T Stadium, home of the Dallas Cowboys; Six Flags Over Texas; Six Flags Hurricane Harbor and several hotels and restaurants.
The port city of Galveston, located 50 miles from Houston, offers a range of properties ranging from coastal B&Bs to luxury resorts, including San Luis Resort, Spa & Conference Center, the site of a recent Villa Healthcare meeting.
The recognition event included more than 100 salespeople, managers and executives. It was Villa Healthcare’s first meeting at San Luis Resort and the company plans to return.
According to April Doremus, Villa Healthcare’s vice president of engagement, “We will be returning next year for our annual retreat. We reviewed other options for next year, but none could beat San Luis Resort.”
Doremus added, “The property’s meeting space met the group’s needs. All our staff was able to stay at the same hotel. We liked its flexibility to host large events, small breakout sessions and formal galas.”
San Luis Resort also offered value. “We liked the prices,” Doremus says. “Value was exceptional, based on comparative shopping at other locations.”
In addition, Galveston provided several other advantages. “There is ease of access and people can fly into the airport directly from all regions,” Doremus says. “There are entertainment options such as Galveston Island Historic Pleasure Pier, which features rides and amusements; and large conference rooms and meeting spaces facing the water. And there are also plenty of food options.”
In all, the meeting was a big success. “Eighty-one percent of attendees rated the event five on a scale of 1 to 5,” Doremus says.
The city’s marketing tagline, ‘It’s All Here,’ says it all. Located in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex, Plano offers something for every type of meeting, large and small. Plano offers a blend of luxury and historic charm along with more than 1,000 restaurants.
Plano and surrounding areas offers authentic slices of down-home Texas with attractions such as Southfork Ranch from the “Dallas” TV series and Bob’s Steak & Chop House — Plano.
Groups can take advantage of Plano’s 5,045 hotel rooms and 122,500 sf of convention center space. Meeting space is anchored by the Plano Event Center, a full-service facility that accommodates up to 5,000 people and offers 21,600 sf of meeting space.
Houston is literally a go-to destination for planners and visitors. The city was included on several lists of the best places to travel in 2019. Publications honoring Houston include The New York Times, Travel + Leisure and Conde Nast Traveler. Visit Houston’s latest statistics reflect the destination’s popularity.
Last year Houston booked 816,023 room nights, an increase of 6% over the previous year. It was the fourth consecutive year of room-night increases. For the fourth consecutive year, Houston also set a record last year for future meetings and conventions, with a 1.6% increase over the previous year. The number of total bookings rose from 429 to 498. Groups flocking to Houston certainly have no shortage of guest rooms and meeting space. The city offers over numerous hotels, including Hilton Americas — Houston, which will undergo a $37 million renovation that will include new design, color, artwork and technology for all guest rooms. The AAA Four-Diamond Hilton Americas connects to the George R. Brown Convention Center (GRBCC) via an indoor skywalk and provides 91,500 sf of meeting space. Last year Hilton Americas’ top-notch service earned it the Hilton brand Award of Excellence for the eighth consecutive year.
Houston, like all other Texas destinations, is unique, but has one key thing in common with the others: They all can provide everything planners and attendees need. C&IT