Texas’ offerings for corporate and incentive gatherings are as big and diverse as the state, with many cities featuring a broad range of attractive options and settings.
“The saying, ‘Everything is bigger in Texas!’ is especially true when it comes to ways for planners to tailor their ‘Lone Star State’ meetings, which are as unique and memorable as they are productive,” says Mario Bass, chief sales officer for Visit San Antonio. “In Texas, you should expect everything from world-class venues and cuisine to down-home barbecues and neighborly hospitality.”
Corporate and event planners find that many attendees are attracted to the state’s blending of unique history and upscale modernism. “Texas is an open-for-business state with a thriving economy and wide diversity in its ecosystems and topography,’’ says Karen Fogle, CMP, HMCC, corporate sales manager for Visit Plano. “It’s a destination known for big Texas hospitality while encompassing its rugged past and an advanced future.”
Several of the state’s premier meeting cities are in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, but many planners are well aware that cities such as Houston, San Antonio, Austin and El Paso have plenty to offer, both for meetings and a variety of downtime activities. “Big business or big fun, there’s no place like [Texas],” says Amy Brown, senior vice president of convention sales and services for meetings and conventions at Visit Fort Worth.
Dallas is a popular choice for meeting planners, with its multitude of offerings, central location and easy accessibility, including flights from more than 200 destinations arriving daily. “It is a vibrant and cosmopolitan city, with more than 20 entertainment districts offering walkable access to music, shopping, arts and award-winning global cuisine,” says Craig Davis, president and CEO of VisitDallas. “We also offer an unparalleled variety of accommodations. With over 35,000 guest rooms, from the intimacy of boutique hotels to the convenience and luxury of large convention hotels, all the nation’s top brands are represented in Dallas.”
Kelsey Grisham, senior events operations manager for Clarion Events Inc., planned a recent event for more than 18,000 attendees in Dallas. It took place in late spring at the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center (KBHCC) in the heart of downtown. “We chose Dallas because it is centrally located, the venue had enough space to hold our program, and was recommended by our audience in previous surveys,” Grisham says. Attendees stayed at some 40 different hotels in the downtown and market center area because of the size of the group.
When planning the event, Grisham’s team made biweekly, and later weekly, calls to the convention center, VisitDallas team, their contractors and staff members. “I think that helped a lot,” Grisham says. “The VisitDallas team and the KBHCC team were amazing to work with. VisitDallas provided us with tools for our website, we met regularly to discuss pick up, they assisted us with any issues that came up throughout the year, and they hosted us for multiple site visits.”
The Dallas City Council has approved plans to expand the KBHCC, with construction expected to begin in 2024 and completed in 2029. Once completed, it will provide 800,000 sf of exhibit space and 400,000 sf of breakout space, including a 100,000-sf ballroom.
Another excellent choice for corporate and incentive gatherings is Omni Dallas Hotel, which features 1,001 guest rooms — with each room showcasing works of local artists — and 110,000 sf of meeting space, including 41 meeting rooms. Hyatt Regency Dallas, connected to the iconic Reunion Tower and historic Union Station, has 1,120 guest rooms and 160,000 sf of meeting space, including 60 meeting rooms. The largest hotel in the city, Sheraton Dallas Hotel, features stunning views of the city skyline, 1,841 guest rooms and 230,000 sf of meeting space. Sleek, chic and boasting newly renovated meeting and event space, Renaissance Dallas Hotel offers 514 guest rooms and 51,573 sf of meeting space. Hilton Anatole has 1,606 guest rooms and 600,000 sf of meeting space.
A 20-minute drive northeast from Dallas, Plano provides a big-city feel without a big-city price tag. “With nearly 60 hotels of various price points, more than 1,000 restaurants, world-class shopping, a lively arts and nightlife scene, abundant natural beauty and four walkable entertainment districts, Plano is the perfect city for a meeting of any size,” Fogle says.
Emily Burroughs, vice president of marketing for BGSF, planned a gathering in mid-spring for 250 of its sales staff and leaders. She arranged for the group to stay at Hilton Dallas/Plano Granite Park hotel because of its large size — 299 guest rooms and 33,000 sf of meeting space — and assortment of spaces that met its needs. Also nearby is The Boardwalk at Granite Park, with eight Dallas-based restaurants and a waterfront view, which made it easy for attendees to grab food before or after meetings.
“The hotel was great and a perfect size for this group,” Burroughs says. “The rooms were nice, clean and large. The overall hotel was very easy to get in and out of, and around. The parking for our local team members was waived, which was extremely helpful as people came and went throughout the conference. Also, the food — which I know is something they take pride in — was phenomenal, and we were very impressed with the overall service. Their chef did a great job to ensure anyone with allergies was taken care of, which is always appreciated.”
Attendees attended conferences and learning sessions during the day, and made the most of their downtime. On the first night, some attendees went to piano bars, bars and clubs in the area, while others enjoyed simply walking across the way to the boardwalk for an evening cocktail.
Burroughs says her group loved the event and location, and would like to repeat the experience every year, but with the entire company. “It’s a great location to get to and from any local airport and there are great places to walk to in the area,” she says.
Another option for large corporate and incentive meetings in the city, the Plano Event Center offers 86,400 sf of meeting space, a 21,600-sf exhibition hall and 14 breakout rooms. Also, Dallas/Plano Marriott at Legacy Town Center, which completed a $3.6 million renovation in 2020, is surrounded by scenic parks and water features, and offers 417 guest rooms and 35,000 sf of meeting space. Renaissance Dallas at Plano Legacy West Hotel features innovative design merging Asian and Texan influences, state-of-the-art technology, 303 guest rooms and 34,869 sf of indoor and outdoor event space, including nine breakout rooms.
Just a few more miles north sits the new, state-of-the-art Omni PGA Frisco Resort. Expected to open in May, the resort will offer 127,000 sf of meeting and event space, highlighted by two ballrooms — 22,000 sf and 11,500 sf — 19 meeting rooms, including one boardroom, nine outdoor event venues and a 5,000-sf event pavilion, which is perfect for special events, says Gus Tejeda, director of sales & marketing.
“Omni PGA Frisco Resort will be the first resort of its type ever constructed. Our goal was to create a resort which enriched attendees’ lives through memorable experiences,” he says. “One of our most memorable venues is the PGA District, which will feature The Swing, a par-3, 10-hole course, and The Dance Floor, a 70,000-sf putting green — both venues have lighting for night play — as well as several signature dining and retail venues. We added the par-3 course and putting green as an ‘entertainment’ component, as we wanted to make the game of golf approachable to persons of all ages and abilities.”
The resort will feature new meeting and technology tools to planners and attendees, such as the ability to produce hybrid/virtual meetings. “Our A/V partner, Pinnacle Live, is focused on customized solutions that streamline workflows, curating multifunctional equipment to increase flexibility for any event, whether it be in-person, hybrid or virtual, all while keeping abreast of the latest trends and customer expectations,” Tejeda says.
In addition to offering a world-class golf experience, other on-site activities include an adults-only rooftop infinity pool, which features six cabanas and overlooks Fields Ranch golf courses and the area’s rolling hills, and the Mokara Spa, a 15,000-sf destination salon and spa offering 20 treatment rooms, private spa pool and café. There will also be a number of signature retail concepts, which will be located in the resort tower and PGA District, the names of which will be divulged in the near future, Tejeda says.
Nearby activities will include the Star District, which has more than 35 restaurants, shops and specialty services, and is the headquarters for the National Football League’s Dallas Cowboys football team. The Star District is located approximately 10 minutes from the resort, and Legacy West, an upscale retail/dining experience with 40 retail and dining venues, is located approximately 20 minutes from the resort.
“We have over 40 definite groups on the books for future dates, ranging from board of directors meetings to large-scale incentive programs,” Tejeda says. “Clients are excited that our resort will feature a plethora of unique offerings, which will allow their attendees to experience something ‘new and memorable.’”
Irving, located 13.5 miles northwest of Dallas, features 90 hotels, offering a full range of accommodations and meeting spaces, as well as a diverse and vibrant food scene. “The city offers culture, adventure and entertainment, all in one compact, accessible footprint,” says Lori Fojtasek, vice president of sales and services for the Irving Convention & Visitors Bureau. “Visiting groups have the convenience of experiencing all of it from the central hub of Las Colinas, a master-planned community with a thriving, walkable entertainment district.”
Debbie Sardone, CEO of Debbie Sardone Consulting LLC, has hosted three gatherings for the company in Irving during the past two years. Last summer, a group of 30 attendees stayed and met at The Westin Irving Convention Center at Las Colinas hotel, which offers 350 guest rooms and 275,000 sf of meeting space. In mid-spring, 400 attendees met and stayed at Omni Las Colinas Hotel, which offers 421 guest rooms and 50,000 sf of meeting space. And in mid-summer, 30 people met and stayed at The Westin Irving Convention Center. She chose these properties because of their convenient locations, availability, easy access to the airport, food options, “excellent” contract terms and “beautiful, right-sized facilities that make a fantastic impression.”
The mid-spring gathering included hosting a benefit gala for Cleaning for a Reason, a nonprofit organization that provides home cleaning for people battling cancer. “Attendees commented on the easy ride from the airport, and there were lots of options for food and places to convene and network after our training event,” Sardone says. “They also loved the number of vendors who were on-site and the ability to interact with them face to face.”
She was impressed with both hotels. “The Omni and the Westin have outstanding banquet facilities,” she says. “Our events have a reputation for offering healthy, beautiful, delicious food, and both hotels delivered. Omni has more classic charm, while Westin is very modern.”
Sardone says the attendee feedback for the gatherings was “fantastic,” adding the hotels are beautiful, with high-end amenities and delicious food.
Situated on 40 acres in the heart of Irving’s Las Colinas Urban Center, the Irving Convention Center at Las Colinas, which provides nearly 100,000 sf of meeting space, is just one phase of a mixed-use entertainment district that includes the Westin. Other options in Irving include The Westin Dallas Fort Worth Airport hotel, with an array of dining choices, 506 guest rooms and 34,701 sf of meeting space.
The big news in Arlington is that construction is underway on the $810 million expansion of the Entertainment District, which will include the new Arlington Convention Center, with 216,000 sf of meeting and outdoor function space, and the $550 million, 888-room Loews Arlington Hotel, with 35,000 sf of indoor and outdoor meeting space. The project could be completed as early as 2024.
“This will truly be a game-changer for our meetings portfolio and destination,” says Chad Enloe, vice president of sales for the Arlington Convention & Visitors Bureau. “Our existing world-class sports and entertainment venues will now be complimented by incredible hotel and meeting facilities that will attract national events of all kinds. We are already a leading destination for meetings and events, and this new development will further strengthen Arlington’s robust convention opportunities.”
Barbara Stroup, managing partner of FlooringMarkets.com, which provides product innovation, education, networking and growth opportunities for dealers and designers in the flooring industry, recently hosted 3,000 exhibitors, buyers, retailers, builders and designers at its 2023 Southwest Flooring Market, which was held on the concourse level at Globe Life Field (GLF), a retractable-roof stadium in Arlington.
“GLF offers wonderful, flexible space, allowing our B2B trade show more than adequate linear space for our exhibitors’ flooring booths and displays,” Stroup says. “The GLF team has worked closely with our staff and exhibitors to dissect their needs in advance, offering economic solutions that will provide the best possible experience.”
Many of the exhibitors hosted after-market hospitality events, especially at Texas Live!, which includes entertainment, restaurants and accommodations. “Where else can you find the variety of options right outside the door that are better than what we are offered at Texas Live!, in addition to the variety of options that are available to us within the GLF?” Stroup asks. Attendees stayed at Live! by Loews, which she describes as a “top-notch, clean, safe, service-oriented property” that is a very short walk to GLF. It provides 300 guest rooms and 35,000 sf of meeting space.
Stroup highly recommends Arlington, situated 20 miles southwest of Dallas, to convention and incentive planners. “If you are looking for meeting space in [Greater Dallas], travel on over to Arlington,” she says. “There is an amazing number of diverse properties that will compliment or reinvent your next meeting or trade show. The city is a mixture of unique and traditional venues that can handle small intimate gatherings up to mid-size trade shows.”
Other options for corporate and incentive meetings include Lux Hotel & Spa, Trademark Collection by Wyndham, a modern property with 192 guest rooms and 12,000 sf of meeting space; and Sheraton Arlington Hotel, located in the Entertainment District, with 311 guest rooms and 26,151 sf of meeting space.
Combining chic Western amenities, such as new and renovated hotel offerings, restaurants and exciting tourism venues, it’s no wonder Fort Worth, 30 miles west of Dallas, was ranked among Travel & Leisure’s Top 15 U.S. Cities, placing 12th. “Fort Worth is one of the most convenient meeting packages in the country,” Brown says. “The city’s connected downtown has become one of the country’s most lively urban settings. The 35-block Sundance Square district, adjacent to the convention center, is home to restaurants, live music clubs, theaters, shops and exciting nightlife, headlined by the acoustically perfect Bass Performance Hall.”
The Nash, Texas-based BWI Companies, a distributor of lawn and garden, animal health, professional grower, turf, landscape, agriculture and pest-management supplies, held a trade show that drew 2,380 people in early fall. “Fort Worth offered everything we wanted — a clean, safe, walkable downtown area with numerous hotels and restaurants conveniently located close to Fort Worth Convention Center [where the trade show was held],” says Patrick Wilder, marketing coordinator for BWI Companies. “Downtown Fort Worth is a short drive from DFW International Airport, which is also a plus.”
Some attendees participated in an invitation-only shooting event and catered lunch for 40 people at Alpine Shooting Range. April Montez, senior convention services manager for Visit Fort Worth, assisted with the event, just as she did with other attendee activities. “She was instrumental in helping me find the shooting location, scooter rentals, boot shiners, longhorns for photo opportunities and everything else I requested,” Wilder says.
Attendees stayed at Omni Fort Worth Hotel, which offers 618 guest rooms and 65,000 sf of meeting space; The Worthington Renaissance Fort Worth Hotel, offering 504 guest rooms and 53,000 sf of indoor and outdoor space; Hampton Inn & Suites Fort Worth Downtown and Fairfield Inn & Suites Downtown/Convention Center. “We chose these hotels because they were in walkable distance to the convention center, and because of the room rates and their reputations. Plus, I had stayed at the Omni and Worthington and knew they are incredible.”
Wilder says attendee feedback regarding the event and location was all positive, which is why BWI Companies plans to be back in 2024 and possibly 2025. “I was nervous, as we hadn’t held our trade show somewhere new in several years,” he says. “As it turns out, there was no reason for me to be. I felt like I was in good hands with Visit Fort Worth, and they continuously steered me in the right direction. Fort Worth is a fantastic city, and I look forward to hosting our event there in the future.”
Corporate and event planners seeking a larger venue often opt for Fort Worth Convention Center, located in the heart of downtown and providing 253,226 sf of exhibit space, 58,849 sf of meeting space, a 28,160-sf ballroom and 38 breakout rooms.
Buoyant Austin’s growing popularity as a corporate and incentive meetings destination has kept in step with its rising status as a tourism magnet. “When it comes to meetings and conventions, Austin is a city that planners and visitors always agree on,” says Steve Genovesi, executive vice president of Visit Austin. “Our state-of-the-art infrastructure, innovative meeting spaces and world-class hotels are nestled in the center, and the heart, of the city. Within a few walkable blocks, you’ll also find the famous Lady Bird Lake hike and bike trail, legendary live music venues and some of the best barbecue and tacos in the country.”
Lauren Gould, corporate events director of Insight Global, a staffing agency based in Atlanta, planned its annual conference, which attracted 3,000 attendees to Austin, in late summer. “Texas has been one of the top destinations for Insight Global’s annual conference,” Gould says. “Due to the size of our event, Austin was a great choice. The proximity of the conference venue — Austin Convention Center (ACC) — to the airport, host hotels and off-site receptions and events allowed for a mini citywide program where our attendees could experience the best Austin had to offer.”
Leadership meetings and the main general session programs were held at the ACC, which covers six blocks in the heart of downtown and offers 247,052 sf of meeting and exhibit space and seven ballrooms. Insight Global also hosted a leadership comedy event at Hilton Austin — offering 801 guest rooms and 112,000 sf of meeting space — where some attendees stayed. Event attendees also stayed at Fairmont Austin, which offers 1,048 guest rooms and 140,000 sf of meeting space; JW Marriott Austin, which offers 1,012 guest rooms and 120,000 sf; Austin Marriott Downtown, which offers 613 guest rooms and 60,000 sf; and Omni Austin Downtown Hotel, which offers 393 guest rooms and 20,000 sf.
“We wanted to work with trusted brands and partners, along with hotel locations that were in close proximity to the conference venues and events,” Gould says. “All of these hotels were within 10 to 15 minutes walking distance of sponsored activities.”
She says this was the company’s first event in which attendees stayed in five hotels. “Every group enjoyed a curated experience specific to their hotel, where they were able to experience the Insight Global brand come to life through welcome signage, welcome teams, curated entertainment, cuisine and more. Every venue was heavily involved in supporting the success of the event.”
Gould says the overall attendee reaction and feedback was great, but she wishes the group had more time to spend in the city.
Additional outstanding properties for corporate and incentive meetings in the city are Renaissance Austin Hotel, located in the stylish Arboretum, surrounded by rolling hill country scenery and offering 492 guest rooms and 70,000 sf of meeting space; and the newly renovated Omni Barton Creek Resort & Spa, secluded in the hill country, with 493 guest rooms and 76,192 sf.
The Alamo city is perhaps best known for its pulsating multicultural vibe, and one of the best places for corporate and incentive groups to experience it is on its famed River Walk, which has been expanded twice in recent years. “Each section offers unique experiences, from exciting indoor and outdoor venues in the heart of downtown, to the cultural and culinary experiences of the Museum Reach,” Bass says. “And don’t forget an all-time San Antonio favorite — enjoying dinner or a narrated tour on the city’s fleet of electric river barges.”
Tyler Technologies has hosted many meetings in San Antonio, and attendees are invariably drawn to the River Walk, partly because of its vast array of culinary choices. Heather Schneider, CMP, DES, manager, event operations, recently planned an educational conference for some 5,500 people in the city. She worked closely with Visit San Antonio, which she says felt like an extension of her own team. “They were there every step of the way to provide resources, feedback and anything else that came up,” Schneider says.
The group utilized the Henry B. González Convention Center (HBGCC) — located in the heart of downtown. The HBGCC offers 514,000 sf of exhibit space, 86,500 sf of multipurpose space, more than 70 meeting rooms and two ballrooms — as well as overflow hotel space. Attendees stayed at more than 20 hotels during the conference. “Between the convention center and overflow hotel space, we had the room we needed to host all of the more than 900 sessions we provided to our users across our 2.5-day schedule,” Schneider says, adding that attendees participated in hosted networking sessions and educational seminars to learn more about Tyler Technology’s software.
Her team was impressed with San Antonio’s offerings. “We love how walkable the downtown area is and that it offers a great selection of restaurants and retail for our attendees to enjoy their visit,” she says. “Additionally, San Antonio is still an affordable place to host an event, and allowed us to stretch our investments, immediately impacting our attendees’ experience at our conference.” Schneider says attendees loved the area, and that they will be returning this year and also in 2025.
Many of the city’s hotels are well-suited to corporate and incentive gatherings. San Antonio Marriott Rivercenter offers 1,000 newly restyled guest rooms and 70,136 sf of meeting space; San Antonio Marriott Riverwalk, located across from the convention center, has 500 guest rooms and more than 17,000 sf; Grand Hyatt San Antonio River Walk, a five-minute walk from shops at the Rivercenter, provides 1,003 guest rooms and 115,000 sf; JW Marriott San Antonio Hill Country Resort & Spa, nestled amid 600 acres of oak-covered hills in Texas hill country, provides 1,002 guest rooms and 268,000 sf; and the luxurious Hyatt Regency Hill Country Resorts & Spa offers 500 rooms and 100,000 sf.
Houston boasts first-class hotels, state-of-the-art facilities and a world-renowned cultural scene, but perhaps what makes it especially appealing to corporate planners is its strong business ethos. “Referred to as a ‘powerhouse on the rise,’ Houston is a leader in business, medicine, energy, science and technology,” says Michael Heckman, president and CEO of Houston First Corporation. “The city is home to the fourth-largest concentration of Fortune 500 companies in the country. So, corporate events can potentially engage with the local community for additional business opportunities beyond the traditional trade show.”
Planners of large corporate and incentive meetings in Houston often utilize the George R. Brown Convention Center (GRBCC), which provides 1.8 million sf of meeting space, including seven exhibit halls, more than 100 meeting rooms, four outdoor balconies, a 31,000-sf ballroom, a 3,600-seat amphitheater and 6,000 retractable seats. “The convention center is in constant motion,” Heckman says, adding that two headquarter hotels — Marriott Marquis Houston and Hilton Americas-Houston — are attached by skywalk at each end, and that its setting, on the edge of east downtown, is a rapidly developing, hip entertainment area with comedy clubs, music venues, restaurants with unique Houston cuisines and sports bars.
Houston’s hotel portfolio is as large and diverse as the city itself, providing more than 92,000 guest rooms in the greater metropolitan area. Newly renovated, The Westin Oaks Houston at the Galleria is located in the vibrant Uptown area and offers 406 guest rooms and 90,000 sf of meeting space; Marriott Marquis Houston has 1,000 guest rooms and 150,000 sf; Hilton Americas-Houston provides 1,207 guest rooms and 91,200 sf; and The Westin Galleria Houston, which has direct access to the Galleria mall, and has 469 guest rooms and 91,749 sf.
Heckman says the city’s culinary offerings are a major draw for corporate groups. “There are 12,000 restaurants in the city, and that number does not include the wide variety of food trucks and pop-up concepts that have continued to position Houston as a culinary and culture capital,” he says. “The global makeup of our residents is directly reflected in our cuisine. From Vietnamese-Texas barbecue and West African cuisine to South Indian and fresh Gulf seafood, there is no shortage of flavor and variety.”
Once regarded as simply a mid-size city on the U.S-Mexico border, El Paso has been making great strides toward becoming a major player in the Texas meetings scene. “The community is experiencing unprecedented growth, with a focus on the downtown area,” says Brooke Underwood, executive director of Visit El Paso. “Investments currently in operation are adding to the excitement of an already-booming downtown.”
For meetings and events, the city offers the El Paso Convention Center, which features 133,000 sf of exhibit space, 14,900 sf of additional meeting space, three halls and 17 breakout rooms. Hotels include Hotel Paso del Norte, Autograph Collection, which recently underwent a multimillion-dollar renovation and offers 350 guest rooms, 32,000 sf of meeting space, the 7,344-sf Blackjack Pershing Ballroom and the 2,886-sf Pancho Villa Ballroom.
Other meeting and lodging options for groups in El Paso are Wyndham El Paso Airport Hotel and Water Park, catering to business travelers and offering 272 guest rooms and 17,000 sf of meeting space; and Radisson Hotel El Paso Airport, another popular hotel among business travelers, featuring 239 guest rooms and 10,200 sf of meeting space. C&IT