Photo Courtesy The Woodlands CVB
Visitors attracted by events, festivals and concerts
With The Woodlands Convention and Visitors Bureau making efforts to attract both local and international tourists to the community, interest in The Woodlands as a tourist destination is at all-time high. High hotel occupancy levels generate millions of dollars annually for The Woodlands Township and retailers both in The Woodlands and in surrounding communities are feeling the effect.
Nick Wolda, president of the CVB, said marketing strategies targeted at increasing tourism in the community have been highly successful. Wolda and the CVB have been ramping up their communications outreach as requests for visitor guides, which the CVB uses to gauge interest in potential tourists visiting The Woodlands, has substantially increased. In addition, the CVB is taking full advantage of social media outlets, such as YouTube, Twitter and Facebook, to spread word of The Woodlands being a destination in its own right, separate from other locations in the Houston region.
“We’ve got our ‘downtown in the forest’ aspect going for us and just on a regional, state, and even international level, The Woodlands has turned into a business hub and a catalyst for [the establishment of] businesses,” Wolda said.
He said the CVB has purchased advertising space in magazines such as Golf Resorts and Meeting Destinations, AAA Texas Journey and Texas Live, as well as hundreds of TV and radio spots in the Greater Houston area. They are also making an impact online with search engine marketing strategies and newsletter e-blasts.
“We’ve got over 100 different countries represented in Woodlands households. It’s really become a place where people work, live and visit, increasingly on an international level,” Wolda said.
In 2011, the CVB received information requests at its two visitor centers at The Woodlands Mall and Market Street from tourists hailing from 80 different countries and 49 states, including Texas.
Wolda said a large portion of the CVB’s marketing budget targets attracting tourists from Mexico. The CVB has formed a partnership with United Airlines and through Mundo United and has been able to reach more than 800 Mexican travel agents and promote The Woodlands to various travel and tour operators in 30 Mexican cities.
“It’s very easy to fly two hours to [Intercontinental Airport] and spend a weekend shopping and dining and then go back Sunday,” he said.
With the influx of new companies like ExxonMobil relocating to the area, general manager of The Woodlands Waterway Marriott Hotel and Convention Center Fred Domenick said he believes The Woodlands and the hotel industry will almost certainly see growth in international visitors in the coming years.
“[Mexican tourism] is a smaller segment for us now,” said Domenick, whose visitors are largely comprised from Houston and around the state. “But I think we’re definitely seeing growth out of Mexico and tourists from Mexico City who like to come spend weekends.”
Hotel occupancy levels in The Woodlands are far outpacing projections. Although the township budgeted $5.1 million in hotel occupancy tax revenues in 2012, it is now forecasting that amount to be close to about $6 million. Through the first seven months of 2011, the township generated $2.7 million in hotel occupancy tax revenue, but this year that amount has increased to $3.5 million over the same seven-month period.
Both Wolda and Domenick said events like the Memorial Hermann Ironman Texas Triathlon, which has been held in The Woodlands for the past two years and will return for the next three, bring with them a significant amount of tourism dollars and international guests.
“Half of the township’s revenue is generated by hotel occupancy rates and retail sales,” Wolda said. “Residents benefit from the shops, stores and amenities, and visitors help pay for that cost.”
Effect on retailers
Market Street Marketing Director Jenny Taylor said the upscale shopping destination has experienced an increase in customers thanks to the various events and festivals held in Town Center.
“Festivals and especially concerts at the [Cynthia Woods Mitchell] Pavilion play into [tourism] numbers for us,” Taylor said. “From Market Street’s perspective, sales growth is attributed to strong tourism generated through our marketing and our combined marketing efforts with the CVB.”
Taylor said there is often a snowball effect for many of the businesses throughout Town Center, such as those in Market Street, The Woodlands Mall and the Waterway.
“The number of shows at the Pavilion can definitely directly effect us,” Taylor said. “Depending on how many shows or concerts there are, we see that almost immediately reflected in hotel, dining and shopping numbers.”
Shenandoah City Administrator Greg Smith said his city has also benefitted from generous tourism growth in the area.
“This area, [Hwy.] 242 to Rayford [Road], is growing by leaps and bounds,” Smith said. “ExxonMobil is helping our hotels.”
Smith said the City of Shenandoah attributes its hotel occupancy tax revenue to the several events the township hosts or sponsors, including events at the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion, the Ironman Triathlon, and the upcoming 2013 NCAA Division III Diving Championships, which Smith said will bring several thousand visitors to the area’s hotels.
Smith said developers may be looking to open four or five hotels within Shenandoah in the next few years.
Vicky Rudy, Oak Ridge North’s city manager, said there has been a positive impact on the east side of I-45 as well.
“We have definitely had a bump up in our sales revenue,” Rudy said. “There’s serious movement in our retail centers, and we do expect those numbers to track upward. Whatever happens in The Woodlands, we see it spill over to our side of the highway.”
Wolda said The Woodlands has become successful because of the brand it has established and the quality that brand represents.
“The Woodlands has arrived on the scene in a big way,” Wolda said. “It used to be ‘We’re north of Houston,’ but now it has developed its own identity. Houston is close by, but The Woodlands is its own brand and it’s a high quality brand.”