Top of The World

Greeters greet greeters: Worldly visitors enjoy unique Houston — from astronauts to Applebee's

Greeters greet greeters: Worldly visitors enjoy unique Houston — from astronauts to Applebee's

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Greeters Network is off to Brussels for next year's convention. Courtesy of Global Greeter Network
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From left, Ryiad Abu-Taha, Freelance Media Group; MeeOk Park, Houston Greeters board member; Sam Merchant, Reliance Business Solutions; and Dr. Bandula Wijay, Honorary Consul General Sri Lanka Photo by Steve Pedigo
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Vatsa Kumar with NY Life, left, and Capt. David C. Leestma, U.S. Navy, retired Photo by Steve Pedigo
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Jorge Franz, vice chair of Houston Greeters and vice president of international tourism for the Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau and Susan Borches, founder, Houston Greeters Photo by Steve Pedigo
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It was a Houston love fest at Global Greeter Network's closing reception for its fifth annual convention. Held at the Mosaic — the ultra-modern residential complex at the edge of Hermann Park — local host chapter, the Houston Greeters, pulled out all the stoppers for nearly 100 guests from more than 10 countries earlier this week.

There was even an special appearance from a NASA astronaut, Captain David C. Leetsman.

A volunteer tourism group, the Global Greeters Network (GGN) maintains 25 local chapters throughout Europe and the Americas — all dedicated to showcasing a city’s unique, but often hard-to-find features. GGN tours are always free and can be given in a variety of languages.

 “It’s great traveling through Houston to see places you’d never find in Belgium,” she said. “Sunday night, we went and took a chance on a crowded restaurant near our hotel. The place was very entertaining... I think it was called Applebee’s.” 

Created in 2005 by former Shell executive Susan Borches, the Houston Greeters are a founding chapter of the GGN that arranges more than 80 types of city tours led by its battalion of volunteer “greeters.”

Guided by an expert in the field, visitors and Houstonians alike can take exclusive tours of the downtown tunnel system, the city’s ice houses and food trucks, or historic African-American sites, to name only a few. Simply make a request on the chapter’s website.

While our fair city is rarely labeled a world-renowned tourist destination, the Houston Greeters made sure their international guests get the best impression, offering trips to unique restaurants and locales in chauffeured art cars.

Emile Herssens, a greeter from Brussels, was fascinated by both The Menil Collection and the ice rink at the Galleria.

“It’s great traveling through Houston to see places you’d never find in Belgium,” she told CultureMap. “Sunday night, we went and took a chance on a crowded restaurant near our hotel. The place was very entertaining... I think it was called Applebee’s.”

“When we arrived, we couldn’t wait to hear Zydeco music and decided to take a taxi to Jax Grill,” said Global Greeters Network chair Jos Nusse, who traveled in from the Netherlands.

“The cab driver told us to ‘have fun’ when we got to the restaurant,” he smiled. “I was so happy — that level of friendliness doesn’t happen in many urban areas.”

Later, at the main reception in the Mosaic’s sleek glass-walled lounge, a VJ played vintage BBC footage of the Beatles as well as a 1973 Carpenters performance of the duo’s international hit, “Top of the World.” Along the walls were table filled with samplings from Houston’s varied culinary culture: Creole cooking from Frenchy’s, Mediterranean cuisine from Cafe Byblos, and, of course, hot dogs from James Coney Island.

Dr. Bandula Wijay, honorary consul general of Sri Lanka, enjoyed meeting the Houston Greeters for the first time, finding the event a “wonderful networking experience for the city’s international community.” Consuls from Norway and Germany were also in attendance.

“We put all of our out-of-town clients in touch with the Houston Greeters,” said Kathy Urech from Nino Realtors. “It’s a free service with almost 20 interpreters, perfect for international clientele managing the city for the first time.”

“The sheer size of Houston can really freak out new visitors at first,” said Jorge Franz, a Houston Greeters board member and the vice president of tourism for the Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau.

“The Houston Greeters make the city feel smaller, kinder, less intimidating,” Franz continued. “We like to think that everyone who takes our tours will make a new friend and a lasting contact in Houston.”