who visits houston?
Ken Hoffman uncovers the surprising place that most Houston visitors call home
I’m going to take one more crack at this: why does Houston run commercials saying “Come visit Houston” on local TV stations where only Houstonians can see them?
Come visit Houston? We’re already here.
The person who came up with the brainstorm of making commercials enticing people to visit Houston on their vacation … and then airing them on Houston television is Holly Rosenow, the chief marketing officer for Houston First Corporation, our No. 1 cheerleader about all things Houston. In addition to publicizing and promoting our city, Houstonfirst (it’s trademarked) manages 10 city-owned buildings, like the George R. Brown Convention Center, Jones Hall, the Wortham Center, Miller Outdoor Theatre, even the Toyota Center parking garage.
“The marketing strategy is ultimately my responsibility. The vast majority of our commercials are developed by me and my team,” Rosenow says. “In 2008, I presented a campaign that features celebrities from Houston along with high-profile people with interesting perspectives. We don’t have any celebrity contacts, and we have no money to pay them. The campaign is going to be unscripted. We’re calling it My Houston.”
Wait, I know Holly Rosenow. We have the same favorite guilty pleasure TV show, Impractical Jokers, one of the dumbest shows ever. We have spent hours arguing which of the Impractical Jokers is funniest — I say it’s Joe, she says it’s Sal. It’s not exactly Aristotle and Plato discussing philosophy at the Lyceum in ancient Greece. Still, I’m right about Joe being the funniest Joker.
Here is Rosenow explaining the logic of promoting Houston as a vacation spot to Houstonians.
Houston is big
“Houston is the second-largest Designated Market Area in Texas and the eighth-largest in the U.S. It spans 19 counties and 2.45 million TV homes. The coverage stretches from Crockett in the north, Port Lavaca in the south, Brenham in the west, and Beaumont in the east. We also actively market for domestic leisure travel in Austin, San Antonio, and Louisiana.
Marketing the Bayou City
“Marketing Houston in the Houston DMA has multiple benefits. In terms of return on investment, the Houston DMA covers such a large geographical area, we are able to generate both vacations and staycations tracked in the form of incremental and extended stays. Our marketing also increases local advocacy for Houston. Having strong brand ambassadors is very important, as it ultimately leads to a more efficient and effective marketing strategy. You develop strong brand ambassadors when you have an authentic message. We showcase real Houstonians delivering real messages and showcasing real destination attributes. Authenticity has been the foundational layer of our messaging for more than a decade. The most important single audience is Houstonians.”
You think that’s a mouthful? Try listening to her insist that Sal is the funniest Impractical Joker. (She’s wrong, by the way, it’s Joe.)
Who visits Houston?
But, facts is facts. There were more than 22 million domestic and international visits to Houston in 2018. The goal for 2020 is 25 million visits. The No. 1 place vacationers to Houston come from? It’s the Houston area — plus Texans within a one-day drive from Houston. Texans accounted for nearly 70 percent of all Houston tourists last year. Second was Louisiana with 6 percent.
Rosenow and her team have created several commercials bragging about Houston as a vacation paradise. The most successful is called “Urban Rhythm,” which features J.J. Watt, Jose Altuve, James Harden, Kam Frankin of the band The Suffers, Lyle Lovett, and more. That’s the one where Mayor Sylvester Turner pops up like Porky Pig at the end of a Looney Tunes cartoon and says, “Visit Houston for yourself and find out where the inspiration leads you.”
There are more spots with Jim Parsons, George Foreman, Chandra Wilson, and just plain ordinary Houston joggers, families, kids, and our world-famous, hot-looking singles.
Tapping into Houston’s diverse population and multicultural appeal, Rosenow’s team has produced “Welcome to Houston” spots in 12 languages: Arabic, simplified Chinese, traditional Chinese, French, German, Japanese, Korean, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, Vietnamese, and English.
True to Rosenow’s vision, Houston has seen increased tourism each year since her campaign began in 2008 — even last year, despite the devastation wrought by Hurricane Harvey in 2017. Houstonfirst owns 15 different websites, including VisitHouston.com, MyGayHouston.com, HolaHouston.com, AvenidaHouston.com, and the newest, HoustonTheaterDistrict.com. They all have the same mission, lure people to Houston and, while you’re here, drop some money in our hotels, restaurants, and tourist attractions.
Tourist attractions is a tricky one. When friends come visit from out-of-state, and ask me to show them the sights, I don’t know where to take them. We usually wind up at an Astros game, which is fine with me, because that’s my favorite thing to do in Houston.
Houston is ranked one of the Top 15 best places in the U.S. to visit by: the New York Times, Travel+Leisure, Boston Globe, Bloomberg, and Conde Nast Traveler. For the record, here are the Top 10 Best Things to Do in Houston, according to TripAdvisor (so take this list for what it’s worth):
1. Museum of Natural Science
2. Minute Maid Park
3. Museum of Fine Arts
4. Houston Zoo
5. Children’s Museum
6. Space Center Houston
7. Cockrell Butterfly Center
8. Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo
9. The Galleria
10. Toyota Center
I’m not so sure. I’ve lived in Houston a pretty long time, and I’ve have a lot of friends visit. Never once have I heard … “You got any interesting butterflies around here?” Also, every town has a Galleria, and besides, most people buy that stuff online now.