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Greater Houston Convention & Visitors Bureau

The history of SOB laws in Houston

From strip clubs to robot brothels, we’ve come a long way.

Somewhat sheepishly, the city official tried to explain why he had spent more than $2,000 in public funds entertaining out-of-town clients at a topless bar.

“They wanted to go there,” said Jordy Tollett, who regularly wined and dined prospective conventioneers when he worked for the Houston Convention & Visitors Bureau. “I couldn’t say, ‘You can’t go there.’”

That was in 1989. Since then, countless topless bars and adult bookstores have opened and closed, the city has rewritten its “sexually oriented business” law, Harris County and other jurisdictions have struggled to enforce their own rules, and litigation challenging these rules has filled court dockets.

Yet Tollett’s simple observation — “They wanted to go there” — conveyed a truism that still confronts Houston-area leaders seeking to repel or regulate such enterprises: Sex sells. This is true of the upscale “gentleman’s clubs” where business executives unwind after work, and it’s true of the seedy “massage parlors” — thinly disguised fronts for prostitution and human trafficking — that generate about $107 million in illicit revenues a year in Houston, according to a recent study.

The sex business, like others, has responded to continuing demand with innovation.

In 1983, when the City Council passed Houston’s first ordinance regulating sexually oriented businesses, no one could have imagined that people might someday pay $120 for an hour of intimacy with objects made of synthetic skin and highly articulated skeletons. But 35 years later, the council reacted quickly to reports that a Toronto-based company, KinkySdollS, planned to open a shop in Houston that allowed prospective buyers of lifelike “sex dolls” to take them for a spin on the premises for a fee.

I remember some stories in the Houston Press from back in the day about Jordy Tollett and spending money wooing visitors at Rick’s Cabaret. Different times, to be sure. I don’t have anything to add here, I just enjoyed this little bit of history and thought you might, too.

Houston’s tourism business

People like to spend money here. In particular, people from Mexico like to spend money here.

Mexicans are the largest group of international tourists who visit Houston – and recently, their numbers have grown. In 2015, Houston received 2.5 million international tourists, 1.8 million of whom came from Mexico.

In 2016, the convention and visitors bureau launched a campaign, “Hola Houston,” to promote the city as a cultural and culinary destination.

“We aimed to increase the number of Mexican tourists to 2 million by 2018,” said Jorge Franz, the bureau’s vice president for tourism, “but we are already well beyond that mark for the year 2016.”

Mexican tourists also spend the most money of all Houston’s visitors. In 2015, on an average two-night trip, each spent an average of $1,253.

Franz said that Mexican tourists love shopping in the Galleria and at the area’s suburban outlet stores.

Many also visit the less- crowded luxury boutiques and designer shops of the upscale River Oaks District shopping complex. Mexican shoppers “typically go after the luxury brands,” says Jennifer Rivera, marketing manager for the River Oaks District. “They are big shoppers of Dolce & Gabbana, big shoppers of Hermés, and huge shoppers of Canali and Dior.”

According to the story, some twenty thousand Mexican nationals were in Houston for the Super Bowl. The story doesn’t give a cumulative annual number for the revenue the city and the greater region derive from all this, but between hotel taxes, rental car taxes, sales taxes, and just a whole lot of stuff being bought, I think we can assume it’s a decent chunk of change. Now ask yourself, what would the effect be if all this activity were to be dramatically scaled back, due to some combination of further restrictions on immigration and the well-heeled travelers of Mexico deciding they just don’t need this crap, as some of them featured in the story say is the case for them? It would not be good. If that happens, you can thank Dear Leader Trump and the people like Dan Patrick (are you paying attention, Texas Association of Business?) who enable him.

“Space City” fight escalates

It’s getting real.

The Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau is asking a federal judge to stop a rival comic convention from using the phrase “Space City” for its three-day festival scheduled for NRG Center over Memorial Day weekend.

The convention bureau filed a request Friday for a temporary restraining order to prevent Space City Comic Con from continuing to use the phrase the bureau trademarked 12 years ago to promote the city.

The bureau owns 50 percent of another comic convention, Comicpalooza. That show is scheduled for the George R. Brown Convention Center in mid-June.

U.S. District Judge Nancy F. Atlas heard the request at 3 p.m. Monday, but did not issue a ruling. The dispute has been brewing for months but reached the courthouse earlier this year when the bureau sued Space City Comic Con along with its owner George Comits over alleged trademark infringement. The bureau is seeking profits from previous shows in which Comits used “Space City” as part of its name.

That was the early story. The judge has since declined to issue the TRO to the Visitors Bureau.

Instead of a court order, she suggested a much simpler solution: adding a disclaimer on tickets and brochures that Space City Comic Con event is not affiliated with the Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau.

“I’m not prepared to shut the conference down,” Atlas said.


The convention bureau calls Comicpalooza, which drew about 45,000 visitors last year, “Houston’s Official Comic Con.” In its request for a temporary restraining order, the bureau said the use of “Space City,” is causing irreparable harm to its business of promoting tourism, trade and conventions in the Houston area.

Not only will it likely cause public confusion, it will also destroy the bureau’s goodwill and reputation with its current and prospective customers, the convention bureau said in court documents.

During the hearing Monday, Atlas pointed out that the bureau’s arguments gave her pause, since many businesses already use “Space City,” a nod to Houston’s long-time connection to the space industry through NASA’s Johnson Space Center. She also questioned why the bureau waited so long to seek a restraining order after filing suit in February.

[Space City Comic Con owner George] Comits testified that the bureau won’t even put Space City Comic Con on its calendar of events because of its investment in Comicpalooza. Atlas was surprised to learn that the convention and visitors bureau had a financial interest in Comicpalooza. “Really?” she asked.

See here for the background. Judge Atlas has scheduled a hearing on the request for the TRO today at 8 AM, so we could have an answer to that part of the fight shortly. I personally remain lukewarm to the idea that “Space City” is a term that requires traademarking or that people will be confused by two different events at two different locations in two different months, but then considering how little information people have about other things, I can see an argument. I like the disclaimer suggestion and hope the two sides can work this out peacefully.

“Space City” trademark lawsuit


Houston’s convention bureau is suing the operators of a popular local convention over the use of “Space City” in its name, claiming it infringes on a 12-year-old trademark.

The convention in question, Space City Comic Con, also happens to compete with a similar event that is half-owned by the Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau itself. The bureau acquired a 50 percent stake in the more established Comicpalooza last September, spokesman A.J. Mistretta said.

Both events bring in television and film stars for appearances that attract thousands of autograph buyers. Fans come dressed as their favorite characters from science fiction, anime and super-hero fantasies to browse exhibits, purchase items from vendors and play video and table-top games. The fests charge comparable admission fees.

The convention bureau, which declined to discuss the case for this article, may believe it’s losing money if people are confused over which show is sponsored by the economic development arm of Houston, said Betsy Gelb, professor of marketing and entrepreneurship at the Bauer College of Business at the University of Houston. She agreed that if it managed to trademark “Space City,” it has every reason to defend it in court.

But, she added, “Does it help your image to do this?”


The convention bureau claims in its lawsuit in federal court in Houston that through its promotional efforts, “Space City” has become widely known in the United States and that Space City Comic Con is causing “irreparable harm” by using the trademarked name.

The bureau is seeking a court order to force the show to stop using “Space City.” The lawsuit also would require the company to give up any profits earned from using the trademark and stop competing unfairly against the bureau.

Gotta admit, in almost 30 years of living in Houston, I don’t think I’ve ever thought of it as “Space City”. Speaking as a longtime Rockets fan, on those occasions when I feel the need to attach a nickname to Houston, “Clutch City” is by far the most likely moniker to come to mind, however outdated that may be by now. “Bayou City” is a distant second. I get “Space City”, of course, and if the GHCVB thinks that has value and specific meaning, I won’t argue. It’s just not something that naturally occurs to me. My guess is that in the end the Space City Comic Con will rebrand itself and that will be the end of this. I don’t know that that will happen in time for this year’s Con, which as always happens over the Memorial Day weekend and for which marketing is underway. The Space City folks say on their Facebook page that they have not been contacted for comment about this, despite what the Chron story says, and they encourage their fans to contact the GHCVB to tell them what they think about this. So it could get quite contentious, but in the end I do think some kind of settlement will be reached. Taking this to a courthouse won’t be good for anyone but the lawyers.

Back to the business angle

I’m sure we’ll hear more of this in the next few weeks.

Business and tourism leaders worried Wednesday that voters’ rejection of a citywide anti-discrimination ordinance has hurt what had been one of their best recruiting tools: Houston’s emerging reputation as a diverse metropolis that supported an openly gay mayor and welcomes young talent looking to launch careers in a progressive environment.

Suddenly at risk, they say, are corporate relocations, nationally prominent sporting events and the lucrative convention business that generate millions of dollars and help the region thrive.

“In recent years, we have done a remarkable job of changing the perception and attracting people to Houston,” said Bob Harvey, president and CEO of the Greater Houston Partnership. ” … We have to quickly re-establish that this is a modern, open city.”


Mike Waterman, president of the Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau, the group that recruits conventions that draw tens of thousands of people here annually, said many of those top organizers hope the new mayoral administration will pass an alternative measure quickly.

“We can’t go on as a city without a non-discrimination ordinance forever,” Waterman said. “It’s a differentiator, and one we do not have today.”

The Greater Houston Hotel & Lodging Association, which like the other booster group was vocal in its support of HERO, echoed that concern.

“I think the issue we face is we want people outside our city to know the true Houston, that we are very open and welcoming to all visitors,” association president Stephanie Haynes said.


There also was concern Wednesday that the defeat of HERO could make the city unattractive to diverse job candidates, including the increasingly sought-after millennial workers, said Keith Wolf, managing director of Murray Resources, a recruiting and staffing firm in Houston.

“I think the larger concern is that it feeds into the misperception by some that Houston and Texas, in general, is an intolerant, unwelcoming place,” Wolf said.

“If you’ve been on Facebook and Twitter in the last 24 hours, you’ve probably seen millennials expressing their embarrassment that the ordinance did not pass,” he added.

Harvey, of the Greater Houston Partnership, said it will be hard to know how many companies might avoid Houston because of the vote, but he said he agreed that major companies are eager for young professional workers. Those recruits, he said, care about social issues.

I’ve said this a few times before, and I’ll say it again: This is a political opportunity for Democrats to try and drive a wedge between business interests that tend to support Republicans and the Republicans like Dan Patrick and Greg Abbott who oppose them on matters of equality (among other things). All it would really take, at least in the beginning, would be for some Democratic elected officials to point out how Republicans are actively harming businesses in Texas by things like their opposition to LGBT equality. (There are plenty of other issues one could cite, from “sanctuary cities” to schools and pre-kindergarten and infrastructure, but with HERO in the news this is the place to start.) Acknowledge that business interests won’t always agree with Democrats, but they already strongly disagree with Republicans on many things, and they are not being well served by a political party that is taking them for granted. This is obviously a long-term project, but it’s basically free and has plenty of upside. Naturally, the first politician to take this path needs to be Sylvester Turner, since he’s the only candidate in the Mayoral runoff who has any interest in revisiting HERO if elected. I’m just saying.

Business groups get into the HERO campaign

Welcome to the table, fellas.


Three major local business and hospitality groups are warning voters that the city’s economy could take a hit if Houston’s embattled equal rights ordinance is repealed in November, boosting supporters’ attempts to cast the law as not only a moral issue but also a practical one.

The Greater Houston Partnership, Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau and Hotel and Lodging Association of Greater Houston released a joint statement Thursday backing the ordinance and calling Houston “a diverse and welcoming city.”

“Discrimination of any kind is not a Houston value; it’s bad for the people of our city and it’s bad for our economy,” the statement read.


Though the Partnership originally expressed reservations about early drafts of the law, it eventually publicly supported the ordinance before City Council passed it 11-6 last year. A.J. Mistretta, a spokesman for the Visitors Bureau, said Partnership President Bob Harvey encouraged the group to issue the joint statement.

Houston Unites campaign manager Richard Carlbom said the groups’ support demonstrates a desire in the business community to remain competitive with other large cities that already have similar nondiscrimination policies in place.

“If this gets repealed, I think a lot of folks will look at Houston and wonder if they should send employees here or hold conferences here,” Carlbom said. “They will wonder whether or not there are the appropriate protections in place.”

The argument is not new. Mayor Annise Parker and other officials long have warned that Houston’s selection to host the 2017 Super Bowl and the 2016 NCAA Final Four, for instance, could be in jeopardy if the law is repealed.

“Houston simply isn’t the City it was 20 or 30 years ago,” Parker said last month. “It is this open and inclusive atmosphere that helps make Houston attractive to new residents, new business, major sporting events like the Super Bowl and more. The ongoing effort by this group threatens to hurt that image and our progress.”

Gotta say, I was a little afraid that the GHP was going to sit on its hands during the campaign, and let others do the heavy lifting. I’m delighted to be proven wrong about that, though I hope this statement isn’t the extent of their involvement. And again, however you feel about HERO, if you think there won’t be consequences if it gets repealed, you’re kidding yourself. We can argue about what the extent of the consequences might be, and whether or not the Super Bowl and Final Four are really in jeopardy – I personally don’t think the NFL or NCAA would move them on that short notice, but for sure we’d be out of the running for future events like those, and other already-scheduled events could get canceled – but the question is not “if” but “how much”. I would like for the GHP to reinforce that message as much as possible. And just as a reminder, despite what the likes of Jared Woodfill and Ben Hall would like you to believe, HERO is about a lot more than bathrooms.

We’ve got slogans, yes we do

We’ve also got No Limits, apparently.

Alex Tonelli, a 2011 graduate of the Stanford Graduate School of Business and a San Francisco entrepreneur, has never visited Houston. But he has impressions: Extreme heat, strip clubs, NASA and an oil-dominated economy.

His friends who have moved here have positive things to say, Tonelli added. But for the most part, among his peers, “Houston is not a commonly mentioned place where people consider moving.”

Well aware of such attitudes, the Greater Houston Partnership on Tuesday launched – to fanfare that included a three-minute video featuring everything from an astronaut bouncing on the moon to musicians rocking at the local House of Blues – a new image campaign designed to highlight some of the city’s amenities, from parks and museums to restaurants and the Galleria.

The campaign slogan, “Houston: The City With No Limits” also was unveiled to civic leaders and media gathered at NRG Stadium.

The image campaign will include television spots that reflect Houston’s upbeat spirit, diversity of opportunity and fun atmosphere, said Bob Harvey, president and CEO of the Greater Houston Partnership.

TV spots will run locally this year, and Harvey said the campaign will go worldwide next year.

Around $12 million will be spent over the next five or six years, either on marketing the city through the image campaign or targeting degreed young professionals. Starting next year the Greater Houston Partnership will visit college campuses, Harvey said.

Many outsiders consider Houston a good place to find work, but may not think of it as a great place to live, said Jamey Rootes, president of the Houston Texans and chairman of the Greater Houston Partnership’s image campaign.

Misperceptions about the quality of life in Houston impede the city’s ability to attract new companies and young professional talent, Rootes said. He wouldn’t name names or give dollar amounts, but he said specific opportunities have been lost in recent years.

The “City With No Limits” website is here; scroll down a bit to see the aforementioned video. It’s pretty good, with catchy music and visuals. If you didn’t already know it was about Houston, you might not clue into it until towards the end when there are clips of the four pro teams plus the Shell Houston Open. That may be the intended effect, to have it sort of sneak up on you. Anyway, I thought the hipness campaign from last year was pretty decent, but that was a Greater Houston Convention & Visitors Bureau effort, whereas this is the Greater Houston Partnership aiming at getting people to move here. I’m not sure if the two different themes will build on each other or if they and they myriad others we’ve had over the years are just a confusing jumble. I wonder if anyone has any data to track the effect of these campaigns, some of which have surely been more successful than others. Be that as it may, if nothing else we’re more confident about the product we’re selling these days; all that love about our food scene has to have helped. Swamplot and CultureMap have more.

Here come the hotels

Lots of downtown hotel construction going on, or about to go on.

George R. Brown Convention Center

The area around the George R. Brown Convention Center is about to see a burst of hotel construction as developers plan several new projects, two of which will offer more moderately priced rooms.

The new projects are planned for sites just outside the convention center’s front doors, making this the most active period for hotel construction in this part of downtown in a decade.

Houston hotel firm American Liberty Hospitality is planning a 300-room property along Crawford between Capitol and Rusk.

The 14-story building will have two brands under the same roof: a Hampton Inn and Homewood Suites.


A second project, to be built on the same block as Massad’s property but fronting Rusk, will be a Hyatt Place.

The 11-story hotel will be developed by College Station-based Oldham Goodwin Group and Phin-Ker of Houston. The group expects to break ground on the 261-room property by January and open by the summer of 2015.

Hyatt Place is considered a “select-service hotel,” which offers a slightly bigger amenity package than a limited-service property. Rooms typically include free breakfast, Internet service and coffee throughout the day.

A third property will be a 1,000-room Marriott Marquis planned for a site just north of Discovery Green park and west of the convention center.

Financing for the $335 million Marquis project, expected to open in 2016, will come in part from Houston First, which operates the city’s arts and convention business. The agency is providing funds to buy the hotel site and build an adjacent parking garage. The new hotels are expected to be up and running by the time Houston hosts Super Bowl LI in 2017.

City leaders have been pushing for more hotel rooms within walking distance of the convention center – something convention bookers look for when selecting a city.

Greg Ortale, president and CEO of the Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau, said the additional room types downtown will help boost convention bookings.

They will also serve the growing leisure traveler segment.

“We’re starting to get a lot more leisure traffic,” he said. “Our image has improved dramatically.”

See here for some background. There’s still a lot of open and underused space on the east side of downtown, so it’s good to see this moving forward. The city has been trying to get more hotel space for the GRB for years, in the hope of making it more competitive with other convention centers. At least with the Super Bowl and other big sporting events coming to town, it’ll be nice to have. I do wonder, however, how well this will mesh with the New Dome Experience, since the New Dome’s new life as a multi-purpose event center might make it a competitor with the GRB. Not as much as it would have been had it been turned into a hotel/convention center itself, of course. Anyway, if you like seeing construction cranes in and around downtown, it’s going to be a good couple of years for you.

Hooray for the hotels

We’re going to have a lot of people coming into town for Super Bowl LI. We’re going to have to put them somewhere.

Mayor Annise Parker said Thursday that hosting the 2017 Super Bowl will be another step in Houston’s evolution as a designation city of international prominence.

Speaking to the Hotel & Lodging Association of Greater Houston at The Houstonian Hotel, Club and Spa, Parker praised the industry’s role in gaining the coveted bid this week and touted the city’s continuing efforts to attract more visitors.

She said Houston is gaining worldwide recognition.

“We are now saying, ‘What can we do that is uniquely Houston to bring people to the city?’ ” Parker said.

Greg Ortale, president and CEO of the Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau, applauded the local hoteliers for exceeding the NFL’s requirement for how many rooms Super Bowl host cities must set aside for those attending the event.

Ortale explained that during the bidding process, the NFL asks area hotels to make long-term commitments to ensure rooms will be available and guests won’t be charged exorbitant rates. The NFL asked cities submitting bids for the Super Bowl to commit 19,000 rooms. Houston’s hotels exceeded that number.

I imagine there’s a certain amount of latitude to the definition of “exorbitant”, but never mind that. Like I said, there will be a lot of people coming in to town. You may be wondering what we plan to do with them all while they’re here. The GHCVB has a plan for that.

Those grand plans include a “rocket ship ride” in Discovery Green that aims to blow away the zip line ride over downtown Indianapolis that impressed so many during the last Super Bowl. “We’re going to have something like a rocket ship,” Houston Super Bowl bid chairman Ric Campo promised as the full scope of the Bayou City’s winning Super Bowl vision emerged Wednesday.

“. . . It’s not fully baked,” Campo said after a pause, allowing that many more details will have to be worked out before the pretend rocket blasts off.

Still, the rocket ride speaks to the grand scale of these Super plans for 2017. The renderings on display at One Park Place included a tall, high-tech looking, free-standing structure in Discovery Green that Campo later described to CultureMap as something of a “Space Needle.” By the time it’s fully unveiled, it’s likely to have a more Bayou City fitting name, but there is little doubt that the Super Bowl organizers hope to have NASA involved.

What clearly already blew the NFL owners and officials away is the Houston vision of turning the Super Bowl from a one-week party into a 10-day event. As Campo describes it, the Super Bowl action, which has typically started heating up on the Tuesday of game week, will instead begin the Thursday before the NFL’s typical off weekend — a full 10 days prior to the big game’s kickoff.

“No other city had that as part of their proposal,” Campo said.

Campo admits that will require more money and more big-time events to fill up what’s essentially an extra four days. After many other reporters had left One Park Place following the close of the official press conference, Campo told CultureMap that the early plans call for major concerts (much like the 2011 Final Four, only even bigger acts) and themed days that highlight Houston’s diversity.

“We’ll probably take a page from the Rodeo there,” Campo said of the themed days and making sure all 10 days have major draws. “. . . We’re creating a festival experience for people without tickets.”

The organizing committee estimates that more than a million people will visit Discovery Green during the 10-day “festival.”

Dale Robertson wrote a column before the NFL made its decision that talked about how Discovery Green was a key component of Houston’s bid. I’m really looking forward to seeing what the programmers have in mind. The potential is there for some really awesome events.

One more thing, from the original story:

“Welcome to Boomtown, USA,” Parker said. “We know how to handle a boom because we’ve been through a bust. We don’t want to screw it up.”

I believe the proper expression is “Oh, Lord, please grant me one more oil boom. I promise not to piss this one away.”

Feeling good about the Super Bowl bid

The city of Houston has submitted its bid to host Super Bowl LI in 2017, and they feel pretty good about their chances.

Houston’s competition will be San Francisco or Miami – the city that fails to get the coveted Super Bowl L.

League owners will vote on both Super Bowls on May 22 in Boston.

For now, Houston officials are confident but cautious because they know there are more steps in the process to host the first Super Bowl at Reliant Stadium since 2004, when New England defeated Carolina.

“We feel really good about our chances,” said Ric Campo, chairman of the host committee. “We believe Houston will be hard to beat.”


Campo, chairman and chief executive officer of Camden Properties, pointed out the numerous improvements the city has made or will make before 2017.

“The east-west light rail will be completed in 2014,” he said. “We’re building a new 1,000-room Marriott Marquis that’ll be a bookend to the Hilton-Americas. We’ve got Discovery Green.

“The NFL requires at least 19,000 rooms in the city. We have more than 20,000, including 6,000 downtown.

“For fans and visiting teams, it’s going to be the ultimate experience. We’ve got world-class buildings and incredible venues for the NFL Experience and Super Bowl Village.”

Don’t forget our nationally-known restaurant scene now, too. It’s a little funny to think how much has changed since Super Bowl XXXVIII in 2004. We’ve been confident about our chances from the get go. We’ll see if our optimism is warranted.

The general feeling around the NFL is that San Francisco, with its new stadium in Santa Clara, will beat out South Florida for Super Bowl L. South Florida is trying to get $400 million for stadium improvements.

At the league’s spring meetings in Phoenix last month, officials from South Florida met with the owners and asked for help.

“The mayor of Miami was trying to get the NFL to make a commitment that if they passed this referendum there, they’d get a Super Bowl,” Texans owner Bob McNair said in Phoenix. “The league would not make that kind of commitment.

“They had no assurance that if we voted them a Super Bowl that they would get the money. I think the governmental bodies in South Florida are going to have to move first and say, ‘OK, we’re going to approve the stadium, and we’ll take our chances on the Super Bowl.’

“It’ll be interesting to see what happens in Miami that will impact our chances of getting the Super Bowl. If they don’t get improvements to their stadium, I think that’ll work against them.”

You would think that after the debacle that was the financing of Marlins Stadium that the Dolphins would be tarred and feathered for making such a request, but this is Florida. You have to grade on a curve.

In related news, via Swamplot the city also put in its bid to host the Summer X-Games for the next three years. (See here for more on that.) We won’t know the answer for that until August, though we will know if we make the next round of cuts shortly. We have a lot more competition for this, including Austin and Fort Worth. Wouldn’t it be cool to get both bids?

Welcome to Houston, Lisa

Remember that promotional advertising campaign for Houston that’s running right now in various national publications? The New York Times lets us know who the intended audience for those ads is.

Not this Lisa

The new tack was prompted by the results of a research study, says Holly Clapham, vice president for marketing at the bureau, which is undertaken each year to help determine the effectiveness of the bureau’s initiatives.

The study, conducted by the research organization TNS, found that people visit Houston for two primary reasons: its culinary offerings and its arts and culture scene.

Leisure visitors are primarily women, Ms. Clapham says, and the bureau has created a profile of a prototypical visitor, Lisa, who is 46 years old and has an average annual household income of $86,000 to $120,000.

“She’s very active,” Ms. Clapham says of Lisa, and “likes ‘girlfriend getaways.’ ”

And she will “pay more for quality,” Ms. Clapham says, but also “likes to see value” in what she buys.

With all that in mind, the bureau decided that the next iteration of its image campaign — or, as Ms. Clapham puts it, “ ‘My Houston’ 2.0” — ought to celebrate the Houstonians who are the driving forces behind the restaurants, museums, galleries and other attractions that Lisa comes to visit rather than the stars who call, or once called, Houston home.

“It’s not about who everyone knows,” Ms. Clapham says. “It’s about who’s working to move Houston forward.”

See here and here for the background. This would be why I went into IT instead of marketing. I’m pretty sure I never would have thought of that. Link via Swamplot.

Are you ready for the hipness?

Because ready or not, here it comes.

Hipper than I am, not that this is difficult

A rapper, a ballerina and a host of top chefs are among the locals who will be featured in a new Houston image campaign launching next month.

The $425,000 promotional blitz targeting readers of the Wall Street Journal, New York Times and even Cooking Light magazine will feature a number of other artists and performers to capitalize on Houston’s growing reputation as a regional culinary and cultural arts capital, city boosters say.

The “Houston Is” campaign will feature such notables as the rap star Bun B, the Houston Ballet’s Nao Kusuzaki and graffiti artist Gonzo247 in the largest effort of its kind in the city’s history in terms of its national reach, said Holly Clapham, vice president of marketing at the Greater Houston Convention & Visitors Bureau, the group behind the effort.

The decision to emphasize dining and cultural arts was based on a 2012 study done by global travel research firm TNS, which found that among the cities with which Houston competes most directly for visitors – Dallas/Fort Worth, San Antonio, Austin and New Orleans – Houston ranks No. 1 in the categories of “variety of dining options” and “cultural/performing arts.”

The print ads feature 32 Houstonians, most of whom are in the restaurant and cultural arts communities, in themed group portraits. The campaign also highlights the city’s ethnic diversity.

We heard about this in December. As I said at the time, I’m pretty sure this effort will be more successful than some previous efforts were. We’ll see how it goes.

Keep Houston hip

Y’all ready for this?

Hipper than I am, not that this is difficult

2013 marks the 50th anniversary of the GHCVB and the fifth anniversary of the MyHouston campaign, which according to vice president of marketing Holly Clapham, is “the most successful image campaign in Houston’s history.”

As part of the second iteration of MyHouston, the GHCVB has created a series of five print ads that provide visual representations of Houston culture.

To represent the city’s burgeoning culinary scene, the GHCVB created an advertisement under the tagline “Houston is Tasty.” For the performing arts, the slogan is “Houston is Inspired.” But Clapham told CultureMap in a phone interview that a fifth ad was needed to represent “a menagerie of different assets that the city has to offer, from music to sports to retail to style.”

Thus, the idea for “Houston is Hip” was born.


Expect the finalized version of the Houston is Hip ad, along with the four other new print pieces, to debut in January via the Wall Street Journal and New York Times. According to Clapham, we can expect 2013 to be “a banner year for our city.”

I look forward to seeing it. If you can identify everyone in the embedded photo without clicking it or the CultureMap link, you are unquestionably hipper than I am. (For the record, I’d have been able to ID three of them, and would have guessed two others with a bit of prompting.) After you’ve finished reading the CultureMap story, go read this little blast from the past and wish the GHVCB better luck than their predecessors had.

Maybe the fourth time will be the charm

The city of Houston is once again bidding for a Super Bowl.

If everything goes according to an ambitious plan devised by city and county leaders, Houston will host its third Super Bowl in 2017.

The NFL informed the Texans and the city on Tuesday that Houston will be one of two finalists for Super Bowl LI, to be played in February 2017.

At the conclusion of the league’s winter meetings in Chicago, commissioner Roger Goodell disclosed that San Francisco and South Florida had been selected to bid on Super Bowl L. Goodell said the runner-up will compete with Houston for Super Bowl LI.


Houston’s Super Bowl bid is a joint venture among the Texans, the Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau, the Harris County/Houston Sports Authority, and Reliant Park.

Houston wants the 2017 Super Bowl because the Final Four is here in 2016, and two big events like that two months apart is a lot. Previous attempts to land Super Bowls XLIII, XLIV, and XLVI all came up short.

The owners will vote in May on the two games. The first vote will be between San Francisco and Miami for 2016, followed by a second vote between Houston and the 2016 runner-up for the next year.

“I think the chances are really good,” said Janis Schmees, executive director of the Harris County-Houston Sports Authority.

The 50th Super Bowl in 2016 will be a special-anniversary celebration. If San Francisco wins, the game will be played at the 49ers’ new stadium in Santa Clara. That stadium is set to open in 2014. If South Florida wins, the game will be played in the Miami Dolphins’ stadium, which still faces questions about possible renovation, including a partial roof.

We know that the owners love awarding the Super Bowl to cities that have built new stadia – this is, after all, mostly why Houston got the game in 2004 – so if you want to see this happen, you should root for San Francisco to win the bid for 2016. We’ll see if the optimism is warranted this time.

Mayor to announce Hobby expansion deal

Here it comes.

Houston Mayor Annise Parker is planning to announce Wednesday morning that the city and Southwest Airlines have come to an agreement on how to finance a $100 million expansion of Hobby Airport to accommodate international flights, according to a City Hall source.

The agreement is subject to approval by City Council. The mayor said last week that if the city and Southwest could negotiate a memorandum of understanding, she intended to put Hobby expansion on the May 30 Council agenda.

No details of the agreement have yet been divulged. But several City Hall sources say Parker has scheduled a news conference at the Southwest ticket counter at Hobby Airport.

We’ll see what that amounts to. Southwest has been pretty aggressive about this, with CEO Gary Kelly sort of promising to pay for it all. Whatever the deal is, Council will have to vote on it, presumably next week. In the meantime, prior to this announcement the proposal picked up some endorsements:

The Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau has endorsed expansion of Hobby Airport to accommodate a proposal by Southwest Airlines to start international flights in 2015. But that endorsement comes with a caveat.

In a released statement from Lindsey Brown, the organization’s director of marketing and PR, the Bureau announced:

As the official destination marketing organization for Houston and our region, the Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau supports expanding international air service at William P. Hobby Airport that encourages reasonable air service pricing. We have historically supported the expansion of Houston air service and we believe it is good for our customers and the citizens of Houston/Harris County. International meetings and tourism are an essential part of our core mission. The case for allowing international travel through Hobby Airport is a strong one, but that move should not significantly diminish existing international traffic at Bush Intercontinental Airport. We encourage the City of Houston to determine what actions will provide the best service and competitive fares for the traveling public and the greatest benefit to the Houston hospitality community.

Also on Friday, the Greater Houston Partnership made official its position in support of Hobby expansion. Its board of directors voted to approve a resolution previously supported by both its Executive Committee and its Business Issues Committee.

We’ll know more in a little while. At this point, I will be surprised if this doesn’t get done.

We’re #9!

Number Nine on The Street’s list of “10 Cities Poised For Greatness In 2012”. Which places us one behind Austin, and one ahead of…Rochester, NY? Whatever. Here’s what they say about our fair city.

We move too fast for the naked eye to see


Throughout the economic crisis, Houston has been the buttoned-down older brother to Austin’s hippie slacker.

While college-boy Austin coasts by on education and arts, Houston shrugs off the cool kids, goes to work every day with its buddies in the energy industry and does what it can to keep unemployment below 8%. Unlike Austin, though, Houston doesn’t have to drop its home prices to draw new blood.

Home prices in Houston have remained level since 2010 and are among the few in America that have risen since 2008. ConocoPhilips(COP_), Marathon Oil(MRO_) and Halliburton(HAL_) all help provide a solid employment base and, though the Houston Texans’ run to the NFL playoffs may be Houston’s major one-off event of the year, there’s economic life to the city that’s only improving as the year goes on.

Boy, if that doesn’t get your blood pumping, I don’t know what would. Better jump on this while you can, GHCVB.

Airport Direct on the way out

You can’t say they didn’t try.

Metropolitan Transit Authority officials have decided to eliminate express bus service to George Bush Intercontinental Airport.

Canceling the airport service was one of a dozen suggested route changes that were discussed at a public hearing Tuesday. Metro officials concluded after the hearing that they should proceed with plans to end the service, a decision that doesn’t require board approval, spokesman Jerome Gray said.

The service is expected to stop late next month, Gray said. The local Route 102 bus, which also provides service from downtown to Bush Airport, will continue to operate.

Metro president and chief executive officer George Greanias said the agency had worked hard to make the service succeed, including lowering the fare in January from $15 to $4.50 for a one-way trip.

“Our concern for Airport Direct stemmed strictly from the costs of the service versus revenues we could realistically achieve, not its desirability or our personal wish that it succeed,” Greanias said in a prepared statement.

Metro doesn’t have the cash flow to keep trying to make this work. They gave it a shot, and under other circumstances they might have been able to keep tinkering with it, but this was clearly the responsible thing to do.

Which isn’t to say that there couldn’t be some way to make a service like this be either self-sufficient or only in need of a modest subsidy.

Greg Ortale, president and CEO of the Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau, said the conversations with Metro had provided a good beginning for new ideas about transportation service to Houston’s airports.

“I think that what needs to happen now is go back and get all the interested parties to retool, think a little bit outside the box and think how we can put together a good, solid express not only to Bush but also to Hobby,” he said.

Ortale said some meetings are planned in the next two weeks to discuss a future airport bus service.

As long as there’s limited exposure for any public funding, I’m okay with taking another crack at it. It really does seem like there ought to be a way.

The anti-gay stuff has already started

For the most part, we didn’t see any nasty homophobia in the 2009 Mayoral election until the runoff, at which point it oozed out from several locations. This time around, the gay bashers aren’t wasting any time. First, usual suspect Dave Wilson crawled out from under his rock to send a hateful letter about Mayor Parker, which in a nice bit of ju jitsu she then turned into a national fundraising appeal. More recently, one of her actual opponents in the race decided that gay tourists and their money are icky.

The Houston mayoral election is still four months away, but challenger Fernando Herrera must be getting desperate considering he’s already throwing anti-gay mud at incumbent Annise Parker. Herrera posted a picture to his campaign’s Facebook page (screen grab above) from the Greater Houston Convention & Visitors Bureau’s “My Gay Houston” campaign. The campaign features prominent LGBT Houstonians talking about what makes Houston great. Herrera captioned the photo as follows:

“The Gay Boy’s Weekend in H-Town?
The July 13th, 2011 City Council Agenda includes $420,000.00 for the Greater Houston Convention & Visitors Bureau. Yes…the same Bureau that launched the My Gay Houston campaign and website. See where your tax dollars are going – Read all about it —​ness/6780236.html
I’m just saying…”

Well, “I’m just saying” that most major cities in the U.S. are actively competing for the LGBT vacation dollar (including Chicago, Los Angeles, Los Vegas, Washington D.C., Dallas and even Salt Lake City), and if Houston is to be competitive as a vacation and convention destination it has to follow suit. I’m also “just saying” that gay-baiting the very popular Parker is a dumb political move that does little to legitimize Herrera’s struggling campaign.

Here’s the link to that photo in case you want to add your voice to the comments. It’ll be by far the most attention Herrera has gotten for his campaign. When you’re done, head over to My Gay Houston and see what exactly it is that he’s so afraid of.

Time for another “What to do with the Astrodome?” study

It’s been two years since we had one of these.

The Astrodome’s next incarnation — planetarium? hotel? heap of dynamited rubble? – will be the subject of yet another study ordered up by Harris County Commissioners Court this week.

What to do with the dusty 46-year-old landmark has nagged at county officials even before the Astros left for what is now Minute Maid Park in 1999. How to pay for any proposal has not been far from their minds, either. Even tearing it down would cost tens of millions of dollars.

“We have to make a decision” on the Dome, County Judge Ed Emmett said. “I wanted us to make our decision this year. They’re going to look at every option there is and come back with the recommendation. It’s about time we do that.”

The county will contribute $50,000 toward a $500,000 study, bringing to $100,000 the total the county has spent in the past two years studying what to do with the aging Houston icon.

The remaining $450,000 for the latest study will be funded by the Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau, Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo, Houston Texans, Harris County-Houston Sports Authority and Aramark Corp.

The study, slated for completion in December, also will plot the future of the entire Reliant Park complex, home to the long-vacant Dome, the Texans’ Reliant Stadium, Reliant Center and aging Reliant Arena.

It was almost exactly two years ago when the previous study was approved. That led to the infamous three options proposal that nobody liked. County Judge Ed Emmett said at the beginning of the year that something needs to happen, and he reiterated his call at the State of the County address. According to the story, he wants to have a bond referendum on next year’s ballot. We’ll see if this study works out any better than that last one.

Happy birthday, Discovery Green!

Two years old now.

Two years after it opened, downtown’s Discovery Green park has drawn 55 percent more visitors than projected and has emerged as a key asset to Houston’s convention business, officials say.

The 12-acre, $122 million park has attracted an estimated 1.7 million visitors, or 850,000 per year, director Guy Hagstette said. Prior to its opening two years ago today, the park’s operations consultant projected it would attract 550,000 people a year, an estimate the park’s leaders thought was too high, Hagstette said.


Discovery Green has become our new town square,” said Greg Ortale, president of the Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau, which operates the George R. Brown Convention Center adjacent to the park.

Discovery Green has been a crucial selling point in booking several conventions, Ortale said, giving conventioneers a view of green space teeming with people rather than of the parking lots that occupied the space before the park was built.

We continue to love Discovery Green. The girls are always up for a trip to “the downtown park”. They’re already pestering me to let them play in the Gateway Fountain – sorry, not quite warm enough yet. The only complaint I have is that the children’s playground area needs a little maintenance, and has needed it for some time now. Otherwise, it’s all good. Discovery Green is what downtown Houston has needed for a long time – a focal point that we can all be proud of. I sincerely hope that the Market Square renovation is half as successful as Discovery Green has been.

If there’s a big sporting event in town…

Then it must be time for a story about the economic impact of that big sporting event.

For a city that has hosted the Super Bowl, the World Series and NBA and MLB All-Star games in the past decade, the Final Four represents one more opportunity for a national showcase — and potential economic windfall.

Greg Ortale, president and CEO of the Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau, expects the area to see some $38 million in extra income this weekend thanks to what amounts to home games for the third-seeded Bears and their green-and-gold-clad fans.

“That’s very good, and we’re definitely pleased with that,” he said.

The real jackpot, however, awaits next spring. Ortale, who’ll be at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis for this year’s Final Four, anticipates 75,000-plus passing through the Houston turnstiles in 2011. Houston will again host the Final Four in 2016.

“We should at least double what we did in 2008 next year,” Ortale said.

Houston and Reliant Stadium last hosted an NCAA regional in 2008, employing the “mid-field” court configuration and elevated seating systems that now serve as the model for all Final Fours. The attendance then was similar to Friday’s.

“We were north of 38 (million dollars),” Ortale said. “We verified it through a third party, and we think it’s a conservative estimate. We prefer to err on the side of being conservative instead of overstating.”

At least this story addressed the question of what the impact was of a past event, rather than just giving us another projection about a current or future event. Given the financial situation we’re in, it would have been nice to know what effect on the city’s sales tax revenue is to be expected. Was there a noticeable bump in the amount of sales tax revenue Houston received from the state in 2008? If so, given that sales tax revenues have been depressed for months, do we expect the check for March of this year to show a similar or even greater increase? Seems to me that’s what really matters.

Houston food tours

This is a fabulous idea.

[Monica Pope, chef of t’afia] — along with fellow chefs Bryan Caswell of Reef; Marcus Davis of the breakfast klub; Mark Holley of Pesce; Randy Evans of Haven; Hugo Ortega of Hugo’s; Chris Shepherd of Catalan; and food writer Robb Walsh — will lead eight tours this year including visits to Houston’s hidden Asian restaurants, small ethnic markets and the gems along Long Point Road.

“That’s the best cross section of everything,” said Caswell, referring to the restaurants along Long Point. “You can throw a dart and chances are it’s going to be good.”

The four- to five-hour tours, led by two chefs and limited to 16 participants each with several already sold out, are designed to boost the comfort level with unfamiliar food and little-known restaurants.

Pope, Shepherd, Caswell and Evans, who got together recently at one of the Vietnamese restaurants they plan to showcase, said some residents may find it daunting to go into restaurants that don’t have fancy storefronts or detailed menus in English.

The only complaint I have about this is how limited in number they are. I hope someone figures out a way to make this a regular feature, with other knowledgeable types filling in for the chefs. If anyone has signed up for one of these, leave a comment and let us know about it.

Here come the gay tourists

The election of Annise Parker as Mayor has put Houston on the map as a travel destination for gay groups.

Houston historically has not been a popular destination for gay and lesbian travelers, according to U.S. Travel Association data. Last month, independent of mayoral politics, the visitors bureau launched an online effort to reach out to them.

Regardless of whether Parker’s election boosts that effort directly, at the least it could help change the perception of Houston, according to a longtime tourism consultant. Houston drew international attention earlier this month when it became the largest U.S. city to elect an openly gay mayor.

It “makes Houston seem more tolerant and gay-friendly,” said David Paisley, senior program director of Community Marketing, a San Francisco-based marketing and consulting firm that works primarily with the gay and lesbian tourism industry.

Cities have been marketing themselves to gay and lesbian tourists for years now, since as the story notes they tend to travel more and spend more money at their destinations. Houston got a ton of free, positive publicity from Parker’s win, so now is as good a time as any to try to capitalize on that.

It’s too early to say how Parker as mayor will affect gay and lesbian travel to Houston, [Holly Clapham, vice president of marketing at the Convention and Visitors Bureau] said, but “her brand is now associated with our product.”

The reaction among many outsiders when they heard Parker was elected was, “‘Wow, this happened in Houston!’” Clapham said. “Certainly there is buzz and awareness out there.”

People won’t come here just because of her election, she said, “but this could open windows to them considering Houston.”

For those of us who think that most people will like Houston if they give it a try, that’s all you can ask for.