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Can - and should - Houston become a tourist destination?


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I don't know where I first heard this, but I remember someone once telling me: "People say about New York that 'It's a great place to visit, but I wouldn't want to live there.' I feel about Houston that 'It's a great place to live, but I wouldn't want to visit here.'"

But, Houston's growing by leaps and bounds and Houston's reputation on the international stage does appear to be growing.

So, I wonder... Should the 'city' (and, by that, I mean a combination of public and private entities) be building infrastructure and attractions that are appealing to national and international tourists?

I'm aware that many on this forum would say no; they wish to keep Houston for themselves, in a sense - not wanting to deal with additional traffic, etc from tourists. But, the region's growing in population regardless - projected to add another million people or so within the next decade and possibly reaching a metro of as much as 9 million by 2030.

As the region grows in population - outpacing global population growth estimates - it is likely to become even more prominent, internationally. I believe it's inevitable that tourism will grow.

Should we take advantage of this growth by focusing our efforts on growing the tourism industry and providing the necessary infrastructure that would be appealing to tourists? And, if so, what must be done?

Edit: I think projects such as the Buffalo Bayou Shepherd to Sabine Project are a great start, but I believe that greenspace is only one of many aspects of building a city that is appealing to outsiders. These sorts of projects (to me) appear to be more appealing to residents than tourists too.

Edited by Simbha
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Lots of museums, zoo, boardwalk, Moody gardens. As more people transplant here, families will visit and will want to see what there is here. Inevitably more will come.

Oh yeah, lots of malls, and other stuff too. I think a lot of the stuff we take for granted are destinations for family visitors.

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As the region grows in population - outpacing global population growth estimates - it is likely to become even more prominent, internationally. I believe it's inevitable that tourism will grow.

Population does not necessarily correlate well with tourist draw. The largest urban agglomerations on the planet are Tokyo, Mexico City, and Seoul, in that order; these are not exactly at the top of most people's destination lists. Paris is way down at #26, and places like Orlando, Las Vegas, and Dubai are unlisted, probably ranked in the one or two hundreds after a whole bunch of minor cities in India that you've never heard of and can't pronounce.

Tourism and tourist attractions will no doubt increase along with size and affluence, but they will do so organically and in ways that many people think of as being unexpected. For instance, Houston already benefits greatly (albeit invisibly) from medical tourism. This is an area where we have a competitive advantage and can leverage it to our advantage. But it would be foolhardy to promote ecotourism, to promote something like an EarthQuest Adventures as an alternative to Disney World, or to build a really tall building to gain attention. There's just not the bang for the buck. Legalizing human vices on the other hand, well...every city should do that.

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I have always been interested in this topic, so thought I'd bring over my most recent blog post on it. Also a link below to the last HAIF discussion on this.

Attracting national and global tourists to Houston

PWC ranked Houston #11 *in the world* for business, life, and innovation - a really amazingly high ranking when you think about it. Here's what they said:

Best : #2 in cost of owning business space, entrepreneurial environment and life satisfaction, #3 in commute time and cost of living

Worst : Last in foreign job-creating investment and international tourists

Details: Houstonians love Houston. So do US business owners. The rest of the world ... not so much. With lax zoning laws and plentiful space, Houston's low cost of living and doing business is a dream for American businesses and middle class workers, but the rest of the world pretends as though the city doesn't exist. The city has fewer international tourists than any other comparable global city.

That sparked an interesting debate started over at HAIF on how to improve Houston's tourism, especially for foreign visitors. This has always been a tough issue for Houston. We just don't get tourism proportionate to our global economic standing, and out-of-sight is out-of-mind. But what would a realistic strategy possibly be?

  • Out family-fun Orlando?
  • Out weather California?
  • Out beach Florida or Hawaii?
  • Out culture New York?
  • Out museum DC or New York?
  • Out gamble/adult-fun Las Vegas? (or South Beach?)
  • Out ski Denver or Salt Lake City?
  • Out history New Orleans, Boston, Savannah or Charleston? (or even San Antonio)

See what I mean? People choose vacation locations for specific reasons, and the winners are pretty damn dominant. We're stuck as a local/regional "big city" tourism destination like Chicago is for the midwest and Atlanta is for the southeast, with our share of great museums, restaurants, shopping, and a few attractions - but not enough to pull people from across the country - much less the world - to vacation here. Our one niche exception - something with some global pull - has been NASA JSC and Space Center Houston, but who knows what the future is there.

Here's a long-shot proposal I made a few years ago on this blog, one that would build on the NASA niche:

Finally, Houston needs to upgrade its tourism experience. All great, world-class cities offer a compelling tourism experience, even if only for a short trip. Even with NASA, the Galleria, and solid museum and theater districts, this has been one of Houston’s most glaring weaknesses, and one that has kept us off the radar for educated, well-traveled professionals. Again, the light rail network and some vibrant pedestrian districts will help greatly, but we really need one powerful, anchor “mega-attraction” that will actually draw people to Houston for at least a long weekend. One niche where I think Houston could be distinctive would be
the world’s largest engineering and technology museum
– something along the lines of DC’s
, Munich’s
, and Chicago’s
. It could even be one of the Smithsonian’s network of National Museums, which have started to move out beyond Washington DC (Design in NYC, Industrial History planned for Pittsburgh). Think of it as Houston’s version of Paris’ Louvre or London’s British Museum. The combination with Space Center Houston could create a national draw, not to mention a wonderful source of educational and career inspiration for our youth. As far as sites, 109 acres just became available at the end of the light rail line with the closing of Astroworld – not to mention the old Astrodome - both easily accessible to downtown and Reliant Park conventioneers. Any well-heeled philanthropists out there?

Done on a large enough scale, I could see it attracting not just the usual tourists, but multi-day student group field trips from all over like Space Camp does in Huntsville or the Smithsonian complex in DC - inspiring a new generation of scientists and engineers. It should not just focus on history, but articulate the great engineering and technology challenges we face going forward. It would be a big, bold, expensive gamble - but could be just the ticket to move us up to the next level in tourism and international recognition.

More good stuff in the comments.

Edited by ToryGattis
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@ToryGattis...

I love the spirit of your vision, but I disagree with the specifics. As someone indicated in your blog comments, I believe that Houston needs to capitalize on one of its core strengths by building THE world museum on energy. I believe that this can also satisfy your vision for a museum of engineering and technology to a large degree; here's one way to do it:

1. Build a large-scale facility on the current grounds of the Houston Garden Center. The main (indoor) museum would be located on the northwesterly grounds, while an outdoor museum would be located on the southeasterly grounds (as shown on the map below). The indoor facility can be connected to the main HMNS building, thus creating a connected experience across the other HMNS exhibits and the energy museum. This orientation would also allow for more connectedness (either through skyways or pedestrian walkways to the Health Museum, thus forming a massive district for the sciences including paleontology, astronomy, anthropology, mineralogy, health sciences, and technology (as most represented by energy).

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2. Relocate the gardens of the HGC to the Houston Arboretum, granting it equivalent (or grander) space than it currently has at Hermann Park. This would serve to also connect the two central botanical spaces in the city.

3. Relocate the sculpture garden currently on the HGC grounds to the median on Caroline between Hermann Dr and Southmore - through the heart of much of the central Museum District. Create a narrow pedestrian park along that median and be sure to allow for safe pedestrian crossings across the major roads. (Edit1: Here's most of the path of which I mention...) (Edit2: You'll notice that this path ends... (i) at the HMNS/proposed-HEM site, (ii) is within 2-3 blocks of the MFAH, ZaZa's, the Children's Museum, (iii) passes by the beautiful Clayton Library Center and Holocaust Museum, and (iv) ends at the block occupied by the Asia Society and Weather Museum.)

6406396501_fec62d14d9.jpg

4. Develop partnerships with existing Houston-area tour operations focused on energy and energy technology, such as:

- Bring the Ocean Star under the Houston Energy Museum banner. It can remain where it is, in Galveston (as it should, being a decommissioned offshore rig) but it can be advertised directly through the HMNS/HEM website as a satellite facility.

- Develop a partnership with the Port of Houston Authority's Sam Houston Boat Tour, to provide museum-goers with scheduled Port tours with an energy focus.

By doing it in this way, the city government could take the lead and reallocate space that is already owned by the government (including the Caroline median). The only organization that suffers (in a way) by this allocation are the HGC folks - whom, I believe, can be persuaded by providing ample and distinctive grounds at Memorial Park instead. I suspect - and I totally admit this is a biased statement - that many of the folks who actually control the HGC facility live in River Oaks or along Memorial Dr; a move such as this could actually be more convenient for them, without hurting other residents. (Also note that the Bayou Bend Collection and Gardens is also in proximity of Memorial Park and the Houston Arboretum.)

I'll address TheNiche's comments - and other suggestions I have - in subsequent postings later.

Edited by Simbha
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Population does not necessarily correlate well with tourist draw. The largest urban agglomerations on the planet are Tokyo, Mexico City, and Seoul, in that order; these are not exactly at the top of most people's destination lists. Paris is way down at #26, and places like Orlando, Las Vegas, and Dubai are unlisted, probably ranked in the one or two hundreds after a whole bunch of minor cities in India that you've never heard of and can't pronounce.

It doesn't - globally - but looking at cities in North America, it does. First, methodology: I took census population data from 2010 (for the US) and nearby years (for Canada and Mexico) for population estimates. I then took the Euromonitor International Top Tourist Destinations data for North American cities. I then ran straight-line single-variate regressions of tourists on population. Here's what I got:

- Taking North America as a whole, the R-squared is about 0.30. Not extraordinary, but respectable. The z-stat on Population is 2.67 - very respectable.

- Taking the US alone, the R-squared jumps to 0.63. Strong correlation there. The z-stat on Population is 4.48!

- Finally, taking cities which were not purpose-built for tourism in the US (Las Vegas and Orlando), the results are even stronger: 77% R-squared and a z-stat of 5.82!

Here's something else:

I estimated the expected tourist value based on the coefficient estimates in both cases, for each of the cities - then computed the ratio of the actual deviation from this value to the actual tourists value. In the N America version, Houston does 2nd worst of all cities; according to these estimates, Houston's international tourism is at about 26% of its expected value (based on its population). (Seattle does slightly worse, at 24%.)

I also did the same using only the US data. Here, Houston is the worst of the bunch - at 30% of its expected value... regardless of whether I exclude the tourism-built cities or not.

I employ statistics professionally, and so I know the pitfalls of drawing causal conclusions from contemporaneous data. However, clearly population IS correlated with tourism, and I think this is a strong argument for believing that Houston's presence in international tourism will grow - regardless of its source (e.g., medical tourism). However, the second part of the analysis shows, to me, that Houston is definitely NOT taking advantage of its (population) size in order to attract tourism; it could be argued that it is, in fact, repelling tourists as the EXPECTED value is significantly higher than the actual value.

I believe that we, as a city, can attract more tourists - and then some. But, it will take a focused effort from numerous parties. And that, brings me to your next point...

Tourism and tourist attractions will no doubt increase along with size and affluence, but they will do so organically and in ways that many people think of as being unexpected. For instance, Houston already benefits greatly (albeit invisibly) from medical tourism. This is an area where we have a competitive advantage and can leverage it to our advantage. But it would be foolhardy to promote ecotourism, to promote something like an EarthQuest Adventures as an alternative to Disney World, or to build a really tall building to gain attention. There's just not the bang for the buck. Legalizing human vices on the other hand, well...every city should do that.

I'm not suggesting that we promote ecotourism within the city or its environs - although I do think people do not have a clue how much the region offers in natural surroundings. I would instead argue, though, that Houston needs to do the following three things, if it wishes to increase its tourism:

- Increase the number of tourist-enticing destinations in the central city and expand on its existing offerings. I have suggestions in this regard, which I'll highlight later in another posting.

- Ideally, group its tourism offerings in the central city to the best of its ability - but also provide transport to the outlying destinations (of which there are many). I always found it funny that some of our biggest tourist destinations are away from the city's core: JSC/SpaceCenter Houston, Kemah Boardwalk, Moody Gardens, Forbidden Gardens (now defunct), etc. This is the nature of the city, but I think our city/regional leaders should do more to encourage this type of development in the center of the city.

- Advertise our offerings. We've got some great stuff (and could use more) but we don't even tell the world what we have.

Overall, I just think that Houston SHOULD and CAN increase its tourism by a huge amount, with relative ease.

Edited by Simbha
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Simbha: I love the well-thought out details of your plan (the walkable museum district concept is awesome). And an energy museum certainly plays to our strengths. But I don't think it will do much to attract national and international visitors. People just aren't all that interested in museums in general, or energy. As I mentioned in my post, museums are usually something people add on to a trip they're taking for other reasons. They compliment the trip, they're not a driver of it. I think this applies to London, Paris, NYC, and others. Now DC is an odd exception, and one I think Houston could learn from. The giant Smithsonian collection of museums is a powerful draw for intl and domestic visitors. I'd say domestically it's mostly families or school field trips, where the kids learn about both govt and our nation's history/art/etc. Parents bring (or send) their kids because they think it will be good for their development, as opposed to the pretty much pure fun of something like an Orlando vacation. That's the sentiment I think Houston go viably go after. By creating a very future-oriented, big challenge-focused, STEM-based tech/engi/science museum complex (inc. energy) as a compliment to NASA, we become one of those destinations families will want to visit for the benefit of their kids. I'm not saying they won't also have some fun when they get here (Kemah, Galveston, shopping, eating, etc.), but the core reason they will add it to their vacation plans will be to inspire their kids into STEM fields (science, tech, engi, math) - just like I'm sure plenty of DC trips have inspired kids into public service careers. But for us to be that kind of draw, we have to go way beyond what they already offer in their local science and/or children's museum.

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Simbha: I love the well-thought out details of your plan (the walkable museum district concept is awesome). And an energy museum certainly plays to our strengths. But I don't think it will do much to attract national and international visitors. [...] By creating a very future-oriented, big challenge-focused, STEM-based tech/engi/science museum complex (inc. energy) as a compliment to NASA, we become one of those destinations families will want to visit for the benefit of their kids.

Perhaps you could provide some more description as to what you mean here. What would the exhibition spaces be like, and to whom would the entire facility be geared?

To be clear, I don't think either your idea or mine would be sufficient, by themselves, to lure tourists. In fact, as I obtusely implied in my previous post, Houston seems to have an image problem which prevents it from even achieving its 'standard' potential. No single museum is going to resolve that, but I believe an energy-focused museum should be part of the larger plan - but, perhaps, your vision for a STEM museum could better fill this position, so I'd like to hear more.

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I guess the short description would be like the National Air and Space museum (the 2nd most popular museum in the world after the Louvre, see http://www.travelandleisure.com/articles/worlds-most-visited-museums/3 ), but covering a broader range of STEM subject areas and giving not just history, but articulate the big challenges facing those fields going forward. The goal is to not just look backward, but inspire kids to study hard so they can contribute to working on the big problems of the future in their careers. The original vision of Epcot might be another example. Lots of interactivity and summer camps, school field trip groups on multi-day visits.

From a marketing analysis, there is an unfilled niche, and here's my articulation of it: parents plan family trips, and they often want to educate their kids as well as have fun. There are plenty of opportunities to do this with history - Colonial Williamsburg, Boston, the Alamo and San Antonio, etc. - not to mention Europe. DC is where you learn about our great country's history and political system. The national parks for learning about nature and the environment. San Diego for every type of animal in the mega-zoo (and SeaWorld for aquatic animals). But there's bit of a hole when it comes to teaching kids about and inspiring them into STEM careers. On a national level there's Air and Space in DC and a couple of NASA sites (inc. Houston), but it's pretty limited. On a local level it's pretty small science and children's museums. We could aspire to be one of those "must-do" vacations for all families that want to broadly educate their kids. "A DC/Smithsonian of STEM" might be a way to think of it. Maybe that's one mega-museum, or a collection of medium-sized ones. Not sure. The Astrodome is a huge opportunity, as is the giant empty field to the south of it and the easy rail connection to our Museum District. And we already have a starting pull with Space Center Houston. Build on that, and we can create a differentiated niche from other tourist destinations (see the list in my blog post).

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I'm sorry to keep asking you to clarify, but I'm still uncertain of what you're looking to do. Perhaps this question would be better:

What would the STEM museum address that is not currently addressed by the combination of HMNS and SpaceCenter Houston? Or, would the STEM museum 'simply' be a massive expansion on these offerings?

I believe I know the answer to this question, but I'd like to hear your thoughts first.

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Massive expansion - like the difference between the Lone Star Flight Museum and the National Air & Space museum. More broad engineering and tech (rather than just science and aerospace). Address the Grand Challenges of Engineering: http://www.engineeringchallenges.org/ (maybe a wing for each?) Of course have big hardware when possible: planes, rockets, etc.

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Haven't been there, but love the fact that I can type it into Google Image Search and immediately get a feel for the place. Looks impressive. Definitely a good example. I wonder if a better name for ours might be "The Museum of Progress", showing how human civilization has advanced with science, engineering, and technology and the great challenges we face going forward.

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Thanks for the clarification, Tory. A great vision. It's not dissimilar to one my wife and I have had for a while...

Imagine a monument to the ability of the human spirit to rise to and overcome its challenges. Right here in Houston.

The Triumph of the Human Spirit is such a monument.

To be dedicated on July 20, 2019, the 50th anniversary of the day man first set foot on another celestial body, the Triumph of the Human Spirit is partially dedicated to man's desire to reach for the stars - and its ability to grab them.

But, it is more than just a monument to human spaceflight. It is a monument to every man, woman and child who has dared to ask "what if..." and "I wonder why..." It is dedicated to the spirit of the thousands of people who have risked their lives to mine for resources - so that you and I may turn on the lights or drive our cars. It is dedicated to the professionals who dared to innovate in medicine, paving the way for open heart surgery - then using those advancements to install the first artificial heart.

And, Triumph of the Human Spirit is not a monument to Houston alone. It is a monument to all of humanity - past, present and future.

The monument is envisioned as being a part of Eleanor Tinsley Park, along the Buffalo Bayou.

And, here's my addition - I think this is at least somewhat consistent with your own vision for a museum of this sort...

And, situated one block from the monument is another Houston landmark - this one dedicated to the future. The Houston Museum of Future Technologies is a science and technology museum unlike any other - because its primary focus is on the technologies that will shape our future. Curators at HMFT work to develop exhibits that highlight the emerging technologies of today that have the greatest potential to bring about change in our world. Each exhibit is crafted to educate the public about scientific advancements currently happening all over the world, and what they mean for future engineering developments.

And, here's a geometric rendering of these landmarks (the large existing building in the foreground is the Houston branch of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas):

6415585659_2ebe5d5808.jpg

Incidentally, I'm not a designer. The actual inspiration for the shape of the Triumph of Human Spirit (actual design vision not shown here) is the interesting obelisk-like sculpture found in front of the UHD Commerce St building - which can be seen here.

Edited by Simbha
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And, here's a geometric rendering of the Houston Energy Museum I did over the weekend...

6415708937_40e12a95ca.jpg

If it were actually built - even in this location - it would probably need to be a bit smaller, but... you get the idea. The 'little' things on the right are part of the Energy Garden which I'd mentioned before (but not by name). I meant one to be an oil derrick and the other a wind turbine - but I suck at design, so this is what you get. ;)

I think a combination of the Houston Energy Museum (here) and the Houston Museum of Future Technologies (above post) would be awesome for the city.

Museums aren't everything - but they're important, in my opinion. I'll provide some more of my (and my wife's) thoughts in the coming days, as I have time.

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Good stuff, although I think I'd stay away from the name "Museum of Future Technologies". I've read some articles that Disney had a real problem with Epcot because it kept getting dated so fast as technologies changed. I think most of the museum would be the history of engineering and technology, maybe grouped into themes like "mobility", "computing", "health/medicine", "energy", etc. but then shifting at the end of their timelines to broad, long-term challenges. The museum would certainly still have to be updated pretty regularly, but a relatively small fraction of the overall exhibits. The goal is for the kid to get swept up in the great people and technologies of the past and then get them excited about being contributors to future progress.

Love the "Triumph of the Human Spirit" idea.

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Well, I simply don't believe that we can build a comprehensive historical museum of engineering/technology that would compete with the likes of the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago, for example. That's why I suggested the concept of a museum of future technology. I recognize that it would require significant planning - both from a development standpoint (easy but tedious) and a from a exhibit logistics standpoint (harder but feasible, I think).

However - like you - I'm a strategist; so, I'd suggest that what we (as a city collective) do is go through a process of strategic thinking and determine what, if anything, might be the best choice to meet our goals.

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Here's another concept my wife and I have been working on. This one's less developed than the Triumph of the Human Spirit, but here goes:

Houston is one of the most ethnically diverse cities on the planet. As an abstract reflection of this diversity - and to also put Houston on the map - we propose that the city build a large greenspace composed of classic gardens from around the world. Specifically, this would be a park with winding walkways which would take a pedestrian through many gardens styled after - say, Andalucian, French, Japanese, Chinese, etc - gardens. To my knowledge, nothing like this exists in the world - although the adjacent Japanese and Chinese gardens in Singapore (Jurong Gardens) are not dissimilar in overall concept.

I'm fully aware that Hermann Park has a well-developed Japanese Garden. This would be in addition to (but separate from) these gardens.

I don't have a space to propose for this; I don't even have much of a sense of how large the space would need to be yet. It's just a seed of an idea at this point. One possibility might be Spotts Park. It's currently a recreational park, and I'm sure there would be community opposition to its move, but it does appear to be in an ideal location for something like this. One interesting idea here might be to also use the circles created by the jug handles of Memorial Dr. By sight, I estimate this total to be around 30-35 acres. Here's the space, for clarity:

6412122435_a14b300480.jpg

Edited by Simbha
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If anyone's interested, I have created a Google Doc for myself and any interested parties through which we can visualize the touristic attraction of other large cities in the US and compare them to Houston. I've included every US city listed on Euromonitor International's 2011 listing of top world cities, with the exceptions of Las Vegas and Orlando (which are purpose-built for tourism). In descending order of number of tourists, the cities are:

- New York City

- Los Angeles

- San Francisco

- Miami

- Washington DC

- Chicago

- Boston

- San Diego

- Atlanta

- Houston

- San Jose

- Seattle

The spreadsheet is intended to compare the cities' tourist attractiveness within the following categories:

- Logistics: An assessment of the factors relating to visiting the city as a tourist, including availability of information, accommodations, tours and transportation within the city

- Media: An assessment of the city's positive media presence across film, television and print media

- Landmark: An assessment of the collective set of landmarks not included in other categories - monuments/fountains, buildings and others

- Educational: An assessment of 'live nature', museum, and historical landmarks

- Entertainment: An assessment of entertainment venues/events within the city - festivals, indoor entertainment, and professional sports teams

- Recreation: An assessment of other recreational offerings - outdoor recreation and amusement/theme parks

Within each category/item, each city is to be assessed using criteria presented in the tab labeled 'Legend'; generally, only attractions within the city core are considered, as these are (in my opinion) the most appealing to tourists. The actual assessments by city appear on the tab labeled 'Master List'. On this tab, you can find the cities themselves (columns) with assessments in each category/item - from weak to world-class - denoted by color. Examples/contributing factors to the assessment are provided in each of the cells. If you're interested in a side-by-side comparison of cities, simply click on the column letter (C to N) for the cities you don't wish to view, right-click (on a Windows PC) and select Hide for the column(s).

This list is a work-in-progress; I have only filled out NYC and Houston thus far (and even those are missing some elements). Furthermore, I acknowledge that it's an entirely subjective comparison that is reflective of (for now) my own biases in assessment. This is just a side project for myself and anyone else who may be interested in viewing/contributing. I'm almost certain that the city leadership has conducted a similar assessment, but - since I don't have access to it all in one place - I'm doing my own.

I welcome any and all feedback - except that which simply tells me I'm wasting my time. (I'm not, because I'm enjoying it; it's just another way for me to learn about my own city and others, in the process.) If you have thoughts on how to improve this list, please let me know by either posting below or sending me an email (simbha07@gmail.com). Or, feel free to request editing rights by contacting me directly, if you'd like to contribute directly to this work.

Edited by Simbha
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I still believe we should build a true public aquarium within the city. While the Downtown Aquarium is of decent scale, it's primarily a restaurant.

I even have a site picked out...

6412183355_2a899fdde8.jpg

Yes, I'm quite serious. I think this would be the best use of the Dome, and it could become a world-class facility rivaling that of the George Aquarium, unlike the Downtown venue. Here's a visual comparison of relative sizes of these facilities:

6431253357_27cf8e3be8.jpg

Yeah, Atlanta's got us beat - for now - in at least one category...

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The spreadsheet is intended to compare the cities' tourist attractiveness within the following categories:

Wow, I'm actually surprised that we perform so well! Holding our own against Atlanta (despite its airport and status as a media mecca), doing better than Seattle, and neither Dallas or Philly are even ranked in the top 10, despite having similar populations. Denver is also unranked despite its size, relative affluence, large airport, mountain backdrop, and the nearby recreational opportunities.

Its hard to compete with the history and urban grit of NYC, Boston, Chicago or San Francisco. Even if our population increases to match Chicago's, and our city is filled with shiny new skyscrapers, they will still have that advantage over us. Our beaches can't compare with Miami or southern California. We are not a seat of government. We haven't got a Hollywood-type draw. Aside from Latin America, we're stuck in the middle of the continent and by no means a gateway city to the world. Looking at this list, it makes a lot of sense why the top cities are what they are, and I can't see that we can change any of those factors that put us at a disadvantage.

That Houston is on the list is an accomplishment. Don't mess with success???

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I'd be careful with those rankings. They're just based on the number of international arrivals at each city, so they're not counting domestic tourism, and they're not separating business travelers from tourists (or, for that matter, true tourists from those just visiting friends or family).

The Aquarium idea is interesting, but has a lot of competition: Moody Gardens, SeaWorld in San Antonio, the Texas State Aquarium in Corpus Christi, and the Aquarium of the Americas in New Orleans. I think people have a limited appetite for aquariums, and we already have a lot of competition within driving distance.

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I'd be careful with those rankings. They're just based on the number of international arrivals at each city, so they're not counting domestic tourism, and they're not separating business travelers from tourists (or, for that matter, true tourists from those just visiting friends or family).

Sure, but just like any data, they're as valid as their criteria will allow. And, I suspect they're strongly correlated with other general sets of tourism data.

The Aquarium idea is interesting, but has a lot of competition: Moody Gardens, SeaWorld in San Antonio, the Texas State Aquarium in Corpus Christi, and the Aquarium of the Americas in New Orleans. I think people have a limited appetite for aquariums, and we already have a lot of competition within driving distance.

This is a fair point. But, I don't think that's the way tourists would see it. I think we need to build a collective strategy to move the mindset of tourists away from regional tourism (Texas/Gulf Coast) to city tourism (Houston). To the specific examples you used...

- Moody Gardens: Definite competition here. No question.

- SeaWorld: I think tourists see this as being more of an amusement park, and less of a public aquarium.

- Texas State Aquarium/Aquarium of the Americas: Both of these are hours of driving away from Houston - approximately 4-1/2 and 6 hours away, respectively. To put that in some perspective, the time from the Aquarium of the Bay (SF) to the Aquarium of the Pacific (LA) is about 6-1/2 hours... same order of magnitude.

You mention driving distance; I think we need to start thinking in terms of bus distance or walking distance.

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My concern is more along these lines: an aquarium is not a national or intl draw (I believe - including Atlanta). It is an "enhanced local draw" the way I think about it - people within driving distance say "hey let's go to Houston this weekend and see the new aquarium". But if most people within driving distance have already seen a couple of aquariums - the ones mentioned - then they're a whole lot less likely to go to Houston to see another one. If I had to guess, I'd bet there is little or no substantial "aquarium competition" within driving distance of Atlanta (GA, NC, SC, TN, AL), at least not until you get down to Sea World in Orlando. And if we end up building an aquarium that almost exclusively draws from local metro residents, it doesn't really add much, at least economically. Nice amenity, but doesn't move the needle as a tourist destination.

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My concern is more along these lines: an aquarium is not a national or intl draw (I believe - including Atlanta). It is an "enhanced local draw" the way I think about it - people within driving distance say "hey let's go to Houston this weekend and see the new aquarium".

I'm not certain that this is the case. The Georgia Aquarium - according to its Wikipedia article - sold 290k annual passes in its first year, before closing down the program. And, it welcomed over 10 million guests within it first year. I seriously doubt all those people came from the surrounding region, but I could be wrong.

But if most people within driving distance have already seen a couple of aquariums - the ones mentioned - then they're a whole lot less likely to go to Houston to see another one. If I had to guess, I'd bet there is little or no substantial "aquarium competition" within driving distance of Atlanta (GA, NC, SC, TN, AL), at least not until you get down to Sea World in Orlando. And if we end up building an aquarium that almost exclusively draws from local metro residents, it doesn't really add much, at least economically. Nice amenity, but doesn't move the needle as a tourist destination.

Again, I don't know - but both SeaWorld Orlando and the Florida Aquarium in Tampa are within 'driving' distance (about 7 hours). Also 'near' Atlanta are the Tennessee Aquarium in Chattanooga (2-1/2 hours away) and the South Carolina Aquarium in Charleston (5-1/2 hours) - both of which house about 10k animals (roughly the same as the Aquarium Pyramid at Moody Gardens).

Admittedly, all of these are further away than Moody Gardens/SeaWorld San Antonio - and most are further than Corpus Christi (and the Dallas World Aquarium) - but I still believe (operating word: believe, not know) that a truly world-class aquarium in Houston could help (operating word: help, not spearhead) any city effort to grow its non-regional tourism. But, if it's going to be done, it has to be done on a grand scale.

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Wow, I'm actually surprised that we perform so well! Holding our own against Atlanta (despite its airport and status as a media mecca), doing better than Seattle, and neither Dallas or Philly are even ranked in the top 10, despite having similar populations. Denver is also unranked despite its size, relative affluence, large airport, mountain backdrop, and the nearby recreational opportunities.

Its hard to compete with the history and urban grit of NYC, Boston, Chicago or San Francisco. Even if our population increases to match Chicago's, and our city is filled with shiny new skyscrapers, they will still have that advantage over us. Our beaches can't compare with Miami or southern California. We are not a seat of government. We haven't got a Hollywood-type draw. Aside from Latin America, we're stuck in the middle of the continent and by no means a gateway city to the world. Looking at this list, it makes a lot of sense why the top cities are what they are, and I can't see that we can change any of those factors that put us at a disadvantage.

I agree that it will be a long time before we become a tourist mecca like NYC, LA or SF - or, apparently, Miami (had no idea it is competitive with SF) - but I do think there are things we can do to improve the city's status as a tourist destination. I don't quite know what those things are, however; hence, this document.

Here's my current take on ways to improve in the categories, without having completed the document (or even getting close):

- Logistics: This is something which will evolve - as you like to say - 'organically' as the city grows, both in population and tourism.

- Media: I think the big ones here are film and television; print media will follow. Our most recent foray into the latter was Lone Star - a show that lasted on Fox for one week in September 2010 and was filmed in Dallas (but set in Houston). I'm sure there are people working on it, but why is Houston so far behind its sister Texas cities in film and television?

- Landmark: I've somewhat addressed this in my above postings, but I think the city needs to do a much better job of developing public landmarks that are close to the core of the city. I hate to say it, but I think bigger is better here; landmarks such as the Palace of Fine Arts in the SF Marina District and Buckingham Fountain are large-scale monuments in beautiful locations. The best we have to compete with these are the Galleria-area Waterfall (which is surrounded by a stark park), and the Mecom-Rockwell Collonade/Cancer Survivors' Plaza/Mecom Fountain in the Museum District (which are not easily accessible to pedestrians, who have to cross busy streets). The San Jacinto Monument could have been one of these, but it's in the middle of the Petroplex - something which most general tourist don't want to travel to or be in. Some (more) solid, centrally-located monuments/fountains would help here, but they need to be accompanied by the large-scale 'functional' landmarks including recognizable skyscrapers with excellent observation decks and unique operational areas.

- Educational: In addition to 'other' landmarks (above), I think this is where we can really shine. We have a wonderful museum district; expanding on this and our other educational venues (zoo, build a 'real' aquarium, botanical gardens) can really bring the tourists in. We can't do anything about our history or landscape (on a grand scale) but we can offer amazing opportunities for learning experiences. We may not be able to compete with NYC for art museums or Chicago for science museums, but we can offer a variety of large-scale, unique experiences that - overall - rival these and more.

- Entertainment: This is another area where we can shine. We may not be able to build a Broadway, but we can build a collective of entertainment offerings that bring people in. We already have the Theater District. We need to build on that area and expand it to the other side of the bayou - and converge the offerings of Sesquicentennial Park, the Bayou, and Tranquility Park to offer a unique experience with entertainment venues. One option that I'd really like to see discussed is to build Sesquicentennial Park and Discovery Green into the city's busking homes (although I realize that may not fly).

- Recreation: Outdoor recreation is something we can do little about, although we can certainly promote what we do have. There's talk - on HAIF and elsewhere - of building an entertainment pier in Galveston... something similar to the Kemah Boardwalk. Such ventures are cool, but I don't see them as doing much to draw non-regional tourists to the region. I had once suggested to turn Buffalo Bayou into Houston's version (i.e., bigger and better) of San Antonio's Riverwalk, but other, more knowledgeable, HAIFers gave good reasons why this shouldn't happen. Perhaps something over in the Warehouse District downtown could fly - perhaps something rivaling Chicago's Navy Pier or SF's Fisherman's Wharf.

That Houston is on the list is an accomplishment. Don't mess with success???

Well, I don't agree with this sentiment - but I respect your opinion, and I understand that you strongly believe that an effective city is grown organically (and I acknowledge that your insights, in general, are more informed than my own).

Overall, I understand your points - and I agree that we don't have "the history and urban grit of NYC, Boston, Chicago or San Francisco" and that (i) our natural environment is not as appealing to tourists as Miami or SoCal, and (ii) our core industries are not as flashy as Hollywood or as momentous as DC's. But, I think we can grow what we do have - an eclectic but strong mix of museums and performance arts. These, coupled with some large-scale appealing monuments, fountains and park-like amenities, can turn the city into a strong tourist draw - even more than it already is. But, I think these must be focused on the central core of the city.

That, at least, is my belief.

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I'm not certain that this is the case. The Georgia Aquarium - according to its Wikipedia article - sold 290k annual passes in its first year, before closing down the program. And, it welcomed over 10 million guests within it first year. I seriously doubt all those people came from the surrounding region, but I could be wrong.

I would suspect that the Georgia Aquarium is mostly just a time sink for people that happen to already be visiting Atlanta for some other purpose, for instance families returning to their home town around the holidays. I sincerely doubt that any appreciable fraction of tourists visiting Atlanta selected Atlanta on account of its aquarium.

I agree that it will be a long time before we become a tourist mecca like NYC, LA or SF - or, apparently, Miami (had no idea it is competitive with SF) - but I do think there are things we can do to improve the city's status as a tourist destination. I don't quite know what those things are, however; hence, this document.

Actually...regarding Miami...aside from its unique international flavor, its renowned nightlife, its temperate climate, its better beaches, its huge airport, and that it is a jumping-off point for Carribean destinations...it is also the world's largest port of call for cruise lines. Galveston is rapidly taking market share, however.

- Landmark: I've somewhat addressed this in my above postings, but I think the city needs to do a much better job of developing public landmarks that are close to the core of the city. I hate to say it, but I think bigger is better here; landmarks such as the Palace of Fine Arts in the SF Marina District and Buckingham Fountain are large-scale monuments in beautiful locations. The best we have to compete with these are the Galleria-area Waterfall (which is surrounded by a stark park), and the Mecom-Rockwell Collonade/Cancer Survivors' Plaza/Mecom Fountain in the Museum District (which are not easily accessible to pedestrians, who have to cross busy streets). The San Jacinto Monument could have been one of these, but it's in the middle of the Petroplex - something which most general tourist don't want to travel to or be in. Some (more) solid, centrally-located monuments/fountains would help here, but they need to be accompanied by the large-scale 'functional' landmarks including recognizable skyscrapers with excellent observation decks and unique operational areas.

Overall, I understand your points - and I agree that we don't have "the history and urban grit of NYC, Boston, Chicago or San Francisco" and that (i) our natural environment is not as appealing to tourists as Miami or SoCal, and (ii) our core industries are not as flashy as Hollywood or as momentous as DC's. But, I think we can grow what we do have - an eclectic but strong mix of museums and performance arts. These, coupled with some large-scale appealing monuments, fountains and park-like amenities, can turn the city into a strong tourist draw - even more than it already is. But, I think these must be focused on the central core of the city.

That, at least, is my belief.

I do agree that landmarks are important for drawing tourists from afar to the extent that they can aid in cultivating a brand; but I also think of Houston as very well set in terms of landmarks. Our monolithic downtown skyline kicks the ass of most other major cities and Williams Tower at night is very prominent and unique. And you mentioned the Petroplex; that'll draw the attention and fascination of...well, the kinds of people I hang out with. But a random tourist driving around or being driven around (and let's face it, the view from a car is very nearly the only view that matters here) will take the most direct route between places, and perhaps not see these things or see them from the right angle or at the right time. And Houstonians seem to be utterly horrible tour guides when it comes to stuff like that. We take it for granted and even feel ashamed of so much that could symbolically define us.

You want a landmark that showcases the Houston vernacular and beckons someone to accidentally tour the place that makes us special? Build a beer bar at these coordinates (29.6768 N, 95.9815 W), painted with a roof painted with the Texas flag, then advertise heavily. It will fail to inspire tourists, but who the hell cares anyway? I'm talking about muddy brackish water with an excessive dioxin content from which people fish anyway, rip rap shores, stinky air, the might of industry, passing tanker ships, towering cranes, post-Republic nationalism, Willie Nelson on the playlist, and beer. It'll inspire us. The tourists won't get it, but ****'em. Giving up on clueless tourists is quintessentially Houstonian. Its an authentic experience. They should appreciate that (but they won't, we don't care, we're happy not to care, and our happiness was the point of encouraging tourism in the first place).

Regarding your suggestions on educational, entertaining, or recreational venues...they're all good and well, but they're all just time sinks. Just like aquariums. I can't imagine them affecting the aggregate number of tourists.

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You want a landmark that showcases the Houston vernacular and beckons someone to accidentally tour the place that makes us special? Build a beer bar at these coordinates (29.6768 N, 95.9815 W), painted with a roof painted with the Texas flag, then advertise heavily. It will fail to inspire tourists, but who the hell cares anyway? I'm talking about muddy brackish water with an excessive dioxin content from which people fish anyway, rip rap shores, stinky air, the might of industry, passing tanker ships, towering cranes, post-Republic nationalism, Willie Nelson on the playlist, and beer. It'll inspire us. The tourists won't get it, but ****'em. Giving up on clueless tourists is quintessentially Houstonian. Its an authentic experience. They should appreciate that (but they won't, we don't care, we're happy not to care, and our happiness was the point of encouraging tourism in the first place).

Awesome. Just awesome.

I would suspect that the Georgia Aquarium is mostly just a time sink for people that happen to already be visiting Atlanta for some other purpose, for instance families returning to their home town around the holidays. I sincerely doubt that any appreciable fraction of tourists visiting Atlanta selected Atlanta on account of its aquarium.

...

I do agree that landmarks are important for drawing tourists from afar to the extent that they can aid in cultivating a brand; but I also think of Houston as very well set in terms of landmarks. Our monolithic downtown skyline kicks the ass of most other major cities and Williams Tower at night is very prominent and unique. And you mentioned the Petroplex; that'll draw the attention and fascination of...well, the kinds of people I hang out with. But a random tourist driving around or being driven around (and let's face it, the view from a car is very nearly the only view that matters here) will take the most direct route between places, and perhaps not see these things or see them from the right angle or at the right time. And Houstonians seem to be utterly horrible tour guides when it comes to stuff like that. We take it for granted and even feel ashamed of so much that could symbolically define us.

Regarding your suggestions on educational, entertaining, or recreational venues...they're all good and well, but they're all just time sinks. Just like aquariums. I can't imagine them affecting the aggregate number of tourists.

Well, I see tourism itself as being filled with time sinks, so I'm not exactly sure what your point is...

People visit cities from outside the city's region/state in order to visit interesting and diverse places. No single attraction is going to bring people in from the rest of the country or overseas, but it's the overall experience that beckons tourists - an experience that is composed of a milieu of time sinks. That's why I built the working document as I did. Each of those elements, individually, is not going to bring tourists into the city - but the overall experience can be made more attractive.

It's hard for me to judge other cities in terms of their eclectic museum and arts offerings - while I've visited all the cities on the list, I'm sure I haven't experienced all of their minor museum offerings - but I think Houston stands out in this regard. And, it's growing; I don't know the exact status of these projects but...

- The Mackey/Bigley vision for the Houston Museum of Drawing

- Mark Lacy's vision for the Houston Museum of Culture

- The Independent Arts Collaborative's vision for the midtown performing arts center

- I'm aware Story Sloane has been interested in building a Houston-focused historical museum for some time.

- This year, a start-up nonprofit was announced to begin fundraising for a Houston Blues Museum.

... and I'm sure there are more.

My point is that we, as a city, can encourage more of this development and its effect on tourism, through several phases, as follows:

1. Develop a Metro/private partnership that provides regular bus circulars between key destinations - and encourage development of more destinations along this route (a la #1 above).

2. Create attractive and safe pedestrian routes for walking between nearby destinations, and publish these. (The Museum District does not, to my knowledge, currently do this.)

3. Provide centralized community support for the funding and establishment of minor museums and performance organizations. One way to do this is to develop a centralized clearinghouse for information in this regard - kind of like a Kickstarter for Houston - and advertise its existence. Then, encourage any and all parties interested in developing a museum or performance arts organization to post their vision on the site and solicit funds and assistance from site visitors. It could be coordinated by the Houston Arts Alliance (actually, as I'm writing this, I may contact Richard Graber at HAA to discuss this possibility). Finally, provide support from local real estate agents to assist in the identification of centralized land that could be used for development.

4. Increase the funding for public art and landmarks/monuments through public/private partnerships, and focus efforts on creating large-scale, unique experiences that are attractive to tourists.

5. Develop more large-scale offerings that are destinations in and of themselves - things like the Houston Energy Museum I've mentioned earlier. Do this using existing interests so as not to hinder their development (e.g., for the Houston Energy Museum, do it in collaboration with the Port of Houston, locally-based energy companies (I've heard there are a few), the Ocean Star, and HMNS).

Everything costs money - but #s 1 and 2 above are minimal in their expenditures and would create a much more appealing environment for tourists using what is essentially existing resources. #3 encourages additional development on a small scale and expands the existing offerings - allowing for further growth in the future. #s 4 and 5 require coordinated efforts by top-level city leaders, but can enhance Houston's reputation at a national or international level.

These strategic elements use Houston's existing strengths and don't require that we develop ourselves into something we're not (e.g., an historical or recreation destination). Although, having said that, coordinated efforts with Galveston and other surrounding areas can take advantage of their offerings to enhance the overall regional experience for tourists.

Just my opinion.

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I like all 5 of those suggestions, although I'm not sure how feasible #1 is. There almost certainly won't be enough demand to justify circulator buses Better is to get attractions to cluster in places like the Museum District and Midtown where people can use the LRT + good walking paths (#2)..

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@Tory: I think it's a bit of a chicken-and-egg situation.

I think a weekend jitney would do for the time being - and I think it would be used. It should be accompanied by a map of the city core with clearly marked pedestrian routes too. Then, the jitney service could be a single circular for the time being - perhaps once an hour service at each stop. If someone misses the bus, they could easily walk to another nearby destination.

As the usage increases, it could grow to be more frequent.

I'm not advocating any particular private/public partnership, but I'm aware that the woman who runs the Washington Avenue jitney service has been successful at doing so. Perhaps her service could be approached for a partnership of this sort.

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Wow, I'm actually surprised that we perform so well! Holding our own against Atlanta (despite its airport and status as a media mecca), doing better than Seattle, and neither Dallas or Philly are even ranked in the top 10, despite having similar populations. Denver is also unranked despite its size, relative affluence, large airport, mountain backdrop, and the nearby recreational opportunities.

Its hard to compete with the history and urban grit of NYC, Boston, Chicago or San Francisco. Even if our population increases to match Chicago's, and our city is filled with shiny new skyscrapers, they will still have that advantage over us. Our beaches can't compare with Miami or southern California. We are not a seat of government. We haven't got a Hollywood-type draw. Aside from Latin America, we're stuck in the middle of the continent and by no means a gateway city to the world. Looking at this list, it makes a lot of sense why the top cities are what they are, and I can't see that we can change any of those factors that put us at a disadvantage.

That Houston is on the list is an accomplishment. Don't mess with success???

Most of this post makes a lot of sense. But saying "aside from Latin Ameria, we're stuckk in the middle of the continent and by no means a gateway city to the world" is just silly. Sort of like saying, "without its beaches, Miami would by no means be a tourist mecca."

Besides, the fact is, Bush Intecontinental Airport makes Houston a pretty substantial gateway city to the world even leaving aside Latin America (as preposterous as it is to do so). Roughly 35% of the international passengers to IAH this year will be to and from non-Latin American locations. That is more than 3 million passengers a year and growing pretty rapidly. Some time in 2012, IAH will join a VERY small group of airports that have non-stop service to every inhabited continent. Any way you slice it, Houston is a gateway city to the world. IAH is the seventh largest gateway airport (which makes Houston the sixth largest gateway city, since both JFK and EWR have more international traffic than IAH).

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I'm not certain that this is the case. The Georgia Aquarium - according to its Wikipedia article - sold 290k annual passes in its first year, before closing down the program. And, it welcomed over 10 million guests within it first year. I seriously doubt all those people came from the surrounding region, but I could be wrong.

No, it did not have 10 million guests within its first year. According to their own website, they have had 11 million visitors since opening in November 2005. A June 29, 2009 news release on their website states that they welcomed their 10 millionth guest on June 25, 2009, 3 years 7 months after opening. That's about 232,558 visitors per month. Our own Houston Museum of Natural Science averages more than 250,000 per month. So, I'm thinking a sizable majority of those aquarium visitors probably are indeed from the surrounding region.

http://www.georgiaaquarium.org/members-and-donors/about-us.aspx

http://www.georgiaaquarium.org/newsroom/pressdetail.aspx?id=146

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No, it did not have 10 million guests within its first year. According to their own website, they have had 11 million visitors since opening in November 2005. A June 29, 2009 news release on their website states that they welcomed their 10 millionth guest on June 25, 2009, 3 years 7 months after opening. That's about 232,558 visitors per month. Our own Houston Museum of Natural Science averages more than 250,000 per month. So, I'm thinking a sizable majority of those aquarium visitors probably are indeed from the surrounding region.

OOPS! That was a typo. I meant something like "to-date." I wasn't paying attention to what I was saying.

And, your comparison is a fair one. I neglected to calculate annual figures, which - you're absolutely correct - are less than estimates of HMNS's visitor counts.

Fine! I give up on the Aquarium idea... :P (Actually, I still think it'd be a good idea, but it's correct that it likely won't be the draw I expected.)

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we have two airports that are hubs for major airlines... You can't discount the domestic traffic!

anyway, one of the big problems Houston faces is the hotel tax and rental car tax imposed upon visitors to build Enron Minute Maid Park. When they instituted that, Houston lost a lot of convention business (getting strict on the titty bars at the same time didn't help, either)

So, what does Houston offer tourists?

1) Nasa

2) The Museum District

3) the dirty beaches at Galveston... lol

4) the rodeo

I'm not saying don't encourage tourism, I'm saying focus on restoring the convention business, since they spend more.... It seems like all we have now are the knitting convention, the OTC, and the quilting conventions.

For tourism, you have to offer something worth travelling for- and the only things I can think of are the Rodeo and, to a lesser extent, Nasa. You can find better beaches everywhere, if you have seen one art museum you have seen them all (unless you have a Mona Lisa there, eh), aquariums are a dime a dozen

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we have two airports that are hubs for major airlines... You can't discount the domestic traffic!

anyway, one of the big problems Houston faces is the hotel tax and rental car tax imposed upon visitors to build Enron Minute Maid Park. When they instituted that, Houston lost a lot of convention business (getting strict on the titty bars at the same time didn't help, either)

...

I'm not saying don't encourage tourism, I'm saying focus on restoring the convention business, since they spend more.... It seems like all we have now are the knitting convention, the OTC, and the quilting conventions.

Yeah, I agree that convention business here seems to lag. I don't know where to get accurate and recent numbers, but I found this site from February 2005 which, if (still) accurate, implies that we bring in a lot of business travelers - but fail at convention business. In fact, according to those numbers, we were the sixth highest ranked city for business travelers (I suppose, by volume) but 25th highest ranked for conventions. No other city on that list has as much of a difference (in that direction) as Houston.

Now, admittedly, the #1 and #2 tourist destinations in the US - New York City and Los Angeles - also fall down on this list. (NYC is #4 for business travelers but #19 for conventions, while LA is #2 and #14 respectively. The #4 designation for NYC for business leaves me wondering about the accuracy of the data, but we'll go with it...)

For tourism, you have to offer something worth travelling for- and the only things I can think of are the Rodeo and, to a lesser extent, Nasa. You can find better beaches everywhere, if you have seen one art museum you have seen them all (unless you have a Mona Lisa there, eh), aquariums are a dime a dozen

Well, not all museums are art museums - and I, personally, don't find much to love about the Mona Lisa. ;) But, I understand your sentiment.

I think a key for Houston - in keeping with what you're suggesting, I believe - is to welcome business/convention/medical/other tourists to the city and provide them an experience that makes them want to extend their stay for a vacation. The elements of a city that Niche (see a previous post) would call 'time sinks' accomplish this, in my opinion. I believe these include museums, landmarks and performance arts. Then, as the city grows in its positive reputation from showing these people a good time, I think they'll come back with their families for a (strictly) vacation.

Does anyone know what organizations like the Museum District Association do to advertise their member institutions at conventions, if anything?

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Does anyone know what organizations like the Museum District Association do to advertise their member institutions at conventions, if anything?

I think the GHCVB has a full set of promotional materials for things to do in Houston that they roll out at any convention event, especially at the GRB. I think they must also do the same for Reliant - not as sure. And of course they have relationships with all the hotels that throw smaller conventions/meetings.

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Yeah. Thanks. I'm going to try to go today - if not, tomorrow. I'm actually going to take the rail up there from the museum district to get the full experience. :D

I'm not sure if I'm just wrong about this, but it seems odd that a tourist information center is not open on Sundays or in the evenings (at least on the weekends). Hmm...

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Inconvenient to some people - yes. Odd - not so much. I've traveled quite a bit and I seem to remember most official tourist centers (vs. the unofficial ones) having pretty normal business hours. I understand there's not much demand and the cost of keeping it open is high (esp. if it involves overtime), but it can be frustrating. And not just tourist centers - often I struggle to find attractions open after ~4pm, even in the summer when sunset isn't until 8 or 9. If you want to have a leisurely vacation and sleep in a bit (or just take it easy in the morning), you're often left with a very narrow afternoon time window to see attractions. Might be a conspiracy to encourage additional hotel nights and meals... ;-)

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Most of this post makes a lot of sense. But saying "aside from Latin Ameria, we're stuckk in the middle of the continent and by no means a gateway city to the world" is just silly. Sort of like saying, "without its beaches, Miami would by no means be a tourist mecca."

Besides, the fact is, Bush Intecontinental Airport makes Houston a pretty substantial gateway city to the world even leaving aside Latin America (as preposterous as it is to do so). Roughly 35% of the international passengers to IAH this year will be to and from non-Latin American locations. That is more than 3 million passengers a year and growing pretty rapidly. Some time in 2012, IAH will join a VERY small group of airports that have non-stop service to every inhabited continent. Any way you slice it, Houston is a gateway city to the world. IAH is the seventh largest gateway airport (which makes Houston the sixth largest gateway city, since both JFK and EWR have more international traffic than IAH).

No, it is not like saying that. What I am saying is that a city that many international tourists pass through it to get to their final destinations is at a slight advantage over a similar city without that sort of traffic pattern. Houston is a large hub, and we do get a lot of international business travel, however (aside from Latin Americans), there aren't many international tourists that pass through. It is important to distinguish between international travelers and international tourists if Simbha's dataset reflects what he actually means to say about tourism...which I think it does.

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Is there data available that distinguishes between international travelers who... (i) travel to a specific airport to get to that airport's city as a destination and (ii) travel through a specific airport to get to another city?

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No, it is not like saying that. What I am saying is that a city that many international tourists pass through it to get to their final destinations is at a slight advantage over a similar city without that sort of traffic pattern. Houston is a large hub, and we do get a lot of international business travel, however (aside from Latin Americans), there aren't many international tourists that pass through. It is important to distinguish between international travelers and international tourists if Simbha's dataset reflects what he actually means to say about tourism...which I think it does.

No disagreement about the advantage of a city with many international tourists passing through. The issue is your insistence on disregarding the Latin American traffic. That is just silly. Disregarding Houston's Latin American air traffic in a discussion of whether Houston is a world gateway city is indeed just like disregarding Miami's beautiful beaches in a discussion of whether Miami is a strong tourist destination.

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No disagreement about the advantage of a city with many international tourists passing through. The issue is your insistence on disregarding the Latin American traffic. That is just silly. Disregarding Houston's Latin American air traffic in a discussion of whether Houston is a world gateway city is indeed just like disregarding Miami's beautiful beaches in a discussion of whether Miami is a strong tourist destination.

What percentage of the emplaned or deplaned passengers are foreign citizens traveling in the capacity of tourists, and from which we can expect any significant tourist expenditure? Traffic counts are not in and of themselves a very good indication of the volume of international tourism coming from Latin America, much less the impact of tourism.

I discount Latin America because it has neither the sheer population of Asia or the affluence of Europe. Therefore, I believe that it is implicit that cities on the American coasts have a quantitative economic advantage, even if that advantage is difficult to quantify. I further discount Houston's international air traffic because a lot of it are our own citizens (or Canadians, admittedly) on their way in or out of the country. Miami has a distinct advantage over us because it is a stopoff in between multiple international tourist origination and destination points; Europeans positively love the Carribean, for instance.

Try booking a flight from Frankfurt to St. Croix. Depending on the carrier's hub, you'll likely connect in New York, London, Washington D.C., or Miami. Try booking from Paris to Nassau. You'll probably connect in Miami, but possibly through New York, Atlanta, or Orlando. From London to Belize, you will connect through Houston if you fly Continental; any other selection of carrier will route you through your choice(!) of Miami (at the lowest price), New York, Chicago, Dallas, or various combinations of those cities.

Now try booking flights from east Asia. Since it is in the northern hemisphere, half-way around the world, the shortest distance is over the Arctic or Alaska. Tokyo flights in our direction would have to be en-route to Latin America to connect through Houston, but there are less expensive and sexier options. On a Tokyo to Caracas flight, Munich is the lowest-cost connection. There are also connections via Milan and Rome, Los Angeles and Miami, or Paris. ...but then again, how much tourism exists between Asia and Latin America? Really?

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What percentage of the emplaned or deplaned passengers are foreign citizens traveling in the capacity of tourists, and from which we can expect any significant tourist expenditure? Traffic counts are not in and of themselves a very good indication of the volume of international tourism coming from Latin America, much less the impact of tourism.

I discount Latin America because it has neither the sheer population of Asia or the affluence of Europe. Therefore, I believe that it is implicit that cities on the American coasts have a quantitative economic advantage, even if that advantage is difficult to quantify. I further discount Houston's international air traffic because a lot of it are our own citizens (or Canadians, admittedly) on their way in or out of the country. Miami has a distinct advantage over us because it is a stopoff in between multiple international tourist origination and destination points; Europeans positively love the Carribean, for instance.

Try booking a flight from Frankfurt to St. Croix. Depending on the carrier's hub, you'll likely connect in New York, London, Washington D.C., or Miami. Try booking from Paris to Nassau. You'll probably connect in Miami, but possibly through New York, Atlanta, or Orlando. From London to Belize, you will connect through Houston if you fly Continental; any other selection of carrier will route you through your choice(!) of Miami (at the lowest price), New York, Chicago, Dallas, or various combinations of those cities.

Now try booking flights from east Asia. Since it is in the northern hemisphere, half-way around the world, the shortest distance is over the Arctic or Alaska. Tokyo flights in our direction would have to be en-route to Latin America to connect through Houston, but there are less expensive and sexier options. On a Tokyo to Caracas flight, Munich is the lowest-cost connection. There are also connections via Milan and Rome, Los Angeles and Miami, or Paris. ...but then again, how much tourism exists between Asia and Latin America? Really?

Even if everything in the above off-point rambling were true, it does not change the fact that your initial statement that Houston is not a " gateway city to the world" is clearly objectively false. Houston is in fact #6 among American "gateway cities to the world", soon to be one of the few cities in the world with nonstop service to every inhabited continent.

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Even if everything in the above off-point rambling were true, it does not change the fact that your initial statement that Houston is not a " gateway city to the world" is clearly objectively false. Houston is in fact #6 among American "gateway cities to the world", soon to be one of the few cities in the world with nonstop service to every inhabited continent.

You stated, "The issue is your insistence on disregarding the Latin American traffic." I gave a response, the first paragraph. And then in the second paragraph, I connected the issue to one of the topics of the topics, which was the extent to which tourism is beneficial. International tourism has been the dominant theme of discussion, so I continued to put it in that context, explaining why I discount the Latin American traffic quantitatively and qualitatively. I spent the third and fourth paragraphs researching and ultimately discounting the possibility that foreign tourists might connect through Houston en route to Latin America or the Carribean.

In the context of our discussion, I believe that my input was on-topic. Your air traffic data, unfiltered for passenger status as resident or non-resident or for tourist or non-tourist, has very little bering on this discussion.

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You stated, "The issue is your insistence on disregarding the Latin American traffic." I gave a response, the first paragraph. And then in the second paragraph, I connected the issue to one of the topics of the topics, which was the extent to which tourism is beneficial. International tourism has been the dominant theme of discussion, so I continued to put it in that context, explaining why I discount the Latin American traffic quantitatively and qualitatively. I spent the third and fourth paragraphs researching and ultimately discounting the possibility that foreign tourists might connect through Houston en route to Latin America or the Carribean.

In the context of our discussion, I believe that my input was on-topic. Your air traffic data, unfiltered for passenger status as resident or non-resident or for tourist or non-tourist, has very little bering on this discussion.

And your continued ramblings don't change the fact that Houston is in fact a major world gateway city.

Facts are stubborn things.

The numbers are what they are. Despite being, in your imagination, so poor and relatively sparsely populated that they should be ignored as irrelevant, somehow enough people manage to scrounge up the money for plane tickets betweenLatin America and Houston to help Houston attain its status as the seventh largest international gateway city (just as Latin American service contributes mightily to your model gateway city's (Miami's) status).

My earlier posts over-stated our ranking; I had forgotten Delta's fairly recent massive increase in Latin American service from Atlanta has moved them slightly above us.

Edited by Houston19514
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And your continued ramblings don't change the fact that Houston is in fact a major world gateway city.

Your data is insufficient to support any conclusion that would relate to the subject matter being discussed in this thread. All we are left with is your disagreement over my use of an inherently imprecise figure of speech, but since nobody else seems confused or combative over it, I can only conclude that they understood my meaning.

But if you want to go there, I'll go there. International traffic at IAH comprises only 8.5% of the aggregate total for airports ranked as having more passenger traffic. The top tier is New York, Miami, Los Angeles, and Chicago, and the distances between us and them are fairly substantial. I would argue that in the same sense as that we're a second-tier metropolitan area in terms of population (despite being ranked 5th), and in the same sense as that we're a second-tier city where foreign capital investment is concerned (albeit probably the best-in-class), ours is also a second-tier international gateway. These are all highly subjective judgments, artful figures of speech, but they're mine and I've made them. You're welcome to argue semantics, but please do it quietly and to yourself. I am uninterested in your reply.

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If I may add a bit of news from Mexico, there are quite a few people that travel up to the northern cities (Houston, Dallas, San Antonio, LA) for tourism and shopping. While the affluence of Europe may not be matched, those that ARE with the resources down south have considerable wealth. Being the way things are currently in Mexico, they want a safe place to be able to be relatively worry free compared to the major cities in Mexico.

Of course, all this is a bit anecdotal, and therefore by Niche's standards not reliable, it is the best that I got.

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