Houston has the largest concentration of health institutions in the world -the Texas Medical Center- and hosts the largest livestock show and rodeo every year, it is home of several strong oil & gas companies and, due to the number of universities and the Space Center Houston / NASA, the city has also a vibrant technology and innovation industry. This successful business environment makes the hotel occupancy grow every year, there are plenty of conventions and exhibitions happening all the time. Houston was ranked #2 US city, one of the ‘coolest’ places to live and a ‘must visit’ destination by important newspapers and magazines such as The New York Times. But all these do not mean that the city is internationally recognized and well known as a destination for leisure and incentives, on the contrary, it’s seen as a business destination.
The Greater Houston Convention & Visitors Bureau (GHCVB) has an international sales department that manages representation offices in Europe, Asia, Mexico and South America, focusing on tourism and MICE business – meetings, incentives, convention and exhibitions. The city clearly faces an increasing international competitiveness in those markets, and the organization has an open minded culture that allows innovations to be implemented. A good example happened recently when, after several months listening to the South American meetings market demand, the GHCVB then lead an important initiative: packaging products and services for ‘incentives’.
Even a less visionary person can understand the destination potential for incentives, with special attractions and activities like NASA ‘behind the scenes tours’ and rocket competition; the possibility of hosting exclusive banquets at a museum surrounded by precious rocks, jewelry and dinosaurs; cowboy ranches that offer typical experiences and team building programs for groups and corporations; besides golf course, basketball and baseball stadiums that offer VIP suites and the opportunity for practicing with a professional athlete; aquarium and night clubs that host private social events with personalized decoration and shows; boat tours; brewery; kart races; shopping; a vibrant cultural scenario; fine gastronomy and so much more in terms of unique experiences. Understanding that, and even without any budget to invest in promotion, further research or product development, the GHCVB’s international sales team decided to play the role of a destination architect and seller and, with a “we can” attitude, influenced the DMCs -Destination Management Companies- to think for the long run, advised and partnered with them to start pro-acting on the incentives market.
The GHCVB improved the standard RFP form -request for proposal- based on international best practices worldwide; developed a comprehensive itinerary suggestion with several activities and optional tours for an ideal agenda that fits all types of incentive groups; added average pricing as provided by the suppliers and strategic information to facilitate meetings planners’ work; tested the interest of a few clients and prospects in the South American market; and after their positive response called a meeting with all DMCs. This meeting was crucial for the DMCs to understand the potential of the market and make a decision to answer or not the future leads.
From an idea, a strategy and tactics were developed, that are now leading to good results, with a promising future. By doing this, the CVB is capitalizing opportunities, helping to influence the sales and deliver the promises – in other words, reputation management. The CVB improved their own standards and is dealing with product and visitor’s experience, based on market demand analysis, while opening the destination for more and different segments. All materials were translated to fit the needs of the South American clients, and the activities suggested can now be faster accessed to create better visitor experience and facilitate intermediary sales process. Without any financial resources, but investing a lot of positive thinking and efforts, something really good was created to maximize the destination’s potential, enhance productivity and grow multi-industry market share.
A new door was opened, showing that the city has more to offer, and that the whole organization is open to adjust leadership and focus to be more competitive and achieve better results. The mentors and leaders at the CVB saw an opportunity and took the risk to look for alliances and re-orient the process with enthusiasm, because they believed in the product. The strategy and marketing efforts were re-arranged to send the message of a leisure and business destination to the consumers and intermediaries, and more investments are being planned on promotion as well. Only a culture of flexibility that seeks for ongoing improving can really evolve to become a real ‘one-stop-shop’ for the tourism and meetings markets, answering all clients’ expectations. The CVB is acting with commitment and accountability, confident of the value added, generating curiosity that motivates prospects to deliver new leads. The results are coming from both sides, internal and external: positive feedback and less complains on the RFP model from the DMCs, while the clients are really getting more interested and asking for proposals. The Houston CVB proved to be mature enough to reinvent the destination’s image and the way to do business, and expect an increase on promotional activities and business generation for the next years – the sky is the limit!