An estimated 20.5 million domestic and international visitors came to Houston during the 12-month period in 2016 according to figures compiled by research group TNS Global and the State of Texas. Houston First Corporation, which in partnership with the Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau is responsible for growing convention and tourism business in the city, released the numbers in March, ahead of its annual Tourism Summit on March 30.
The overall figure reflects an estimated 17.3 million domestic business and leisure travelers and 3.2 million international travelers. Of the international visitors, 2.2 million came from Mexico alone.
Mayor Sylvester Turner lauded the figures as a testament to Houston’s increasing reputation as a fun, affordable destination. “You’ve heard me say it before, ours is the most diverse and welcoming city in the country, one a growing number of people want to visit to experience our food, our culture and our people,” Turner said. “Travel is a vital part of our Houston economy. The industry supports more than 140,000 jobs in our region and contributes US $16.5 billion to the local economy. These new tourism figures indicate we are headed in the right direction.”
In April 2015, Houston First announced a new initiative to grow leisure tourism through a multi-pronged effort that included a new marketing push in Mexico, the creation of an online travel packaging system and a grant program to encourage collaboration among hospitality businesses. One of the primary goals was to grow visitation from 14.8 million people in 2014 to 20 million by the end of 2018. The 2016 totals achieve just that—two years ahead of schedule. Meanwhile, annual room nights booked for future conventions increased 34% over the last two years to 765,401 and traffic to the VisitHouston.com network of websites grew 60% to more than 7.4 million.
“We are excited to see our efforts translate to such achievements for our city,” said Dawn Ullrich, president and CEO of Houston First. “With our tourism initiative, we wanted to focus attention on the experiences that make Houston an attractive place to visit. That required tremendous teamwork across multiple departments within the organization and partners equally devoted to the effort. I’m proud to see that effort pay off.”
Of the 17.3 million domestic travelers who came to the city in 2016, 77% were overnight visitors and 23% came for day trips, according to data from TNS. Roughly 75% of the domestic total came to Houston for leisure activities, while 13% were here for business and 12% characterized their trip outside of these two categories.
In addition to a plethora of praise surrounding a successful Super Bowl LI, Houston has recently received a number of accolades as a destination. Late last year TripAdvisor ranked the city No. 6 on its list of top trending travel spots to book in 2017. Forbes Travel also ranked Houston a top place to visit this year while U.S. News & World Report ranked the city No. 7 on its list of “best foodie destinations.”