T E X A S
It’s big. It’s bold. It’s beautiful. It’s Texas! Known for massive longhorns, boastful oil barons, gallon-sized cowboy hats and a “howdy” welcome, the state that is larger than several countries overflows with pride. It is this pride that beckons visitors, who are warmed by Southern-style hospitality and energized by Western-style fun.
And planners in the know translate Texas’ massive appeal to major-league meetings.
“It has great themes,” says Rich Wise, president of Wise Incentives in San Diego, CA. Whether it’s the Southwestern ranch theme in Dallas, a Mexican fiesta on San Antonio’s River Walk or a Texas-style music event in Austin, the state brims with fun.
Wise sites Dallas’ famed Southfork Ranch Event and Conference Center as an exclusively Texan venue. The rambling white mansion home to the Ewing family in the old television series, Dallas, gives planners 63,000 square feet of indoor meeting and event space, including the Lone Star Ballroom, Bobby’s Boardroom and Ray’s Ranch House. A cookout at Southfork gives attendees an insider’s peek at Dallas’ star-studded side.
As the largest of the U.S.’s contiguous 48 states, Texas’ offerings ramble from one end of the state to the other, from one major city to the next. “San Antonio is so well set up for groups and incentives that it’s a great destination for a novice or beginning planner,” says Paula Kelly, veteran planner for Delta Life Annuity in Memphis, TN. “San Antonio’s meeting industry professionals are so good, you can’t mess up. And San Antonio is used to groups and conventions. They’re a breeze to do.” Kelly also points out San Antonio’s central, easy-to-get-to location, its temperate weather and colorful history as additional reasons for planners to consider this Texas city.
Kelly showcased the best of San Antonio for her back-to-back insurance groups. The planner’s hotel selection was on the city’s picturesque River Walk, where the Alamo, Mexican cuisine and festive atmosphere combined to produce one of the company’s most favorable meeting sites. In addition, Kelly took advantage of the meeting’s fall timing and transported the group to the nearby German community of New Braunfels for its annual Oktoberfest.
From Austin to Amarillo and from Dallas to Dalhart, Texas destinations are as diverse as they are plentiful. And many are carved from ingredients that spell meeting planner success.
As the nation’s fastest growing and most highly advanced technical community, Austin has become known as “Silicon Hills.” Thus, it only seems appropriate that a city living on the high-tech edge is teeming with news.
Austin’s hard-to-define culture is probably one of its biggest attractions. Whether it’s the city’s musical and artistic side or its technological, scholastic and political aspects, its appeal is universal. Austin, home to The University of Texas (the nation’s largest university), is also known in many film circles as “Hollywood, Texas.” The city has served as the backdrop for movies such as “Courage Under Fire” and “Varsity Blues,” and it’s the site of country singer Willie Nelson’s annual 4th of July celebration. It’s little wonder why Austin is said to possess big-city appeal with a small town touch.
Austin-Bergstrom International recently opened. Also in the works is doubling the Austin convention center. The facility will boast the latest fiber optic enhancements. The convention center expansion project is just one of many on Austin’s to-do list. Texas’ dramatic history will be showcased in the upcoming $80-million Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum, and the south-of-the-border connection will be featured in the soon-to-be-opened Mexican-American Cultural Center. In more cultural news, The Blanton Museum of Art and the Austin Museum of Art both plan major expansions.
Austin is, in fact, Texas’ art capital, boasting more artists per capita than any other city in the state. A variety of annual festivals pays tribute to the arts, as well as down-home Texas entertainment. They include the Old Pecan Street Arts Festival, the Austin Symphony Orchestra Fourth of July Concert and the Austin/Travis County Livestock Show & Rodeo.
Groups looking to be more than spectators can take part in hiking, biking and all the water sports afforded by the Colorado River, which flows through the heart of the city. Golfing in the Austin area serves up 30 public and 30 private courses, many in acclaimed Hill Country golf retreats. Not to be missed is Texas’ oldest course, the venerable 9-hole Hancock Golf Course.
Located between Dallas and Fort Worth (and adjacent to DFW International Airport) is Irving, TX. This city is known to meeting planners for its first-tier accessibility and hotel accommodations, along with an at-your-service attitude and a reputation for providing VIP treatment to all meeting groups, whether large or small.
With more than 70 hotels and 11,000 rooms, ranging from resort to all-suite to economy, the city offers a diverse selection of rooming options to fit the needs of many meetings and conferences. The city’s 11 full-service meeting hotels provide more than 200,000 square feet of meeting space. These facilities are modern and well-equipped, varying from private suites and state-of-the-art amphitheaters to magnificent ballrooms and formal boardrooms. Meeting facilities incorporate large, well-lit work areas wired for telecommunications and modern audiovisual technology for multimedia presentations and teleconferencing.
Irving is moving forward to add a convention center to its meeting product mix. The city is planning a 350,000-square-foot center, including 100,000 square feet of exhibition space, a 25,000-square-foot ballroom and 15,000 square feet of breakout space.
The city is well known for the proliferation of professional sports. Irving is home to the NFL’s Dallas Cowboys, practice home to the NFL’s Dallas Stars and the annual home of the PGA Tour’s Byron Nelson Classic. Irving also boasts a variety of attractions, including The Movie Studios of Las Colinas, Mustangs of Las Colinas sculpture, Las Colinas Equestrian Center and the European-styled Mandalay Canal. In addition to providing an exciting ambience to the city, these events and attractions are easily adapted as unique venues for meetings and special functions.
While Dallas is the state’s hub of sophistication, it is a Texas superlative as well. Dallas has four times more restaurants per person than New York City. The area’s Six Flags Over Texas is bigger than Disneyland. Its DFW International Airport is larger than the island of Manhattan. And Dallas is the number-one visitor and leisure destination in Texas.
It seems only appropriate that the state’s largest hotel is located here as well. The 1,844-room Adam’s Mark Dallas, situated in the downtown Arts district, has more than 230,000 square feet of meeting/exhibition space (including Texas’ largest ballroom) and over 60 individual meeting rooms. Dallas offers planners a choice of over 47,000 hotel rooms.
This city’s history is impressive. In 1914, the new Federal Reserve System placed a district bank in Dallas, and the region’s fate was secured as a leading financial center. The boom of the East Texas oil fields during the 1930s further solidified Dallas’ prestigious position. And it was during the financially hot 1980s that the now-famous Dallas skyline took on its current look with the Reunion Tower as its signature landmark. Popular entertainment districts like the West End and Deep Ellum defined themselves during this period as well.
There’s no hiding Dallas’ western heritage, evident in the names of its professional sport franchises: Cowboys (football), Mavericks (basketball), Rangers (baseball) and Stars (hockey). The city’s wealth of Mexican cuisine and barbecue restaurants, as well as its dude ranches, reconfirms its down-home status. Yet, despite this rhinestone cowboy reality, Dallas remains one of the nation’s most cosmopolitan cities.
Prospective attendees can be wooed with authentic sheriff badges, buckles, boots and bandanas imprinted with company logos. On-site participants can be treated to custom-shaped and fitted cowboy hats. And VIPs can be wowed with a pair of hand-made, designer boots, such as those found at Wild Bill’s Western Emporium, (817) 430-0678.
Stretching more than six blocks in the downtown area, the Dallas Convention Center is the state’s largest. It boasts more than 2 million gross square feet of exhibit space, meeting rooms and gathering spaces and includes 525,999 square feet of contiguous same-level space. Meeting space totals more than 110,000 square feet in 105 rooms, with a renovation/expansion on the books.
The DCC is connected to many of the city’s attractions and hotels by its on-property Light Rail Station.
To cattle hands, Fort Worth will always be the last big stop on the Chisholm Trail. To West Texas residents, it’s the nearest place where skyscrapers outnumber oil derricks. And to meeting planners, Fort Worth may be a complete surprise.
About 100 years ago, a newspaperman declared Fort Worth the place “where the West begins.” That description still fits.
The city’s most notable return to its Western beginnings is the reinstitution of the city’s daily cattle drive through the heart of the Stockyards National Historic District, the one-time center of its famed cattle industry. Each morning 15 Texas longhorn cattle are rounded up from their Stockyards’ corral and driven by cowhands into the late afternoon.
Within Fort Worth’s “Western Triangle” — the Cultural District/Zoo, Downtown Entertainment District and the Stockyards National Historic District — are attraction and entertainment possibilities for every group.
With 10,000 rooms in the city, accommodations vary from the 504-room/21-meeting room Renaissance Worthington Hotel to the intimate 52-room/3-meeting room Stockyards Hotel. The 22-story Art Deco Blackstone Hotel (built in 1929) on historic Main Street has reopened as the newly renovated 203-room Courtyard by Marriott Hotel.
Texas Stadium, home to the Dallas Cowboys, translates to a super venue. Available when the Cowboys are on the road, the stadium can host large and small groups. The gridiron itself can be used for touch football, corporate Olympics and even picnics. And with the inclusion of some Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders, the Texas football experience is complete.
If you can, coincide your Fort Worth meeting with the following:
- Fort Worth Stock Show & Rodeo (Jan/Feb) —The nation’s oldest livestock show.
- Mayfest (May) — Family festival on the banks of the Trinity River.
- Chisholm Trail Round-Up (June) — Celebration of Fort Worth as the last major stop on the historic trail.
- Fort Worth International Air Show (October) — Celebration of the city’s place in aviation history.
- Texas Motor Speedway (Various dates) — Host to races such as The Lone Star 500.
More Than An Oil Town
Noted as the nation’s fourth largest city, Houston is much more than an oil town. It is home to the world-renowned Texas Medical Center, the world’s largest rodeo, NASA’s Johnson Space Center, the Port of Houston, two major airports and more than 46,000 hotel rooms.
Geographically, Houston is flat, but its dreams have always spiraled to great heights. Its most recent accomplishment is the dramatic downtown revitalization, including renovations of historical buildings, new clubs and restaurants, expansion plans for the George R. Brown Convention Center, renovation of the 956-room Hyatt Regency and the retractable-roof ballpark, Enron Field.
Texas is where it’s happening for meetings with a theme and entertainment high on the agenda.