Feb 1, 2024 - News

Houston First wants to keep bringing people to experience the city

Photo illustration of a vintage-style postcard reading Greetings from lovely Houston, with a photo of Houston within the text.

Photo Illustration: Brendan Lynch, Lindsey Bailey/Axios

While Houstonians recognize the significance of their city, Houston First is consistently on a mission to charm more people. And the organization says 2023 was a strong year for the Bayou City in terms of brand awareness and tourism.

Why it matters: More exposure can lead to an increase in national sporting events, the presence of Houston in reality TV shows, and more conferences and hotel bookings.

The big picture: Houston saw a 15% increase in hotel revenue and collection of hotel occupancy tax in 2023 compared to its previous annual record in 2018, per Michael Heckman, president and CEO of Houston First.

  • "So that is a tremendous, tremendous recovery from COVID," Heckman says.
  • Of note: Hotels have gotten more expensive.

What happened: Houston had a record number of impressions in 2023, per Houston First's PR metrics, which include the ultimate reach of Houston online, like web visits and articles covering the city.

The intrigue: Houston First, the city's tourism agency, also has been working with influencers in both the U.S. and Mexico — a strong market for Houston tourism.

  • "I mention a lot to our board and stakeholders that whether you like it or not, influencer marketing is the way it works," Heckman tells Axios. "Whether you're selling sneakers, promoting a restaurant, or whether you're trying to define a destination."

By the numbers: Houston First worked with more than 30 influencers in 2023, about the same number that the organization collaborated with in 2022. However, in 2023, the group of influencers reached an audience of more than 54 million, a 60% increase from 2022.

  • About 10% of the influencers were paid, but Houston First worked with all of the content creators to offer them access to experiences, restaurants, and quality photos and videos of the city.

What they're saying: "We're just going to continue to try to keep our momentum that we've had. I think that there's a number of opportunities ahead of us for this year as we continue to shine our brand," Heckman says.

  • He adds that Houston First is focusing on the U.K., India and Mexico as international tourism markets and the life sciences industry for conventions.

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