Today, downtown Houston is a vibrant destination — even after the workday concludes. In fact, more than 10,000 Houstonians now call downtown Houston home. Bars, restaurants, venues and hotels have continued to pop up over the years since the opening of Minute Maid Park. Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) even has plans to completely remove and relocate I-45 to decrease congestion and to make way for massive new greenspaces.
But can it keep its momentum?
Integrate Asks Hospitality Experts to Weigh In on Downtown Houston’s Future
A former downtown resident and strong advocate of Downtown Houston’s Live, Work, Explore, Stay model, Allie was ecstatic to moderate a panel on the hospitality boom happening right now in the heart of Houston, comprised of four experts in the hospitality industry:
- Jason Fudin, CEO and Co-Founder of WhyHotel
- Tanya Taylor, Director of Sales & Marketing at The Whitehall Houston
- Melissa Van Sickels, Vice President at Pride Management
- Eddie Timmons, General Manager of Stout Street Hospitality
Allie left no stone unturned, asking participants to weigh in on the benefits and challenges of attracting short-term and long-term growth to downtown Houston, disrupters such as Airbnb and Jason’s very own WhyHotel, and potential signs of market saturation. Here’s what they had to say.
How are your downtown Houston properties performing right now?
“We’re cautiously optimistic,” said Timmons, which seemed to be the overarching theme of the event. “The market is doing well right now. We all have our fingers crossed that’s going to continue indefinitely.”
Taylor agreed, saying that, overall, it’s been good for her property over the last few months. While she recognizes the importance of giant sporting events and conventions such as CERAWeek and the Super Bowl that attract masses from all over the world, she, a native Houstonian herself, emphasizes that Houstonians are the true key to the continued revitalization and market growth.
What’s the best way to attract people to downtown Houston?
“There’s a big debate whether the magic happens inside or outside,” said Fudin, who operates a pop-up hotel business. “Well, it’s outside. That’s the amenity.”
Fudin’s comment refers to whether companies should be placing more value on the amenities inside their property or the amenities around their property such as restaurants, bars, shops and other forms of entertainment. Fudin argued that for downtown Houston, companies should be focused on its growing attractions. This includes green spaces like Discovery Green, Market Square Park, Pierce Elevated Park, performing arts venues like the Hobby Center, Jones Hall, Alley Theatre and business hubs like the George R. Brown Convention Center. Houston is a great place for this type of thinking, he adds.
Taylor, however, brought up a good point: No one wants to walk in downtown Houston in 100-degree weather (we don’t either, Tanya). Still, she adds that Houston has done a great job at marketing the city as both a leisure destination and top of mind for corporate business travel. “All of that works together,” she said. Van Sickels agreed with Taylor, but from a different mindset.
“Green spaces bring people in for a day. We need to look at what’s going to encourage people to stay overnight or a weekend,” said Van Sickels. “It’s all about the experience. What are the multiple things they could do in town for a couple of days? There needs to be more activities indoors or things families can do.”
Van Sickels expanded upon this, saying that there is a clear lack of a holistic experience. It’s a known fact that downtown is lacking in shopping, and Van Sickels hones in on this. Her argument aligns with Fudin’s, in that downtown needs more “outside” amenities that keeps out-of-towners in downtown vs. somewhere else such as the Galleria where there is ample opportunity for shopping.
In the next year, downtown Houston will add 4,500 rooms — 3% of the total U.S. market share. Do you believe market saturation is coming?
“Every hotel will tell you the market is oversaturated,” said Van Sickels. “Everyone wants the business for themselves.”
“So, yes and no,” Tanya said. “It’s going to be oversaturated at one point, but it is necessary in terms of long term growth. It’s a nature of growth.” The added inventory Allie mentioned will be absorbed fairly quickly, Taylor adds, but it will also add an extra layer of uncertainty. She ended with that this saturation will eventually be more of a positive in the city.
How can you compete with market disruptors like Airbnb?
A market disrupter himself, Fudin said he isn’t as concerned about Airbnbs as hotels. Airbnbs don’t have the first-class, hotel-like experience (i.e. 24-7 onsite staff, check-in, etc.), according to Fudin. His company competes with hotels by offering apartment-like stays at rates similar to hotels.
Tanya, who works for a hotel, said she sticks to the basics but is always thinking about the next step, specifically the future economic impacts that will affect downtown Houston.
Any other hospitality trends (besides customer experience)?
Integrating existing structures from your phone, Fudin said. Uber Eats. DoorDash. Now, there are not two varieties of food but a 1,000. Jason predicts that companies will begin to rely on already-existing infrastructure rather than creating their own. “We don’t have to be the best at something,” Fudin said. “We just have to be connected to the best.”
Taylor, on the other hand, emphasized that sustainability will be a major differentiator and even a deciding factor for some customers. Customers will and have been asking about corporate responsibility trends such as food waste and single-use plastic. It’s not going away anytime soon, Taylor adds, and that will be a major part of hotel differentiators moving forward.
Can Downtown Houston Continue to Grow at its Current Pace?
Overall, the panelists all agreed that downtown Houston will undoubtedly continue to grow. Though, some experts such as Talyor and Timmons agreed it will be an uneasy and uncertain path toward growth but that the space will continue to blossom. Fudin and Van Sickels, on the other hand, automatically cast their vote with their dollars — both of their companies are majorly investing in the downtown space right now.
It’s clear that downtown is thriving, and industry experts agree that exponential growth is still ahead of us. However, that growth won’t come without a lot of innovation and staying on top of the progression of trends, services and amenities.
Is your business invested in downtown Houston and looking to grow, say something, or improve its online presence? That’s where we come in. Let’s talk!