Pleasure Pier, Galveston (photo courtesy of Galveston Island Convention & Visitors Bureau)
Greater Houston, Galveston have Southwest charm and urban appealOne of the more stressful aspects of planning a meeting is appeasing all attendees, who undoubtedly have varying interests and hobbies. A city that pleases everybody sounds too good to be true, but with endless dining options that will satisfy any foodie, vast brewery selections, colorful theaters and drama productions of every genre, a fierce music scene, and an architectural history that’s unmatched, Greater Houston just might be that place. For outdoorsy types, Houston ranks first among the nation’s most populous cities in total acreage of parkland (49,643 acres), and Galveston Island offers picturesque beachfronts. So you can bet it provides a multitude of outdoor activities, leaving your most adventurous attendees and even your sedentary beach bums more than satisfied. The first thing that comes to mind for most when considering what Texas has to offer is size—it can accommodate massive groups—but Greater Houston and Galveston are also the perfect destination for miniwides, intimate team-building offsites and incentive trips of every size and budget. So go ahead: Test microbrews like you’re in Portland, hike as if in Colorado, golf like those on Myrtle Beach, catch a sun-kissed tan that could only be from the tropics, and bring out your inner child at Pleasure Pier (pictured) like it’s the Atlantic City Boardwalk—but make no mistake—Southern hospitality as warm as the year-round temperature is all H-town.
Saint Arnold Brewing Company, Houston (photo courtesy of Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau)
Meet, Eat & ExploreAppropriately named, the convention district is a 60-block area of eastside downtown, bookended by the MLB Houston Astros’ field, Minute Maid Park, on the north end, and NBA Houston Rockets’ home, Toyota Center, on the south. At the center is George R. Brown (GRB) Convention Center, which will complete a $275 million renovation by October, just in time for Super Bowl 51 in 2017. “The convention center will have seven new locally driven restaurants, creating sort of a restaurant row that will attract not only convention-goers, but will be a popular environment for locals and tourists,” says A.J. Mistretta, senior public relations manager for Visit Houston. “A pedestrian promenade is being built that will showcase public art and serve as a leisure component that connects to [Discovery Green] park.” Connected to GRB Convention Center via two indoor skywalks, Hilton Americas-Houston is a 1,200-room conference hotel across the street from Discovery Green, a 12-acre lush park for family play, athletic classes for yoga and meditation, and entertainment, including this year’s March Madness Music Festival. The urban park hosts private events and can accommodate 25,000.
Marriott Marquis Houston renderingBy the end of the year, downtown will have added 3,000 hotel rooms, including the 1,000-room Marriott Marquis Houston, expected to be completed this fall. The massive $357 million hotel will feature a rooftop Texas-shaped lazy river and more than 104,000 sq. ft. of meeting space, including Houston’s largest ballroom. A two-story sports bar, two restaurants, coffee shop and wine bar will ensure that everything a visitor could ever want is just steps away. Houston was named the newest capital of great food by Food and Wine in 2013 and the country’s most exciting food by Tasting Table the same year, but it’s not resting on its laurels. In 2015, four chefs and multiple beer programs and wine lists from Houston were named semifinalist for James Beard Foundation awards. Fresh seasonal dishes and decadent desserts such as Texas Plantain Crab Cakes and Rock Slide brownies are served up at the chic, award-winning 17 Restaurant inside the 97-room The Sam Houston Hotel Curio Collection by Hilton. The hotel features 7,000 sq. ft. of event space, including a rooftop veranda. For some coastal southern fare, try State of Grace restaurant, where chef Ford Fry whips up iconic Tex-Mex plates, including his Queso Oaxaca. For the athletic explorers in your group, 90-minute Buffalo Bayou kayak tours head through the heart of Houston, during which they can spot blue herons, loggerhead turtles and alligators while taking in views of the city. Those looking for an authentic Texas art production can catch ballet, classical music and theater performances at Miller Outdoor Theatre, where casual audiences often lay hillside on blankets. The 7.5-acre outdoor space can be rented for large events. For history buffs eyeing a true immersive experience, The Heritage Society at Sam Houston Park is an interactive outdoor historic museum located on 10 acres of parkland that showcases authentically restored buildings spanning the city’s history. The Museum Gallery can host receptions for 200 and the outdoor Connally Plaza can accommodate 250 seated or 300 for receptions. Saint Arnold Brewing Company is Texas’ oldest brewery, where guests can tour facilities and sample 10 year-round brews in addition to seasonal concoctions and limited small-batches. Beer Hall and Investors Pub offer unique private-event space for up to 300.
Waterway Cruiser, The Woodlands (photo courtesy of Visit the Woodlands)
Find Luxury in the Great OutdoorsTwenty-eight miles north of Houston, The Woodlands is set among 28,000 acres of forest preserve, creating a beautiful, distraction-free environment. But don’t let that fool you; activities abound when the work day is done. Board kayaks on Lake Woodlands, dine on a Waterway Cruiser, attend a concert at Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion or take the free trolley to explore the 11 million sq. ft. of shopping, dining and entertainment The Woodlands offers. Swimmers and golfers, rejoice! The Woodlands Resort & Conference Center intersects Lake Harrison, not only providing access to the lake, but also featuring Forest Oasis Waterscape, a water park that includes a lazy river winding through the surrounding forest; a double-helix racing waterslide with a 30-foot tower; and a dive-in movie theater. The forests offer more than 200 miles of jogging, hiking and biking trails, and Panther Trail and The Oaks golf courses together provide 36 holes of championship golf and rolling greens. All 406 deluxe rooms offer vast, peaceful views. Kara Stanley, convention development manager of The Woodlands Convention & Visitors Bureau, says the 14 hotels and 160,000 sq. ft. of meeting space is just one of the reasons The Woodlands suits everything from annual conventions to executive-level board meetings. “Groups can board kayaks at Riva Row Boat House, attend a concert under the stars at The Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion, organize a golf tournament or simply unwind to live music in one of the many restaurants or wine bars,” Stanley says. Embassy Suites Hotel at Hughes Landing is the newest all-suite hotel in the area. It opened its doors in January, and boasts a 4,000-square-foot rooftop deck and meeting space for 220. Americas restaurant provides an exciting Pan Latin dining experience in three private dining rooms that can seat 25, 45 and 75, plus a picturesque outdoor patio that seats 75 and accommodates more than 120 for receptions. Known for its modern take on ceviche, small plates and empanadas, Americas also boasts an ample wine and cocktail menu to whet every appetite. Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion hosts some of the biggest names in music, from chart-topping artists to the Houston Symphony and Houston Grand Opera. The outdoor amphitheater is connected via skybridge to The Woodlands Waterway Marriott Hotel & Convention Center, providing concert-going guests instant accessibility to the pavilion stage. The property boasts 66,532 sq. ft. of meeting space and 343 guest rooms, New to the neighborhood is The Westin-The Woodlands, which opened across from the Waterway in March. The modern 302-guest-room hotel offers more than 15,000 sq. ft. of meeting and prefunction space, an outdoor pool and a second-level pool deck and bar overlooking Waterway Square. Much of the entertainment and shopping can be found on Market Street, boasting 75 specialty and national retailers and restaurants. Market Street is also home to Hyatt Centric The Woodlands, a boutique hotel offering 70 guest rooms and iconic Market Street Bar, where happy-hour selections and small plates steal the show.
Hotel Galvez & Spa, Galveston
Cultural Experiences Abound on Island ParadiseSoutheast of Houston, Galveston sits on the Texas Gulf Coast, providing beautiful vistas in every direction of the Houston city skyline and oceanfront. “The appeal of Galveston as a popular leisure destination makes it attractive to meeting planners because it helps draw attendees and provides plenty of entertainment for attendees outside of meeting times. You truly do get to mix business with pleasure when you have a meeting or bring a group to the island,” says Meg Winchester, CMP, director of Galveston Island Convention & Visitors Bureau. Get a dose of Galveston history with an audio tour at the only historic beachfront hotel on the Texas Gulf Coast. Hotel Galvez & Spa is an upscale AAA Four Diamond rated property that’s been hosting guests for more than 100 years. The 224-room hotel boasts a saline pool and swim-up bar. Across from the beach is the AAA Four Diamond rated San Luis Resort Spa & Conference Center, a 32-acre property that includes a 140,000- square-foot conference center. An outdoor pool features a 45-foot waterslide, swim-up bar and private cabanas. Explore a live rainforest, aquarium and 3-D theater housed in pyramids at Moody Gardens Hotel Spa & Convention Center. The hotel boasts more than 103,000 sq. ft. of state-of-the-art meeting and convention space in addition to its 418 guest rooms, all set on 242 acres of botanical property.
Sports CityHouston is without a doubt the place to be for sports enthusiasts in 2016–17, and the city is ready for the influx of fans. “With the Final Four coming up [in April] and the Super Bowl in February 2017, we’ve got a lot of attention being focused on Houston right now and we’re definitely benefiting from that,” says A.J. Mistretta, senior public relations manager for Visit Houston. On the heels of the of the 2016 Major League Soccer kickoff between Houston Dynamo and New England Revolution at BBVA Compass Stadium, Houston will host the NCAA Men’s Final Four Basketball Championship at NRG Stadium on April 2 and 4. A high-energy fan fest and NCAA Experience downtown will keep fans entertained before and after games. The biggest attention draw, of course, will be Super Bowl LI on Feb. 5, 2017. This will be Houston’s third time hosting the mega-event; it last hosted the Super Bowl in 2004. But if anyone who attended the last one expects to see the same Houston, they’re in for a surprise. Bush International Airport (IAH) and William P. Hobby Airport (HOU) have undergone major renovations in the last few years. HOU is in the midst of a $24 million beautification to add terminals to accommodate growth, and eight new hotels will be completed before the big game, adding 3,000 guest rooms to the current 5,000 downtown. Houston Airport Marriott at George Bush Intercontinental just completed a multimillion-dollar renovation to its 573-room hotel in January to accommodate the influx of visitors in the coming year. In total, nearly $1.5 billion is being invested in and around the convention district.
Team Building, Texas Style
Pinot's Palette, The WoodlandsTexas doesn’t do ordinary—and that goes for its team-building activities, as well. The hotels and resorts in Greater Houston provide truly unique and memorable team-building experiences for groups of all sizes that your attendees won’t soon forget. At Moody Gardens Hotel Spa & Convention Center in Galveston, participants can challenge their communication skills and upper body strength on a ropes obstacle course. “Since each participant is fully harnessed, it gives people the chance to challenge themselves under completely safe conditions,” says Meg Winchester, CMP, director of the Galveston Island Convention & Visitors Bureau. “You can choose your own path through the course so that each person goes at their own pace; that way, while it’s competitive, it is also tailored to different skill levels.” San Luis Resort Spa & Conference Center has an onsite activities director who specializes in fun team-building events. It offers fishing tournaments, mixology competitions, sandcastle contests, culinary cook-offs, scavenger hunts and most popular, its Amazing Race game, a scavenger hunt that allows attendees to tour the area while partaking in a fun competition. At Pinot’s Palette in The Woodlands, groups can book a private two-to-three-hour painting class and learn to paint like a pro while snacking, sipping and networking with their group. Two painting rooms can accommodate 54 and 22 guests. The Alpine Tower Challenge Course in The Woodlands is a different kind of rope challenge: Facilitators help groups as they navigate through 55-foot-high ropes using the alpine tower as a tool to enhance self-esteem, trust, risk-taking and encouragement.