Travel and tourism in Texas was a $67.5 billion industry in 2013 and all preliminary indicators show continuing growth in 2014. “More than half of travel spending comes from out of-state travellers who stay longer and spend more money,” says Brad Smyth, tourism director, Texas Tourism. “Domestically, overnight leisure visitors from outside Texas on average spend $413 and stay 3.4 nights per trip – about twice the impact of the average in-state traveller. International travellers spent $6.6 billion in 2013 with even higher average spend and longer length of stay. UK visitors, for example, spent $1,083 and stayed 8.1 nights per trip.”
The numbers are clear evidence that aviation is critical to Texan wellbeing, an argument backed up by the industry data. Texas is home to the largest air transportation workforce in the US, for example. In total, there are 27 commercial airports, including two of the world’s busiest at Dallas-Fort Worth International and Houston Bush Intercontinental. Texas is also the international headquarters for American Airlines and Southwest and home to major hubs for both United Airlines and Express Jet. Direct air service is available from more than 80 international airports to Texas destinations. The network covers some 40 countries and reaches every continent except Antarctica.
Digging deep at DFW
Dallas-Fort Worth has added 20 new international destinations in the past four years, including three key Asian cities; Hong Kong, Beijing and Shanghai. “We are a natural gateway to South America compared with east and west coast US and our connections to the Asian market mean we are an obvious choice for Latin America-Asia traffic,” comments Luis Perez, vice president, air service development.
Mexico is a major draw on the DFW network through American, Aeroméxico, VivaAerobus and Volaris. Perez says the forthcoming open skies with Mexico will make a big difference as the previous agreement was too restrictive. And he points to other developments in the US’s southern neighbour that will also have a big impact on potential air service. “The de-regulation of the oil and gas industries in Mexico will be huge as it will open up opportunities for new relationships between companies,” he says.
DFW is embarking on a $2.69 billion Terminal Renewal and Improvement Programme to ensure the passenger experience is enhanced alongside the network offering. The new downtown rail service opened service last year and processes are being reviewed in an attempt to expedite and de-stress the airport journey for visa waiver and hand baggage-only passengers. Perez is optimistic. “We are the hub for the largest airline in the world,” he says. “And new aircraft are entering service with better range, better fuel burn and better economics. Airlines are making money at last – and that means they will re-invest in their fleet and network.”
Looking ahead, Perez hopes the brighter future brings in key European destinations to the DFW fold, particularly Barcelona, Munich and Rome.
Since 2013, Houston has welcomed 10 new international passenger airlines and launched service to 12 new international routes. There have been several other noteworthy successes in recent years. Southwest has added 10 new domestic markets and will expand to the international market from 2015. Spirit is also witnessing robust growth, as is United. And Emirates has upgauged its Houston service to an A380. Overall, the Houston Airport System (HAS) saw more than 53 million passengers in 2014 – a 4.5% increase over 2013.
“We focus primarily on the strength of Houston as a market,” says Molly Waits, director of air service development. “Houston is a well-rounded market with strong and growing demand for international service. It is home to 26 Fortune 500 companies and has an annual GDP of over $533 million.”
Houston also boasts the most diverse population in the United States – over 20% of Houston’s population is foreign-born – providing strong demand for international visiting friends and relatives traffic.
HAS works very closely with several key partners on a regular basis, such as Texas Tourism, the Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau and the Greater Houston Partnership. “We are blessed to have such strong and reliable partners who support our efforts every step of the way,” says Waits. “We all truly see the value of working together towards common goals of increased international business and increased visitation to Houston. In Houston, we also have the third largest Consular Corps in the US with 92 consular offices, and we work closely with the Consular offices for the key countries for which we are seeking service.”
The big sky
Texas certainly has plenty to offer, from big business to a big sky. “Texas is not only a diverse state historically, culturally, and geographically,” says Texas Tourism’s Smyth. “It is also an economically diverse state with multiple industry sectors. Texas has been the number one exporting state in the US for the past 13 years in a row. It is also home to 52 Fortune 500 companies. Texas is not only a premier travel destination, but also a premier business destination.”
On the tourism side, there is much to offer. Texas has a strong brand message that resonates worldwide. A state as large as Texas, however, contains many diverse travel experiences. Its major cities – Austin, Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston, and San Antonio – are creative centers for food, music, art and entertainment. Each offers its own unique flavour and history.
“Of course, our rich American West and cowboy heritage can be experienced at beautiful guest ranches and exciting rodeos,” adds Smyth. “If a traveller likes scenic outdoor getaways, the geographic diversity of Texas lets visitors enjoy sunny beaches to mountainous National Park adventures. We also have sports lovers covered with multiple professional sports teams to watch and year-round golf on over 800 courses, many at world-class resorts.” Texas Tourism partners with all Texas airports and cities to promote the lone star state brand. “It helps to maintain and grow air routes,” says Smyth. “Texas Tourism has exhibited at World Routes for the past four years, for example, and provides ongoing support to encourage inbound travel on new and established air routes into Texas.”
For more information on Texas: www.TravelTex.com