Destination Houston

Who Comes To Houston: Visitors Or Tourists?

Who are all those out-of-towners, and what are they after?

By John Lomax June 26, 2013

Earlier this year Houston came in as the 25th most visited city in the U.S., behind a bevy of garden spots in Hawaii and Florida and a slew of traditional tourist towns and/or historic metropolises such as New York, New Orleans, DC, San Francisco, Vegas, San Antonio, Boston, Charleston and Savannah.

Truth be told, Houston seems like the odd city out on that list. Where are our quaint historic districts, like the ones in the Big Easy, Philly and Boston? Where are the grand government edifices of DC? Where's the humming street life of the Big Apple, the sizzle of Vegas, the majestic splendor of SF's natural setting? Where's our Disney, our Riverwalk, our Hawaiian-style white sands and crystalline waters?

Nowhere, that's where. The top three attractions listed on the Trip Advisor list are the Museum District, the Water Wall, and Hermann Park.  All are wonderful amenities, yes, but hardly worth flying across the country or world for.

And people don't.

At least that's the consensus over on Swamplot, where talk of the Astrodome's planned grand overhaul has spurred a philosophical discussion about why all those out-of-towners do come here.

Beneath the Dome piece, commenter "Thomas" sketched out his dream for a teeming Reliant Park tourist district, with hotels looming over a "City Walk" of restaurants, clubs, shops and theaters.

"Sure it’s touristy, but most events at Reliant are visited by tourists," Thomas opined.

"Houston doesn’t have tourists. Houston has visitors," rejoined "Old School" after Thomas's post was deemed Swamplot's best of the day.

"People visit Houston to see family, for special events, conventions, for business and so on." [To which I would add, to shop at the Galleria and to receive treatment at the Med Center] "But people do not go to Houston on vacation. There is simply no comparison between Houston and Boston, LA, San Fran, Washington DC etc when it comes to tourism."

And that's a good thing, Old School believes. Tourists get underfoot. Rashes of godawful T-shirt shops erupt in their wake. They clog restaurants and roads with their open-top double decker buses, he says, his words beginning to resembleEric Idle's epic anti-tourist screed.   (You know the one about Watney's Red Barrel, fat German businessmen pretending their acrobats, and Welsh typists from Rhyl addled on Watney's and singing "Torremolinos.")

Old School believes Houston should stick to meeting the needs of these visitors, not tourists, and furthermore, Houston simply can't wave a magic wand and change itself into San Francisco anyway.

The back-and-forth continued today with commenter "Patrick," who believes we are this-close to becoming a grand American destination city, or at least overtaking San Antonio as the top draw in Texas. All we need, he writes, is an indoor ski center inside the Dome, a Schlitterbahn outlet (unless he is referring to the one already in Galveston), and a reboot of Space Center, and presto, the Bayou City would be the kind of place where people would pack up their families and stay for a week.

Of course, any authority he might have is eroded by his claim that "the Riverwalk is poorly done," "the Alamo does not exist" (Huh?) and is "not a point of pride." (Yeah, neither is the Wailing Wall, or the Red Army shrines in Stalingrad. Sure, the Alamo is not quite in that league, but to millions of Texans, it fills the same sanctified role.)

Anyway, what do you think? Should we try harder to get touristy, or should we be content in our own sweaty, mosquito-bedeviled skins?

To me, it's always been like this: Houston is a great place to live, but I wouldn't want to visit. 

Or as Old School put it, "Houston is a great place for visitors. Everyone I have ever hosted had a whale of a time. But, when those folks go home, they don’t tell their friends “you should visit Houston.’ They say ‘if you are ever in Houston, you should . . .’”

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