Helping Houston After Harvey: Visit Houston’s New Sales Platform

November 3, 2017

Visit Houston Marketplace

With the Houston Marketplace, visitors can choose from over 30 experiences to add to their cart

When Hurricane Harvey hit Houston, the city was dramatically impacted. In just two months, Houston has come back strong. Visit Houston, the city’s destination marketing organization, has done its part by launching a new platform designed to woo visitors while helping its tourism experiences get back on their feet.

While Visit Houston had been working on the “Houston Marketplace” concept for more than a year and was preparing to roll out a major fall campaign to promote the concept of buying uniquely packaged passes, as well as easy access to tours and activities, when Hurricane Harvey hit it provided the organization with an amazing opportunity to demonstrate their commitment to the tourism community at home. Because Visit Houston owns the transaction they were able to incorporate a way to donate proceeds to local relief efforts.

In this Q&A with Maureen Haley, Director of Strategic Tourism Initiatives at Visit Houston, you’ll learn how the magic happened:

Q: Your new website, Houston Marketplaceis pretty unique.  Can you explain it?

A: In an effort to position Houston as a leisure tourism destination we realized how important it was to showcase the amazing variety of experiences that actually exist. Houston is a very large place and can be difficult to navigate if you aren’t familiar with the city. We created this marketplace concept to make it easy for consumers to find, buy and experience things to do in Houston. In addition to the opportunity to showcase experiences, the technology we have contracted is focused on mobile delivery of tickets (although you can also still print them if needed). With mobile delivery we are able to include features like mapping and directions, one-click phone and web site information, and “real-time relevant” information like hours of operations and information on special exhibits and tips. We have also included spending incentives which give a value to the consumer and an opportunity for our tourism businesses to increase on-site spend on things like gifts, food, etc.

Q: Was Houston Marketplace already in the works or did you specifically launch it as an effort to help your community following Hurricane Harvey?

A: It’s been in the works – it was a long road to get where we are now. Not only did we go through an extensive search process for the right partner, we have also been working directly with our local tourism attractions and businesses to explain the concept and onboard them into the platform. Each participating business signs a merchant agreement before they officially become part of the program.

Q: How has the Houston tourism community responded to Visit Houston’s approach to helping them get back on their feet?

Consumers have responded well – we’re getting a lot of positive feedback through our social media channels on both paid and owned efforts.

Q: What inspired you to pursue this retail-oriented approach?

A: The inspiration was the need and opportunity to promote the fact that there is an incredible amount to explore in Houston. It gives us a call to action for our marketing efforts and makes it easy for consumers to move from the inspirational and trip planning information they can get from our website, into how they can actually purchase and experience the city.

We also noticed a need to work with our local businesses who spend a significant amount of their marketing focus on the local market – because as the fourth largest city in the U.S. our local market is huge – and help them gain visibility and visitation from leisure tourism. We are directly contracting with our local businesses and working to create new distribution opportunities. The first phase of the platform is direct to consumer, but we are also working on growing to partner with third parties ranging from hotel companies to online travel agencies.

Q: Having access to tickets to attractions right on your phone should be the new normal. Why do you think more destinations haven’t embraced this?

They haven’t embraced it because it’s more work than it sounds like. Some attractions are already using state of the art booking platforms that allow for this next step, but other smaller businesses are still working with older technology. What we have done is select a technology partner that can support a wide range of booking processes so we can work with all types of partners in Houston, regardless of their onsite technology.

Q: Phase one is game-changing for the industry; Is there a phase two on the horizon?

A: There are many more phases on the horizon and we are working on prioritizing them now. In the future we are looking to create customized sites for meeting and convention groups that showcase experiences and offers targeted to their attendees, we have already started by migrating our traditional “Show Your Badge” program to this platform. We’re also working on translating the platform into Spanish to integrate with our HolaHouston.com website and a culinary specific version of the platform that will bring together the best food and beverage experiences – tours, tastings, special events – in one place so visitors can more easily find and participate in some of what makes Houston the “Culinary and Cultural Capitol of the South.”

Is your DMO launching an e-commerce initiative? Tweet us about it at @aboutdci.

Written by Karyl Leigh Barnes

Karyl Leigh Barnes is managing partner of DCI’s Tourism Practice. Since joining the firm in 1998, Karyl Leigh has led destination strategy and created marketing communication programs for destinations on every continent except Antarctica.

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