Houston is preparing for a record-breaking six-month stretch of citywide conventions for the second half of 2021. Sixteen large gatherings are scheduled from July to December, compared with 12 in the same time frame for 2019. To date, the city has also successfully rebooked 92 percent of the citywide events that were cancelled because of the pandemic.
Officials at Houston First Corp., which manages the George R. Brown Convention Center, feel the swift and proactive safety measures put in place at the facility, coupled with the optimism around a vaccine being actively distributed, are driving the booking trend for the second half of 2021.
"This success is due in large part to our strategic, nimble and innovative response to the pandemic," said Michael Heckman, acting president and CEO of Houston First. "We were one of the first tourism destinations to implement an ongoing citywide program, Houston Clean, and also the first convention center in the country to deploy the new IVP biodefense air-filtration system. These efforts, combined with our new virtual studio, demonstrate the city’s unwavering commitment to cleanliness, safety and providing versatile hybrid event options that allow planners to rebook with confidence."
The convention center, which is owned by the city of Houston, is covered by Mayor Sylvester Turner’s requirement that all city facilities continue to adhere strictly to the practices of wearing masks, social distancing and frequent hand-washing.
Responding last week to the fact that the U.K. variant of the coronavirus was found in Houston's wastewater, Turner said, "I am concerned about this new data on the U.K. strain of the virus in Houston, especially at a time when the state of Texas is easing mandates on measures proven to reduce transmission and ultimately save lives. Despite the mixed messaging, this is a clear indication that it is too soon to stop requiring masks in public places. I urge all Houstonians to continue masking up to protect their families and community."
The convention center's new virtual studio has been used by six events so far, bringing in $200,000 in revenue.