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June 5, 2012

Destination Overview:Austin, Texas

While the rest of the United States struggled with the recession, Austin, TX has fared better, with steady business and tourism numbers. Hotel companies have taken notice, and the city will see several openings around the Austin Convention Center in the next three years, including a JW Marriott and the second Fairmont property in all of Texas.

The Manchester Texas Financial Group will open the Fairmont Austin in 2015 at a cost of $350 million. The hotel will have 1,000 rooms across 50 stories and more than 70,000 square feet of meeting space. It will be located directly east of the Convention Center, and will be the brand's second hotel in Texas.


The JW Marriott Austin (www.jwmarriottaustin.com) will open in in the same year with 1,012 rooms on Congress Avenue between 2nd and 3rd Streets, two blocks from the Convention Center. The hotel will have 114,000 square feet of flexible meeting, banquet and event space, and will reportedly be Austin's largest hotel. The groundbreaking for construction is expected to take place during the summer.

But first, the Hyatt Place Downtown (www.hyatt.com) is slated to open next year. When it debuts, it will have 296 rooms across 17 stories, and will be close to the Austin Convention Center. The property is currently under construction.

Meetings in Austin

International Meetings Review spoke with Steve Genovesi, senior vice president of sales of the Austin CVB, to see what was attracting such significant hotel investment. In short, he says, the city's economy has "weathered well" compared to other cities in Texas and the U.S. He credits some measure of this to the technology companies (Dell, Samsung and Google among others) that have offices in Austin, and that not only promote local jobs but also help drive significant business travel. (Dell, for example, recently booked 17,124 room nights for a single upcoming convention through the CVB.)

This, in turn, has spurred increases in major-brand hotel development, and several new properties are due to open in the next three years around the city's convention center.

But the new hotels can also make the city's meeting and events scene more competitive. "We not only find ourselves competing with other Texas cities, but with New Orleans and Orlando-even Chicago and Denver," Genovesi says. "With new inventory, we're competing with the top-tier convention cities." But, he adds, the CVB is looking to turn the challenge into an asset: "With the new inventory and our convention center, we have something new to offer groups that had used [those] same cities in the past. They like the fact that it's a new destination."

The CVB has also seen an increase in executive meetings that need anywhere from 10 rooms to 200. "We're glad to see that smaller groups see the value of using the CVB, and we've added an additional sales person to help [with bookings]," Genovesi says. Beyond the CVB, the city's hotels are also taking note of the increase in smaller meetings, and are reaching out to organizers. "We don't want to lose sight of the value of small meetings...We're fortunate that a lot of hotels have ample meeting space in their own right," Genovesi adds. "Even the Hilton across from the convention center has 80,000 square feet of meeting space."

Austin has approximately 30,000 hotel rooms in the metro area, with more than 6,000 in the downtown area alone. Another 1,000 are expected to open in the coming months, and the recent developments (including the upcoming three openings) have helped spur larger events from more companies and corporations: "The average size group [around the] convention center averaged 1,000 rooms on a peak night," Genovesi recalls. "Now, they're booking 1,600 or 1,700 for a peak night." Bookings for 2015, when the Fairmont and JW Marriott open, have already picked up, he added.  

Austin Convention Center

The Austin Convention Center covers more than six city blocks and 881,400 gross square feet of space, with 246,097 square feet of column-free exhibit space divisible into five contiguous halls that can accommodate 1,289 10' x 10' booths for trade shows. The fifth hall has retractable riser seating for up to 1,500, making it a good pick for general sessions, sporting events and concerts.

The upper level Grand Ballroom on the north side is one of the largest in Texas, covering 43,300 square. It can accommodate more than 3,000 people when Ballrooms D-G are used together. Ballrooms A-C along the south side can be divided into rooms ranging in size from 3,896 to 23,418 square feet. The Center has 54 meeting rooms and show offices that offer 61,440 square feet on all four levels.

Austin also has one of two convention centers in the U.S. (and the only one in Texas) to achieve LEED Gold certification for Existing Buildings. The facility earned LEED points for energy conservation, sustainable purchases, and innovation credits.

The convention center is also a gigabit rated building that offers complimentary wireless Internet access, meaning its infrastructure can move voice, video and data at 1 billion bits a second.


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