Article contributed by Carla Pendergraft, Waco Convention & Visitors Bureau, published in the third quarter edition of the Greater Waco Business Magazine.
Momentum in the Tourist Sector
With Chip and Joanna’s hit HGTV show “Fixer Upper” ending this spring, national headlines have predicted the Waco tourism boom is at an end. “What goes up, must come down,” they say.
But the numbers tell a different story. For the first five months of 2018, Waco saw an incredible five percent growth rate of visitors, from 1,098,075 to 1,153,403. Remember, this increase is on top of several additional years of growth. In 2016, Waco saw about 700,000 visitors; now, Waco is consistently welcoming over two million visitors per year.
Hotel revenues have also continued to show healthy increases. Hotel tax receipts through May are sitting at $2,669,182, as compared to $2,405,893 for the same period last year, an increase of 11 percent. New hotels coming online include the La Quinta del Sol, Hilton Garden Inn and the Springhill Suites, with others in the pipeline. Over 50 permitted vacation rentals are currently listed on our tourism website at WacoHeartofTexas.com, with more going through the permitting process.
We see momentum in the tourism sector in other ways too, as Waco’s entrepreneurial culture continues to blossom. At least six food trucks have either opened or are building brick-and-mortar locations. Local tour companies are spreading the word to visitors every day about how fun Waco is to visit, and their companies are adding jobs regularly as their popularity grows. New businesses, like e-sports/gaming establishments, restaurants, brewpubs, and cycle bars are opening. Shops catering to the farmhouse/shabby chic style have sprung up, and live music, once rare in Waco, can be heard in many establishments.
Nearly all of these ventures are small businesses owned by local entrepreneurs who believe in the future of Waco. Most are thriving, especially those who have learned to encourage their customers to leave reviews on TripAdvisor, Google or Facebook, who listen to what their customers say about how to improve visitor experiences. Some business owners also teach their employees to be positive and helpful about Waco, to cross-refer business so that others can benefit, and to have a ready answer to the popular question, “What is there to see and do in Waco?”
Speaking to the Visitor
When a visitor says, “Chip and Joanna sure put Waco on the map,” the visitor is actually saying, “Chip and Joanna put Waco on my map.” Their awareness of Waco as a destination for a visit was elevated by the show. Waco has been around since 1849, but many people outside of Texas were not aware of its charms until recently. As Wacoans, we have to translate to understand what the visitor actually means.
The successful tourism business will encourage employees to speak to visitors, ask where he or she is from and how the visitor heard about Waco. Many visitors are “Fixer Upper” fans and will enjoy expressing that. Even if we’ve heard it many times, we should act as if we haven’t heard it before and channel employees at Disneyland, who must remember that the visitor they encounter today is on a trip of a lifetime, even though Disneyland is old news to them. We have to make the “Waco experience” new each day for each visitor, as we are all ambassadors for Waco.
Speaking of ambassadors, the Waco Convention & Visitors Bureau is partnering with the City of Waco on a “Welcome to Waco” tourism ambassadors program designed to encourage people to reach out to welcome visitors. Waco tourism ambassador t-shirts and other swag will soon be available at the Tourist Information Center, located next to the Texas Ranger Hall of Fame & Museum. To learn more about getting involved as an ambassador or to nominate an individual as an ambassador, visit WhatsWithThePineapple.com.
How else can we reach out to visitors? Most Wacoans know when they see a visitor on the street – they’re wandering around downtown, looking a little lost, or peering at one of the map kiosks, trying to decide where to grab a bite to eat. When you see a visitor, just offering your assistance can make a big difference. Ask them if you can help them find something, strike up a conversation and ask them where they’re from. They will be grateful you asked. You may be one of the great memories of their trip to Waco.
Our goal is for every visitor with whom we have contact to have a unique and wonderful experience they remember for the rest of their lifetime, an experience they rave about to their friends, an experience that makes them long to return for another visit, inspire their friends to visit, or maybe even to move here! We are Waco’s ambassadors, and Waco’s future after “Fixer Upper” is in our hands.
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