A targeted tourism strategy for HoustonI recently got engaged on an interesting discussion thread on HAIF about making Houston more of a tourism magnet, an area where we are sadly lacking compared to other global cities of our stature. In that thread I reposted my July post on attracting national and international tourists to Houston, where I talked about converting the Astrodome and empty land nearby into the world's largest engineering and technology museum. But the more interesting thing to come out of the HAIF conversation was a bigger picture tourism strategy for Houston. It starts with this list from the post of areas where we really can't compete:
- Out family-fun Orlando?
- Out weather California?
- Out beach Florida or Hawaii?
- Out culture New York?
- Out museum DC or New York?
- Out gamble/adult-fun Las Vegas? (or South Beach?)
- Out ski Denver or Salt Lake City?
- Out history New Orleans, Boston, Savannah or Charleston? (or even San Antonio)
See what I mean? People choose vacation locations for specific reasons, and the winners are pretty damn dominant. We're stuck as a local/regional "big city" tourism destination like Chicago is for the midwest and Atlanta is for the southeast, with our share of great museums, restaurants, shopping, and a few attractions - but not enough to pull people from across the country - much less the world - to vacation here.And here's my new insight that came out of the discussion:
From a marketing analysis, there is an unfilled niche, and here's my articulation of it: parents plan family trips, and they often want to educate their kids as well as have fun. There are plenty of opportunities to do this with history - Colonial Williamsburg, Boston, New Orleans, San Antonio and the Alamo, etc. - not to mention Europe. DC is where you learn about our great country's history and political system. The national parks for learning about nature and the environment. San Diego for every type of animal in the mega-zoo (and SeaWorld for aquatic animals).
But there's bit of a hole in the tourism market when it comes to teaching kids about and inspiring them into STEM careers (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math). On a national level there's the Air and Space Museum in DC and a couple of NASA sites (inc. Houston JSC), but it's pretty limited. On a local level it's pretty small science and children's museums. We could aspire to be one of those "must-do" vacations for all families that want to broadly educate their kids. "A DC/Smithsonian of STEM" might be a way to think of it. Maybe that's one mega-museum, or a collection of medium-sized ones. The Astrodome is a huge opportunity, as is the giant empty field to the south of it and the easy rail connection to our Museum District. And we already have a starting pull with Space Center Houston. Build on that, and we can create a differentiated niche from other tourist destinations.
By creating a very future-oriented, big challenge-focused, STEM-based tech/engi/science museum complex (including energy) as a compliment to NASA, we become one of those destinations families will want to visit for the benefit of their kids. I'm not saying they won't also have some fun when they get here (Kemah, Galveston, shopping, eating, etc.), but the core reason they will add it to their vacation plans will be to inspire their kids into STEM fields (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) - just like I'm sure plenty of DC trips have inspired kids into public service careers.
The short description would be like the National Air and Space museum (the 2nd most popular museum in the world after Paris' Louvre), but covering a broader range of STEM subject areas and giving not just history, but articulate the big challenges facing those fields going forward. The goal is to not just look backward, but inspire kids to study hard so they can contribute to working on the big problems of the future in their careers. The original vision of Epcot might be another example. Include lots of interactivity and summer camps, with school field trip groups on multi-day visits. It should address the Grand Challenges of Engineering, with maybe a wing for each.
I think most of the museum would be the history of engineering and technology, maybe grouped into themes like "transportation", "computing", "health/medicine" (link to the world's largest medical center, anyone?), "energy", etc. but then shifting at the end of their timelines to broad, long-term challenges. The goal is for the kid to get swept up in the great people and innovations of the past and then get them excited about being contributors to future progress.
I wonder if a better name might be "The Museum of Progress", showing how human civilization has advanced with science, engineering, and technology and the great challenges we face going forward.
Definitely take some time to browse the thread - there are some good ideas and graphics from others in there. And I'd love to hear your thoughts on the strategy, the specific museum concept, and potential names in the comments. And if you're one of Houston's political or financial power-players interested in supporting something like this, please drop me an email (tgattis (at) pdq.net).