Business trip: Houston
The office of 1500 Louisiana Street, formerly Enron Center South, in Houston, Texas. (Allan Baxter/Getty)
Business travellers will likely feel Houston’s big, warm and friendly embrace throughout their trip to the fourth most populous city in the United States. They will likely also feel insulated from much of the economic unease felt elsewhere, since the Texas city is the centre of the country's booming oil and gas industry, which has helped it outpace all other major US cities in job growth over the last five years. Outside of New York City and Chicago, there are more Fortune 500 companies based in Houston than in any other city in the US.
Despite its popularity as a business centre, Houston remains relatively inexpensive for business travellers. For example, hotels in the four- and five-star range average less than $300 per night (compared to $500 or so per night in other major US cities). Two busy airports with plenty of airline competition help keep most airfares in check. For those driving into town or renting cars, petrol prices are lower than just about anywhere else in the country. And since Houstonians dine out an average of four times per week – more than any other city in the US – business class dining options abound, the restaurant scene is diverse and dynamic, and prices remain reasonable.
Most large hotels and businesses are located inside Houston’s circumferential Interstate 610 “Loop”. One important exception to this is the fast growing corporate suburb of The Woodlands, located 32 miles north of downtown.
Houston is served by two main airports: Houston George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH), about 25 miles north of downtown, and the smaller Houston Hobby (HOU), about seven miles to the southeast. “Bush” (as it is referred to by locals) is dominated by United Airlines, and handles all international flights. Smaller “Hobby” is the domain of Southwest Airlines, offering quick, convenient and inexpensive flights across Texas and the rest of the US. Taxi fares between Bush and downtown are expensive – around $60 (including tip) each way. From Hobby to downtown, fares run about $40 including tip.
Opened in 2009, the chic, modern 255-room Hotel Sorella CityCentre is Houston’s newest luxury hotel, with hardwood floors, oversize bathrooms, expansive views from floor to ceiling windows and a complimentary car service to offices and corporate headquarters along Houston’s Energy Corridor, the epicentre of its oil and gas industry.
The elegant 232-room St Regis Houston, which completed a full renovation this year, is sandwiched in between the city’s toniest residential area (River Oaks) and its chicest shopping mall (the Galleria ) about nine miles west of downtown.
For a lavish country-club-style atmosphere set in an urban forest of oaks and pines, plus athletic extras like a running track, three large outdoor pools, a 125,000sqft fitness centre, tennis courts and a climbing wall, check out the 289-room Houstonian Hotel Club and Spa near the Galleria on the west side of town.
If your business takes you outside of the city centre to the Woodlands, check in at the new 70-room Hyatt Market Street, which is part of the artsy, upscale Market Street shopping mall – a great spot for a stroll when Houston’s heat and humidity spike during summer. Contemporary rooms are decorated in a blend of white and ebony with unusual purple accents, bathrooms have big walk-in showers and in-room wi-fi is free. (Tip: ask for a more spacious corner room.)
Fresh off a complete renovation, downtown Houston’s hip 135-room Hotel Icon is sporting a new splash of colour and contemporary good looks in a building that once housed the Union National Bank. Marriott Rewards members will be pleased to know that the hotel recently became part of Marriott’s Autograph Collection, which means they can earn and burn their rewards points here.
The luxury boutique Hotel Zaza draws an attractive, hip crowd of locals and visitors to the southern edge of Houston’s sparkly downtown core in the Museum District – ask for a room with a balcony, or splurge on an upper floor suite, such as the deep-red “Geisha House” suite with a pagoda poster bed, or the mod, space-like blue-grey decor in the “Houston-we-have-a-problem” suite.