Despite having a booming oil and gas industry and being the fourth most populous city in the United States, this Texas city remains relatively inexpensive for business travellers.

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.

Hotels

Elegant
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 175,000sqft 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.)

Edgy
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.

Two of the city's hippest boutique hotels, the 97-room Alden-Houston and the 312-room Hotel Derek, recently announced ownership changes and plans for major revamps. There are rumours that the historic Alden (located downtown) may revert to its original name from 1924, The Sam Houston Hotel. A floor-by-floor renovation is underway at the tall, glassy Derek (on the west side of downtown near the Galleria), so be sure to ask for a renovated room until the project is complete in March.

Expense account
Despite its meaty name, Oxheart, located in Houston’s downtown warehouse district is drawing big crowds for its unusual vegetable dishes, such as warm sunflower seed soup or hakurei turnip baked in salt, radishes, pecans and beef fat.

Brennan’s of Houston in the midtown area has long been the choice of the city’s movers and shakers out to impress guests with upscale “Texas Creole” dishes, such as fried green tomatoes topped with marinated blue crab claws, lobster fricassee crepes, turtle soup, crab cakes or Harris Ranch steaks. Make sure to ask for the legendary Bananas Foster flambé prepared tableside for dessert.

Some of the best (and most expensive) sushi in town can be found at Uchi, where fresh fish is flown in daily from fish markets around the world. Unusual Japanese mains include combinations such as foie gras, kale, edamame and pumpkin seeds, or Texas quail, yellow beans, Chinese artichokes, curry and quail egg.

Houston’s history as a southern port city has shaped its diverse dining scene, inspiring chef Chris Shepherd to create the popular Underbelly, which offers Creole-tinged dishes with international flair, such as crispy oysters served with kimchi butter and nuoc mam (Vietnamese-style) slaw or Wagyu beef satay served with squash tapioca.

Mingle with Houston’s see-and-be-seen set over at Brasserie 19 in classy River Oaks, where you will enjoy an extensive wine list (which the sommelier presents on an iPad) and modern French cuisine such as Burgundy escargot, steamed mussels, sautéed Dover sole, oysters on the half shell, hand-cut steak tartare and roasted rack of lamb.

Off the clock
Houston’s significant oil wealth has helped fund one of the most vibrant and diverse museum scenes in the US. While there are more than 150 museums or cultural institutions in the Houston area, 19 of the most important are clustered within a one to two square mile residential area called the Museum District on the southwestern edge of downtown. A top stop is the Menil Collection, housed in a beautiful building designed by Renzo Piano, which offers changing exhibitions that range from antiquities to modern and contemporary art.  If you need a few minutes or hours to regroup or contemplate your life or your job, stop by the modern, multi-denominational Rothko Chapel, which is featured in National Geographic’s Sacred Places of a Lifetime: 500 of the World’s Most Peaceful and Powerful Destinations, published in 2009. Download the two-hour hour audio walking tour of the district to your smartphone, and spend an afternoon soaking up the culture of an elegant Houston neighbourhood.

Go local
To truly feel like a local (or to simply escape the Texas heat), stroll through Houston’s upscale Galleria mall, the largest in Texas, and the city’s most visited attraction. The mall is anchored by large department stores such as Texas-based Neiman-Marcus, Nordstrom and Macy’s, but also has high-end boutiques from the likes of Chanel, Gucci, Prada and Tiffany & Co.

For an outdoor break when the weather is cooler, take a walk or jog along the trails through Houston’s Buffalo Bayou, which connects downtown to the River Oaks area. Even though you are still in town, you will spot plenty of native species (blue herons, loggerhead turtles, alligators) in this hilly, watery patch of urban parkland. Be sure to make it to the Bayou’s popular Waugh Bridge Bat Observation Deck, where thousands of Mexican free-tailed bats depart each night at dusk to hunt for insects. 

Don’t do this!
Do not rely on taxis for transportation.  Due to Houston’s sprawl, it makes most sense for visitors to rent cars and drive to hotels and meetings, which are likely to be spread across this giant city’s 627 square miles.