City officials in Sugar Land are making a concerted effort to increase tourism through new marketing and outreach programs. The efforts have largely been channeled into the Visit Sugar Land Convention & Visitors Services team, a department of the city established in March 2011 and funded through hotel occupancy tax revenues. Led by Tourism and Marketing Manager Jessica Brown, the team has launched several major initiatives with the goal of promoting Sugar Land as a destination for travelers.
“This is a high quality, attractive, entertaining area to live in, but we still don’t quite have the name recognition for tourism just yet,” Brown said. “We have the pieces in place—restaurants and shops, homes are fantastic, our schools have great reputations. The objective now involves getting the word out.”
Among the top initiatives has been maintaining a promotional website at www.visitsugarlandtx.com, which went online in 2013. In 2014, the team also plans to produce an official visitor’s guide and to establish visitor kiosks throughout the city, which will serve to guide visitors on everything there is to do and see, whether related to dining, accommodation, attractions or history.
Visit Sugar Land has also made it a priority to help promote existing events, such as the Sugar Land Wine and Food Affair, which is entering its 11th year. Organized by the Fort Bend Chamber of Commerce, the Wine and Food Affair’s attendance increased from 6,800 to 7,800 people since the city intensified its tourism efforts in 2011.
City attractions have expanded over the past 10 years in Sugar Land, with the development of Town Square in 2005, the opening of the Houston Museum of Natural Science at Sugar Land in 2009 and the establishment of Constellation Field in 2012. The city’s newest attraction, the 6,500-seat Performing Arts Center, is slated to open in mid- to late 2016 as a part of an up-and-coming entertainment district.
On 40 acres at the corner of Hwy. 59 and University Boulevard, the $83.6 million center will be funded entirely through hotel occupancy tax money and a $10 million equity contribution from ACE Theatrical Group.
At its March 18 meeting, Sugar Land City Council approved a $96,000 contract with Clark Condon Associates—a landscape architecture firm—for “programming and conceptual design” of the plaza. The scope includes street lighting, landscaping and possible monuments, as well as signage and banners.
“Our goal is to create a destination that ties everything together,” City Engineer Chris Steubing said. “Our discussion has focused on what creates that connection with the surrounding areas and a sense of place as a destination. When you show up in this region, you will know you’re there.”
A community affair
The 2014 Sugar Land Wine and Food Affair takes place April 23–27 and has been held every year in the city for the past 11 years. The event is the largest draw for visitors outside Fort Bend County, said Keri Schmidt, president of the Fort Bend Chamber.
“From the beginning, about 75 percent of the people who came were from outside the county,” she said. “We promote it through food and wine writers across the state. The chefs and wineries come from all over the country, and they all bring their own following.”
Schmidt said it can be difficult to quantify the economic impact of the event because it is so large and encompasses many different components, but she said the impact of money spent on all aspects likely totals into millions.
Krystal Peay, director of the event, said it grows bigger every year, both in terms of attendance and activities offered. New pieces this year will include a Brewmaster’s Table, five-star chefs from Mexican resorts and a Pop-Up Book Spot, where visitors can meet Houston-area cookbook authors during the Sip and Stroll.
Visit Sugar Land
Much of Visit Sugar Land’s push to market the city has taken place in the digital realm, where comprehensive packages and photo tours are available.
A new interactive map called “Shop Sugar Land” lets browsers explore the more than 900 restaurants and shopping venues in the city; a visitor’s guide highlights events, attractions and area hotels; and an online brochure identifies points of interest.
“What we’re looking to do is much more than getting people to come here for a day trip,” Brown said. “We want people to know all that Sugar Land has to offer.”