By John Egan
Move over, Los Angeles and Miami. Houston ranks as the fastest-growing destination in North America for international visitors.
According to this year's MasterCard Global Destination Cities Index, Houston is the only major North American city to see a double-digit average annual growth rate (10.9 percent) for international visitors since 2009.
These cities sit behind Houston on the MasterCard index:
- Los Angeles (7.8 percent)
- Miami (7.5 percent)
- New York (6 percent)
- San Francisco (5.9 percent)
- Toronto (4.3 percent)
- Boston (3.9 percent)
- Vancouver (3.4 percent)
- Chicago (3 percent)
- Montreal (2.9 percent)
Other North American cities included in the 2015 index are Atlanta, Dallas and Philadelphia.
MasterCard estimates international visitors will pump $2.2 billion into the Houston economy in 2015.
Contributing to the influx of international visitors into Houston is the addition of international flights - particularly to and from Latin America and Asia - at both George Bush International Airport and William P. Hobby Airport. A $156 million international terminal is under construction at Hobby, while a new international terminal is in the works at Bush Intercontinental.
"The sheer number of business and tourism possibilities international carriers find in Houston is very enticing," said Mario C. Diaz, director of the Houston Airport System. "The goal of the Houston Airport System is to connect the people, business, cultures and economies of the world to Houston ... ."
Diaz said Bush Intercontinental, which serves over 70 destinations outside the US, saw a record number of international travelers - more than 9.8 million - in 2014. That's nearly double the airport's international passenger traffic in 2000. He said travel between Houston and Latin America, Africa, Asia and the Middle East is on the rise.
"We anticipate more growth to Latin America in 2015, and there are longer-term opportunities for additional services to Asia, Africa and Europe," Molly Waits, director of air service development for the airport system, said in October.
The opening in October of Hobby's international terminal is expected to generate another 1.6 million passengers a year on top of the record-setting nearly 12 million passengers who came through the airport in 2014. Ahead of the terminal's completion, Southwest Airlines already has launched international flights from Hobby.
"Houston is a key player on the global economic stage and, as such, it's extremely important that we offer a broad level of connectivity at our airports," Houston Mayor Annise Parker said.
Learn more about planning your next meeting or event in Houston at www.visithoustontexas.com/meetings/