In 2020, Holiday Inn Express & Suites Leander opened, making it the first and only hotel in Leander, and kickstarting the city’s collection of hotel occupancy tax. Before the hotel in Leander opened, visitors were staying in Cedar Park or North Austin and making a drive to Leander.
Leander Director of Economic Development Cameron Goodman said the city has prioritized hotel tax funds—which can only be spent on tourism—because they also benefit businesses and increase city services.
Additionally, in 2021, the Texas Legislature passed House Bill 4103, which allows Leander to capture the state’s share of hotel occupancy tax and sales tax on a new hotel •and conference center. This legislation would allow the city to collect this funding for a period of 10 years and use it to help pay for the cost of the hotel and conference center as well as infrastructure related to its use, Goodman said.
He said the city looks forward to the development of more, larger hotels now that state funding is available.
“We’ve taken a stronger focus on [tourism] in the last two years,” he said. “House Bill 4103 was a really big achievement for us to be able to go after a full-service hotel and conference center.”
Bringing in tourism
In 2021, Leander spent roughly $83,000 of HOT funds to build its tourism industry. Funding was spent on advertising, historical preservation, and signage to direct traffic to sights and attractions.
Additionally, the Leander Chamber of Commerce & Visitors Center has several campaigns and programs, both new and ongoing, to generate tourism interest in Leander.
In May, the chamber kicked off its wildflower campaign to create wildflower fields for people to visit in the spring. The chamber is also working to revamp the Trail of Trains, which was established to commemorate the city’s railroad history.
Although these are newer attempts to boost the tourism industry, Leander has always had things to do and places to visit, chamber President Bridget Brandt said. The marketing for these activities is now more intentional than before.
"What’s changed is the way that we market Leander and that effort we are putting in to create awareness for the city of Leander as a destination, as a place to visit,” she said. “Of course the [hotel tax] funds money has made it possible for us to [advertise Leander].”
Along with campaign and program efforts toward generating tourism in the city, annual events in Leander have attracted tourists, Brandt said.
One of Leander’s most popular events is the Old Town Street Festival. In 2021, this event had between 25,000-30,000 attendees and generated $1.87 million in revenue, according to chamber data.
Additionally, the Leander Liberty Fest and the Old Town Christmas Festival, although intended for locals, still bring in a lot of people from outside the city, Brandt said. In 2021, the Liberty Fest drew 6,000 attendees, up from 1,120 in 2020. However, attendance in 2020 was restricted due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“People in Georgetown, Cedar Park, Austin, Liberty Hill, we want to bring them here for something that’s different than what they have in their community,” Goodman said.
The city of Leander plans to continue to add more destinations, or places people are willing to travel to see, Goodman said.
“Visitors come to your community; they dine at the restaurants; they shop at our stores; they spend the night in the hotels; and that brings in outside dollars to the community that didn’t exist before,” Goodman said. “So it’s kind of an injection of money into our community, which is great.”
Tourism-related attractions in the pipeline include the mixed-use development Northline; Leander Springs, which has the Crystal Lagoon and a hotel planned for the project; and the rejuvenation of Old Town Leander.
The Northline development, near the Capital MetroRail Leander Station, is anticipated to draw people from Austin, Goodman said. Phase 1 of the Northline development is expected to be open later this year.
The chamber also hopes to attract an event center to the city, which would bring conferences to Leander, as well as a mega hotel with resort-style amenities.
“When you’re talking about tourism, these things might not be the big tourism, but it’s the little tourism,” Mayor Christine DeLisle said. “We’re pulling in people from outside the city who are going to ... have dinner, and if we’re lucky, they’ll also run into one of our stores and continue to contribute sales tax to the city.”