The Woodlands’ tourism board is focusing on a new strategy to highlight restaurants to help grow new mixed-beverage and hotel occupancy tax collections to bring more revenue in to support local tourism and events.

During The Woodlands Convention and Visitors Bureau meeting Jan. 18, board members voted to approve researching new restaurant initiatives, such as new festivals along the waterway, cultural exchange events and “dining trails” visitors can follow to help create an “extended-stay destination.”

The program also aims to boost hotel tax revenue during the slower winter and spring months.

Two-minute impact

Elizabeth Eddins, executive director of the CVB and Visit The Woodlands, presented a plan to highlight restaurants within The Woodlands to the CVB board Jan. 18.

The project was granted $25,000 by the board to begin researching the best methods for bringing more attention to restaurants and encourage visitors to spend multiple days in The Woodlands. She said projects such as dining trails, which create routes for residents to try various meals from restaurants, are part of the concept.

The funding approved during the meeting will go toward establishing a time frame and scale for the main projects, which will then be brought before the CVB for approval. The working name for the new project is Dining The Woodlands.

“Dining The Woodlands will really help to elevate and to create The Woodlands, Texas, as a premier destination for fine dining in Texas nationally and internationally,” Eddins said.

Planned initiatives
  • A new dining-focused festival along the waterway
  • A summer 2024 international cultural cuisine exchange
  • Tracking restaurant traffic from dining trails
  • Establishing influencer-focused media events at locally owned restaurants
The background

The effort to spotlight dining in The Woodlands in 2024 follows the implementation of House Bill 5311 in May 2023, which allowed the township to collect mixed-beverage taxes. As of May, the township now collects 10.7% of mixed-beverage sales tax that previously went directly to the state.

In the 2023 annual financial report presented to the township board Jan. 24, the first month of collections from mixed-beverage sales was $117,608, 25% greater than expected, township Chief Financial Officer Kellan Shaw said. According to township projections, the mixed-beverage tax collection is set to generate an additional $1.23 million in revenue in 2024, which will be used to fund tourism and marketing initiatives such as Dining The Woodlands.
Breaking it down

Hotel occupancy tax collections in 2023 were higher in summer months when major events occurred, including the Memorial Hermann Ironman Texas triathlon, Insperity Invitational golf tournament and Chevron Golf Championship, according to information from the township.

The proposed new dining initiatives would aim to increase HOT collection in other months of the year such as January through March and September, when HOT collections are historically lower.

Township officials said increasing collections from tourism-based methods such as HOT and sales tax collections allows the township to reduce the property tax rate required to balance the yearly budget.
The impact

By promoting restaurants and dining ventures, CVB board chair Brad Bailey said the project could also help hotel occupancy outside of large tourism events, such as the Ironman triathlon in April and the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion concert series, which typically runs from May to October.

Jennifer Gohagan, general manager of The Woodlands Waterway Marriott Hotel and Convention Center, said the hotel is also looking to capitalize on food-focused tourism by creating a once-a-week specialty menu to encourage guests to stay an extra night to enjoy a variety of professionally prepared food.

“We were kind of brainstorming with my chef at the hotel and [said] ... what if we did a Sunday prix fixe menu like they do during [Houston] Restaurant Week, and we offer it every Sunday, and we call it Sunday supper,” Gohagan said.

HOT collections for the township are still rising following a pandemic-related decline, according to the most recent report provided to the township Jan. 25. Collections for 2023 are expected to exceed the originally budgeted revenue of $8.92 million—an increase from 2022 collections, which totaled $8.61 million.

HOT collections are spent toward additional tourism and marketing efforts for the township, which then work to boost sales tax collections from shopping and dining.

“It’s really been a great opportunity for us to expand what our idea is of dining and then to really start creating some customized solutions,” Eddins said.

What they’re saying

“We want to immerse people in the experience of being in The Woodlands," said Elizabeth Eddins, executive director of Visit The Woodlands. "You’re not just having a meal, you’re having an experience; you’re having that occasion.”

“We’ve got a great base of residents and businesses in the area that do support our restaurants," said Brad Bailey, a members of the board of directors in The Woodlands Township. "So the more that we help them, the better it gets and more in tandem with our hotels and how we can sell that and the experience that [hotels] have as well.”

“​​How we get [visitors to The Woodlands] to stay overnight? Because that’s what it’s all about," said Jennifer Gohagan, general manager, of The Woodlands Waterway Marriott Hotel and Convention Center. "So I think there’s a ton that we can do with this.”

Stay tuned

No firm timeline or costs have been established by the CVB for the restaurant initiative. However, projects associated with Dining The Woodlands will be brought before the CVB board for approval as needed, Eddins said. The next CVB meeting is Feb. 21.

With the new mixed-beverage tax, an additional stream of revenue will now be available to use for marketing and tourism efforts in The Woodlands. An additional component to HB 5311 created an economic development zone for hotels within the township, and officials said negotiations with hotels are ongoing as of press time.

Visit The Woodlands President Nick Wolda said there is no established time frame for when the hotel portion of HB 5311 will become effective, which could generate an additional $2 million in revenue for the township based on fiscal impact analysis from the Texas Legislature. The original deadline for hotels to sign on was Feb. 1, but the timeframe has been extended with no clear final date, Wolda said.

Meanwhile, events such as Taste of the Town, which took place Jan. 25, continue to offer a venue for restaurants to find new customers. About 40 local restaurants offered samples of their cuisine at the event, which is presented by The Woodlands Area Chamber of Commerce.