Officials: Tourism a major driver of Grapevine economic growth

Today, Grapevine is known as a destination for many tourists who are looking to indulge in family fun or have an adult getaway. The small town brings in so many tourists that per capita the city’s hotel occupancy tax revenue outranks some of the biggest cities in the state including Dallas, Austin, San Antonio and Fort Worth.

Additionally, the increase in visitors is bringing in a record amount of sales tax revenue. City officials said sales tax revenue continues to beat expectations and this year’s revenue is projected to be the highest in city history.

Leigh Lyons, communication manager for Grapevine Conventions and Visitors Bureau, said a large portion of the city’s success in growing its revenue comes from its ability to attract tourists from throughout the world.

“Tourism is a huge economic driver for the city,” she said. “Eighty-three percent of sales tax collected is paid for by visitors. Tourism brings folks in, and in turn they are staying in the hotels, shopping in the stores, dining in the restaurants and visiting the attractions. They are paying sales tax, which is a huge factor in bringing that revenue into the city.”

Having worked for the CVB for almost 30 years, Executive Director Paul W. McCallum said he remembers the days when Grapevine was not a destination city for tourists and had nothing more to offer than agriculture.

“Grapevine is the oldest town in Tarrant County and has always been considered an agriculture city,” he said. “As recently as the ’90s there was still plenty of farmland and grazing land in Grapevine, as hard as it is to imagine today. You didn’t have to go too far from Main Street to find cows grazing or cotton growing.”

McCallum said city officials decided in the ’80s to build on Grapevine’s heritage and began the planning of bringing large attractions to the city.

It was not until 1997, when Grapevine Mills arrived, that they started to see their plan come to fruition, he said.

“The idea of attracting a mall was very important, and that was the first thing that was pursued vigorously,” he said. “So kind of the turning point was Grapevine Mills; along with that we were able to attract more hotels. We had the idea that if you could attract hotels you would attract more people; more people would attract more retail and restaurants.”

Since Grapevine Mills opened the city has been able to bring in large hotel attractions such as the Gaylord Texan Hotel & Convention Center, Embassy Suites/Outdoor World and Great Wolf Lodge.

Officials: Tourism a major driver of Grapevine economic growthAttracting visitors

Having Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, the fourth-largest airport in the world with more than 2,000 daily flights, in Grapevine’s backyard attracts many tourists to the city, Lyons said. She said in FY 2014-15 the Grapevine Visitors Shuttle serviced more than 64,000 passengers from the airport and hotels.

However, when the airport first opened in 1974, McCallum said the city saw almost no changes in development or tourism.

“Things were pretty quiet out here,” he said. “Even though the airport had opened, much of the development that people thought would come didn’t come. So Grapevine was for all intents and purposes just a small little country town.”

Despite the lack of tourists, McCallum said the city did find a way to get people from the surrounding areas to the city in the form of festivals.

“The festivals were started as a way to get people from the Metroplex to come to Grapevine because otherwise people had no reason to come here,” McCallum said. “It became important to us to develop more festivals and celebrate all of the holidays.”

With the holidays approaching, Lyons said the city will have many visitors.

“Grapevine was officially designated by the Texas state Senate as the Christmas Capital of Texas,” she said. “So events begin in mid-November and run through early January. We see a lot of our tourists [when they] come in to watch the Parade of Lights, visit the Gaylord for ICE or to participate in other Christmas activities around the city.”

Martha Neibling, director of marketing and public relations for the Gaylord, said its annual Lone Star Christmas events bring in a large number of tourists.

“We have nearly a million visitors come through the doors each year between our convention groups/meetings, leisure travelers, holiday event attendees and locals enjoying the [outlet mall],” she said. “ICE alone brings in approximately 300,000 visitors each year.”

With 11 wineries in the city, Ladd Biro, co-owner of Grapevine Wine Tours, said there are many tourists who come to the city to explore the wineries.

“We have 200 to 250 people a week on our wine tours,” Biro said. “We stay popular year-round, and we have been told by the CVB that they think [the wine tours] have dramatically increased the attention that people both locally and nationally are giving North Texas wineries.”

Biro said it is not just the tourists who are interested in the attractions in the city, but residents as well.

“When we (Biro and his partner) first got into this we thought it was going to be heavily skewed toward out-of-towners who were staying at the hotels and visiting the conventions for business, but it’s closer to 50-50 really.”

Tourism serves as catalyst

Tourism is not just good for sales tax revenue—it also serves as a plus for attracting new businesses, said Bob Farley, Grapevine director of economic development

“Tourism is part of what makes Grapevine, Grapevine,” he said. “It helps to create a brand. A lot of communities spend quite a few resources to get people to pay attention to them to recognize that they are a special place. And a lot of our [notoriety] has come by word of mouth and tourism because we have so many things that have stimulated repeat business, whether it’s the festivals or ICE at Gaylord.”

Neibling said the city’s attractions are one reason the Gaylord chose to locate in Grapevine over other cities.

“We chose the location for two different reasons,” she said. “One, the destination of Grapevine, which offers lake activities, shopping, restaurants, [and] wineries [and] two, its close proximity to DFW Airport and its central location between Dallas and Fort Worth.”

Lyons said bringing in more large tourist-like attractions such as Great Wolf Lodge, Embassy Suites/Outdoor World and the Gaylord helps to stimulate other business industries.

“Another benefit is there are 28,000 hospitality employees in Grapevine—think about how many jobs are created by the Grapevine hospitality industry,” she said. “It touches people in ways you might not think about like gas stations, pool-cleaning services for their pool maintenance—all kinds of businesses that are needed for hospitality.”

Can the city support more?

Grapevine has more than 5,000 hotel rooms available for guests, but city officials said they are still open to bringing in more hotels.

Farley said at some point in the future there may be a cut-off point for the amount of hotels and entertainment attractions, but for now the city is still open to bringing in more.

“Entertainment and hospitality will never, ever fall off the radar screen,” he said. “Our occupancy rates here remain very high, and typically an investment trigger for hotels is consistent occupancy and revenue. I think as long as that continues there will always be a certain demand built up for additional hotel investment, just maybe different brands.”

Farley said he does not believe that more hospitality attractions will take away from new corporate ventures.

“We will look at any quality investment that’s out there,” he said. “I think what’s nice about hospitality in Grapevine is that if we do get more corporate [ventures] they will go together like hand and glove. With more corporate businesses that come to the city the more demand you’ll need for hotels, because they have to have somewhere to stay and host their conventions and meetings. They support each other.”