04 MAY 20115:  A friendly Austin invasion sidled up to the Pravda Vodka Bar in Toronto's east end the other night. Unusual, perhaps, but then again if you’re a Texan city that’s adding vodka making to your repertory, hosting an industry reception at a vodka bar makes sense.

There was also cause to lift a glass to the new Air Canada route that starts service from Toronto next month.

As Steve Genovesi, senior vice-president of sales and services with the Austin Convention and Visitors Bureau, says, the state capital has been attracting huge meetings and conferences as of late. That’s for sure.

For the past 28 years, come every March, the streets of Austin transform into an incubator for innovators. It’s where VCs (that’s lingo for venture capitalists) hobnob with the best of them. South by Southwest (a.k.a. SXSW) has sparked creative careers and heralded not only groundbreaking inventions but products that have produced seismic cultural shifts like Foursquare and Twitter.

Reps from the Austin Convention and Visitors Bureau were on hand including reps from various hotels.

Some highlights:

The Texas capital gets a new daily direct non-stop service from Toronto starting on May 18. The 75-seat CRJ aircraft has business and economy class configuration.

Meetings are big business. As Genovesi points out on the travel incentive side the city has been seeing those companies that used to book incentive travel at resorts now choosing Austin.

“They want a downtown feel where they could do food truck tours, music tours and we’re becoming a Mecca for our girlfriend getaways,” he says and adds Austin is becoming more popular as a weddings destination and also hosting bachelor parties.

New hotels

Agents will see a roster of new hotels in the high-end luxury category range expected to come on board in the next few years. By 2017 the city is expecting a 64 percent increase in room inventory with new hotel openings. “Occupancy pretty much every weekend is busy with festivals,” says Genovesi and adds it will continue to grow with such future openings as Kempinski, JW Marriott, Westin, and a new Fairmont property to name a few.

On the hotels scene, its location, location, location and a couple of new hotels can definitely boast this.

Situated overlooking the Lady Bird Lake, the 448-room Hyatt Regency Austin gets top marks.

“We do have a great location right on the lake in downtown Austin. From our property you can not only walk anywhere in downtown but you can also rent a kayak and a paddleboard and enjoy the time on the lake,” says John Hansen, sales manager with the Hyatt Regency Austin.

He adds that the property is currently undergoing room renovations stripping right back to the nails and will have a total new look and feel by the end of the year.

Fairmont Raffles Hotels International (FRHI) has huge plans too. The hole-in-the-ground adjacent to the convention centre will become the new home of the 1000-room Fairmont Austin scheduled to open in June 2017. What does this mean to the conventions crowd? “We will become Austin’s meetings hotel but what it also means is Austin will be able to take wider citywide programs because we’re adding an additional 1000 bedrooms. This will increase how big a conference can come to Austin,” says Michael Welsh, director of global accounts with FRHI Hotels & Resorts.

Music and Parks

Dubbed the “Live Music Capital of the World,” Austin has hundreds of music venues (at last count over 250) and just as many parks (230) that vie for your client’s leisure attention.

“How big is the city anyway?”

I was envisioning a huge sprawling footprint around the lake. “It’s quite compact,” Genovesi tells Travel Industry Today. “You can walk to anywhere in 15 minutes,” adds Hansen from the Hyatt Regency Austin.

Everywhere is walking distance, with music in the air, new hotels jumping on board and plenty of green space Air Canada’s new direct service has just made it simpler for Canadians to discover this next new southern destination and boy is it a hot one!!

AUSTIN
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Ilona Kauremszky

A regular contributor to Travel Industry Today, Ilona is a prize winning journalist whose writing pursuits have taken her around the globe.

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