Houston leverages its international reach to make stronger business connections

Houston is the fourth largest city in the United States, which often surprises visitors. Much like comedian Rodney Dangerfield, it seems like Houston “gets no respect.” But the growing recognition of Houston’s global business opportunities could change that perception.

The Houston Airport System has historically experienced strong passenger air service to Europe and Latin America. And now the Asian market has received a number of boosts, such as Air China Beijing’s direct flights to Houston four to seven times a week, United’s additional daily flight from Houston to Tokyo, daily direct flights from Istanbul to Houston on Turkish Airlines and direct flights from Seoul to Houston on Korean Air.

So how did Houston’s leadership grow these opportunities with China and other Asian markets?

Perseverance and vision

One of the reasons Houston is a great city is the perseverance and vision of its leaders. A direct flight from China to Houston had been discussed among community leaders since the early 2000s. It took the Houston Airport System working alongside business and government leaders to get a deal in place.

“We were very confident that the Houston-Beijing route would do well, primarily because of the strong economic and cultural ties that exist between the two destinations,” says Mario Diaz, director of the City of Houston Department of Aviation. “We knew that the demand existed, and we knew that Air China was capable of developing a strong, personal connection with the people of Houston.”

Preparation, timing and patience

Houston’s vibrant economy and cultural diversity played an important role in Air China’s decision to enter the Houston market in 2013 and expand its footprint in the city and the region as a whole.

“Strong demand from business and leisure travelers to China and destinations in Asia has accelerated the implementation of our growth strategy for Houston and the south central region of the United States,” says Zhihang Chi, vice president and general manager of North America for Air China. “The additional flights will provide more options and flexibility to international travelers, allowing them to have more convenient connections to cities within China and beyond via our Beijing hub.”

Long-term relationships

Establishing long-term relationships has been important throughout this process. The Houston Airport System has cultivated strong relationships with Air China, the Civil Aviation Administration of China, travel agencies throughout China and the media.

The Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau has helped support airport efforts for many years. It’s managed the travel agency and media relationships overseas through their third-party affiliations in China, which included a training program for Chinese media and travel agencies to learn about Houston.

Support from the Greater Houston Partnership, the mayor’s office and various city council members during previous trade missions to Asia developed business connections that were helpful in establishing this new service.

Houston is an entrepreneurial city with limitless opportunities. The increase in international interest in the city is a sure signal of the city’s infinite possibilities. Onward and upward, Houston!