Travel Weekly chewed the fat with longstanding Grapevine Convention & Visitors Bureau boss and Aussie expat Paul McCallum to find out how he ended up in the Texan city, what sets it apart from other destinations, and how Grapevine has adapted to the new normal while still remaining attractive to travellers and agents alike.
Travel Weekly: As an Australian, what brought you to Grapevine originally?
Paul McCallum: I originally came to Fort Worth, Grapevine’s neighbour to the west, to expand my destination development marketing skills with hopes of returning to Australia for a bigger role there, only to find an opportunity to come to Grapevine where there was a blank canvas. Few people get the opportunity to build a destination through the process of preserving the history and heritage that was already there, and curate a destination.
TW: What’s changed since you first moved to Grapevine in 1987?
PM: It’s not what has changed – it’s what has been added. You still have that wonderful close cohesiveness of a small country town with the addition of an incredible offering of attractions and entertainment.
TW: What do you think draws Aussies to Grapevine? What are some of the unique experiences that can only be had in Grapevine and Texas?
PM: The small Texas town ambiance of Grapevine draws people to it because you can have a big city experience while still feeling the comfort of being in a country town. Plus, Texas dining, exceptional shopping, unique galleries, small craft winery tasting rooms, breweries and distilleries, not to mention year-round calendar of very fun festivals and events.
TW: What do you feel is Grapevines biggest drawcard?
PM: The heritage of this community that resides in Historic Downtown Grapevine, listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It truly is the heart of our community. Whether you come to Grapevine for the wine experience or are a train lover looking to get a glimpse of the Historic Grapevine Vintage Railroad.
If you love art, Grapevine’s artisans and art galleries may be the draw, or maybe just planning dinner in Historic Downtown Grapevine. No matter what brings you to Grapevine, you find your experience enhanced by all that Historic Downtown Grapevine has to offer, and it brings visitors back time and time again.
TW: Do you have a favourite wine you’d recommend for first-time visitors?
PM: I would recommend that first-time visitors spend a couple of days on Grapevine’s Urban Wine Trail, experiencing each of the winery tasting rooms. Depending on their preference, whether it is light and fruit-forward or a bold, full-bodied Cabernet, all come from grapes that have been kissed by the Texas sun, washed in glimmering morning dewdrops and cooled by a gentle breeze, allowing the fruit to take up the Texas flavour. It is then pressed into a wonderful wine for you to enjoy.
TW: How did Grapevine earn the title of Christmas Capital of Texas?
PM: Every year for 20 years, Grapevine kept expanding its offerings during Christmas until we got to the point where we could acknowledge 1,400 Christmas-themed events in 40 days from mid-November through the first weekend of January. Millions of twinkling lights, the largest lighted Christmas parade in North Texas, live holiday entertainment, classic Christmas movies at the Historic Palace Theatre, a magnificent ICE! exhibit at Gaylord Texan Resort, Christmas Wine Trains and the North Pole Express on board the Grapevine Vintage Railroad, Christmas exhibits in our museums and galleries and snow in several locations in Grapevine. With all of this, the Texas State Senate declared Grapevine the official Christmas Capital of Texas.
TW: Grapevine is well-established in the domestic market for meetings and events. What makes Grapevine such a great destination for MICE?
PM: The perfect combination of Grapevine’s central location, world-class hotels with onsite meeting venues and unique attractions are what make Grapevine a great destination for MICE.
Just minutes from Dallas Fort Worth International Airport, you’ll find over 11,000 guest rooms and 92,000 square meters of meeting space, plus a vibrant, historic downtown perfect for enjoying outside of meeting hours.
TW: How has Grapevine’s destination marketing strategy changed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic?
PM: We just kept working. When shutdowns began here in Texas, the Grapevine Convention & Visitors Bureau immediately began calling on our attractions, hotels and restaurants to see what they were offering. We specifically wanted to know if they were offering curbside pick-up, what their modified hours were, and if there was anything they wanted us to promote on our website or social media channels. We updated the information online and to a GPS map daily so we could get it out to the public.
To attract visitors, we developed several campaigns. For convention sales, we created the ‘Come Together in Grapevine’ campaign, offering US$10 a night for groups booked in Grapevine anytime through December 2021. On the leisure side, we scheduled a travel agent blitz within our drive market, promoting summertime in Grapevine and special attraction and hotel rates. We also developed a US$10 rebate for travel agents who booked 20 or more rooms in Grapevine in a month’s time, between July 1 and September 30. We also worked closely with our hotel partners to help them curate special leisure offerings to attract the local and nearby drive market. In terms of leisure consumer marketing, we pushed out messaging that communicated “Grapevine’s open for business”.
TW: How will the COVID-19 pandemic change the way travellers experience Grapevine?
PM: The big change is how we will offer up the same experience visitors are accustomed to getting in Grapevine. The Grapevine Convention & Visitors Bureau has also partnered with the Global Biorisk Advisory Council (GBAC) to assist all Grapevine hotels, multiple attractions, meeting venues and historic Main Street through the accreditation process to become GBAC STAR accredited, ensuring Grapevine continues to be a safe destination to visit and commence. More safety measures are in place due to COVID-19, including hand sanitising stations, employees wearing masks and developing new standards to allow for social distancing.
At our museums, we have adapted to a new scheduling system instead of the open gallery/attraction system we had before. For more hands-on attractions, visitors now sign up for a time/session and can rotate through zones which are cleaned between each visitor session. We are also limiting numbers at local attractions such as the Palace Theatre and the Grapevine Vintage Railroad to provide ample space between seats for families to feel comfortable and safe.
Restaurants and attractions have found ways to be more creative during the pandemic as well, by offering special to-go meal and cocktail kits or fun family activities to do at home. I believe this is a trend that may continue as an added level of service.
TW: Do you see the road trips gaining in popularity as a result of the pandemic?
PM: For the upcoming year, we definitely foresee an increase in road trips. Many people do not feel comfortable getting on an airplane just yet, but still want to plan a vacation nearby. We anticipate the old-fashioned family road trip to make a huge comeback over the next year or two.
As we make more progress on a COVID-19 vaccine and treatment, people will eventually feel more comfortable and return to flying. It’s just a matter of time.
TW: From a MICE perspective, has Grapevine pivoted to provide virtual events in place of large-scale ones?
Grapevine has pivoted to provide virtual events and virtual site inspections in place of large-gathered events. However, Grapevine is very convinced that this is just a short-term situation and the necessity for the virtual and Zoom world will soon pass. When the pandemic is over, people will be eager to return to large in-person conventions, festivals and social interactions.
TW: With Grapevine having recently hosted a virtual painting party for Aussies, what other ways has the bureau been engaging travellers and travel agents?
PM: 2020 has definitely been the year of the virtual webinar. We conducted four webinars for the Australian/New Zealand market and are planning a series of short virtual famil tour with events segments for travel agents this fall.
We’ve also been creating fun itinerary ideas to share with travel agents for when they are ready to start planning US travel again.
TW: Are there any misconceptions Aussie travel agents have of Grapevine or the state of Texas?
PM: Just the same as travel agents outside of Australia thinking it’s just an outback with vast dry deserts, when Australia offers everything from tropical rain forests to beautiful beaches. There are probably Aussie travel agents who think Texas is vast desert with tumbleweeds blowing about, when Texas has 590 kilometres of coastline offering beautiful beaches and over 7,000 lakes. The Texas frontier has everything from luscious green, magnificent pine trees in the east part of the state to scenic desert, mountainous areas in the west.
Texas is also the fifth largest producer of wine, with three major wine regions to explore.
TW: What is coming up in Grapevine, in terms of new tourism developments?
PM: Plans are underway to build a new, world-class, 1,020-room resort with over 17,000 square meters of entertainment space including indoor and outdoor waterparks, an arcade, mini-golf, laser tag, rock climbing, spa, multiple dining outlets and meeting space, managed by Stand Rock Hospitality. This will be the third waterpark resort in Grapevine, joining Great Wolf Lodge and Gaylord Texan Resort’s Paradise Springs.