By Julia Vergara | Staff Writer
The amount of tourism in Waco has increased rapidly in the last few years, landing the city a spot on TripAdvisor’s Top U.S. Destinations on the Rise for 2018.
Waco was second on TripAdvisor’s list, appearing just after Kapa’a, Hawaii and before Wilmington, N.C.
Carla Pendergraft, director of marketing for the Waco Convention & Visitors Bureau said when Magnolia Market opened in 2015, visitor totals rose from 606,093 to 789,140.
“We [Waco] went from almost 800,000 visitors to 2 million to 2.5 million in three years,” Pendergraft said.
Pendergraft said the Waco Convention & Visitors Bureau receives monthly attendance figures from all of the major attractions in Waco then adds them all together to calculate the city’s visitor total. While some visitors may be double-counted due to visiting multiple places, the Bureau use this information to monitor tourist growth from year to year.
Currently, Waco has the second-highest hotel occupancy in Texas after Austin, Pendergraft said.
Tourism is at its highest in the months of March, July and October. March is the number one month for tourism in Waco — mostly because of spring break –– Pendergraft said. In March 2017 alone, Waco had over 300,000 visitors.
“People who have families are off and available to travel [during spring break] and Waco’s attractions are really family-oriented,” Pendergraft said. “So Six Flags might not be perfect for your really young kids, but the things that Waco has are good for pretty much any age.”
Pendergraft said some of Waco’s biggest attractions include the Texas Ranger Hall of Fame and Museum, the Waco Mammoth National Monument, the Dr Pepper Museum, the Mayborn Museum and the Cameron Park Zoo.
Many of those attraction’s visitor totals range from 100,000 to 200,000, with the exception of the Cameron Park Zoo which receives over 300,000, Pendergraft said.
“In terms of attendance, if you get about 100,000 a year, you’re a pretty big attraction for any town,” Pendergraft said.
On TripAdvisor’s website, the Cameron Park Zoo is listed as number one on the list of top things to do in Waco.
Duane McGregor, marketing and public relations manager for the Cameron Park Zoo said that the zoo’s attendance has been constantly growing since they opened the Brazos River Country exhibit in 2005.
McGregor said the Cameron Park Zoo has not only grown their reputation as a safe, fun place for the family but is also gaining international recognition for its conservation work.
For the past couple of years, 60 percent of the zoo’s visitors have come from places 50-plus miles away, McGregor said. Most visitors have been coming from places such as the Austin area, the Dallas area and the Killeen-Fort Hood area.
“I think Waco has always had a lot to offer but people have always kind of viewed it as a gas stop on 35 and now that they’re coming and discovering all the things Waco does have, I think they’re really liking what they see,” McGregor said.