Branson tourism revenue down

Wednesday, September 3, 2003

BRANSON, Mo. -- Revenue from tourism in this southwest Missouri resort town is down so far this year, but officials are optimistic about the upcoming fall and Christmas seasons, normally the best time of year for attracting visitors.

Spring was a challenge for Branson because of the depressed national economy, concerns about the war in Iraq, a plethora of rainy weekends in May and June, and devastating area tornadoes.

"It seemed like we had everything but locusts," said Lisa Rau, spokeswoman for the Herschend Family Entertainment Corp., which owns the Silver Dollar City theme park.

However, sales tax revenue in June was up 9.5 percent over June last year, and although only March and June have seen tax revenues above last year's total, business owners say July and August were also strong.

Still, if tourists don't hit the roads this fall, Branson could face the first year of flat revenue in more than a decade, said Ross Summers, director of the Branson/Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce.

Although there's no way to count visitors to Branson, Summers said estimates indicate there have been about the same number as last year, but they came later and spent less. Last year's estimates for total visitors ranged between 7 and 8 million.

This year, families didn't start taking vacations in full force until early July, Summers said. And average spending based on interview surveys show they spent $53 a day this year for incidentals, compared with $63 a day last year, Summers said.

"We're not used to this kind of year," Summers said. "Businesses have had to adjust. It's hard for us to swallow, and not all changes have been pleasant."

Given the travel industry's nationwide slump, Summers said, "I believe if we have a flat year, we've probably done very well."

Since 1993, sales tax revenue has climbed each year for a total of $12.1 million last year. The strongest months are generally September through November.

According to Branson's tourism tax revenue, hotel revenue from January through May -- the latest figure available -- is down 9 percent compared the same period last year. There are 198 lodging facilities in town with 17,427 rooms.

Income at the city's 46 theaters has fared even worse, down 14 percent from January through May, according to tourism tax figures.

Onstage Entertainment, the company that owns the Country Tonite and Legends in Concert theaters, has seen the empty seats.

Country Tonite cut back the number of performances and laid off a few staffers during the spring, but the theater is gearing up now that its fall schedule of daily performances has begun.

"It was painful, but right now, we're calling everyone back," said spokeswoman Crystal McClary.

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