As 2014 came to an end, authorities in Branson tourism spoke of highly of the 2014 tourism season and were optimistic about next year.
“Overall, the country is seeing an economic recovery and I think we’re benefiting from that,” said Tourism Community Enhancement District Chairwoman Ann McDowell. “I think when our key businesses do good there’s a trickle down effect.”
The TCED saw a record year for its sales tax revenues. The latest available numbers, from January to October, show the TCED generated $6.4 million in 2014, a 2.5 percent increase over 2013 during the same time frame. Figures for December won’t be received until February 2015.
Lynn Berry, Branson/Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce communications director, said sales tax revenue was up for the year slightly, which bodes well for 2015.
“With everything we’ve had that’s now and coming to Branson — Million Dollar Quartet at the Welk (Resort Branson), a lot of improvement happening in downtown and beginning next year on 76,” Berry said. “There’s a lot to be enthusiastic about.”
The city of Branson also had a good year, setting its highest retail sales tax revenue in its recorded history at $10,735,178, a 3 percent increase over 2013.
Branson also saw tourism tax receipts increase in every category — amusements, theaters, hotel and motel, campgrounds, overnight rental, and food — over 2013.
“In our personal business, we had a good year,” Branson Mayor Raeanne Presley said about the Presley’s County Jubilee. “We’re really pleased with the year. I think the gas prices at the end of the year helped all of us. Every time that happens, that’s good news for Branson.”
Presley recounted good national press coverage for Silver Dollar City’s Outlaw Run and from being named a top 25 destination by TripAdvisor.com.
Lisa Rau, director of public relations for Silver Dollar City, said 2014 was a challenging year, but thanks to a late-season push, they reached attendance goals.
“The last few months of the year has been a true comeback story for the park,” Rau said. “We had a tremendous surge of attendance, which was outstanding after such a challenging year.”
Rau said Silver Dollar City and White Water, both owned by Herschend Family Entertainment, were down due to the inclement weather which plagued the area through April.
“Both parks came back late in the year, but Silver Dollar City was down an average of 50,000 visitors as late as August,” Rau said. “But due to the late push, we ended up hitting the 1.9 million visitor mark for the year, which was our goal.”
Rau pointed to stellar numbers for An Old Time Christmas featuring Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer leading a new light parade, as well as several top 10 attendance days in August, including a single day record.
“Silver Dollar City had its biggest attendance day in our 54-year history by topping 24,000 visitors,” Silver Dollar City General Manager Brad Thomas said. “That very big day we had also culminated a week where we drew 100,000 folks, and for Silver Dollar City, topping 100,000 folks in one seven-day period is a pretty big number.”
The park also nabbed a few more accolades late in 2014, including its first-ever Guinness World Record by having the steepest wooden roller coaster, being named to CNN Travel’s “Best Places to See Christmas Lights in the US,” USA Today’s 10 Best awards for “Best Public Lights Display,” and was spotlighted with Branson in the Fodor’s Travel list of “Top 10 U.S. Towns with Huge Christmas Celebrations.”
Silver Dollar City also announced plans for this year, including Fireman’s Landing, the new $8 million development set to feature 10 new attractions: six rides and four interactive play zones for children and families. In addition to Fireman’s Landing, park officials also announced that the Harlem Globetrotters will give regular performances at the park for six weeks in 2015.
Presley said the city is budgeting conservatively for 2015, as is typical, was optimistic about visitation with new attractions coming to the area.
“Certainly new announcements — some of them won’t come next year — the fish hatchery expansion is going to be a big deal when it’s done, and the purchase of the Grand Palace, but (also) retail. Several new retail stores and restaurants will open next year which will be positive for visitors and residents.”
McDowell said the TCED board and its financial oversight committee similarly have optimism for a successful 2015.
“That’s a little unusual for our board and our financial oversight committee to be so positive and optimistic, but they are feeling really good and really strong and feeling next year is going to be a good year,” she said. “We have to be flexible to adjust if that’s not what comes through. Their feeling is if we don’t spend it up front, we’re not going to have the year we could have. Their thought is, ‘Let’s not hold back and have a bunch of money in the bank at the end of the year, that’s not what this tax is for.’”
Moving forward, however, McDowell stressed the importance of avoiding complacency and improving the Branson product.
“Marketing can only do so much,” she said. “It takes the whole community to embrace change and really celebrate every new idea that can stay relevant and attract newer, younger visitors to our area.
“Product change, development and enhancement is going to make a big difference for us in the future I think, and there are quite a few efforts in that direction. I think next year is the year we have to get serious about saying, ‘We’ve got to get better.’ Visitors never want what they’ve already had. They’re never saying, ‘Just give me the same old.’”
To that end, McDowell said a quote from retired U.S. Army Chief of Staff Gen.. Eric Shinseki: “If you don’t like change, you’re going to like irrelevance even less.”
“That’s really what you’re looking at,” McDowell said.