The Branson/Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce and CVB is tasked with marketing the city of Branson in all its glory.
Even in 2020, they were able to continue to do just that. At the March 9 virtual Board of Aldermen meeting the chamber was able to present their year-end 2020 marketing report.
“Branson really has performed better than most cities; the city that I came from, Columbia, South Carolina, we were looking at visitation being down between 40-45%, Branson we’re projecting visitation is going to be down about 30% in 2020 and that’s coming off of 2019 which was one of the biggest years we’ve ever had in Branson,” said Branson/Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce & CVB President and CEO Jason Outman. “So, that’s actually a big compliment, not only to the chamber and CVB staff but it’s all those involved in the city to really make this a welcoming place to all these events.”
The presentation was given by the Branson/Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce and CVB Chief Marketing Officer Rachel Wood at the virtual March 9 meeting.
According to the presentation, key performance indicators showed:
- COVID-19 had a major impact on visitation in 2020. - Visitation is projected to be 6.3 million compared to 2019’s record setting 9.1 million visitors.
- Since 2012, Branson has seen a fairly steady increase in visitation until 2020. The strong decline due to COVID-19 will take time to recover from, however their nationwide research indicates that recovery is a matter of when, not if. Visitation was down 30.9% from 2019 numbers.
- All tax revenues tracked took a hit in 2020 with the Tourism Tax taking the biggest blow: the 1% City Sales Tax was down 15.5%; the Tourism Tax was down 35.2%; the TCED Tax was down 20.8%; the Stone County Tax was down 8.9%; and the Taney County Tax was down 8.2%.
- Branson’s room demand decreased by nearly 43% in 2020. However, room demand was also impacted due to only 41% of travelers staying in hotels in 2020, which was down from 51% in 2019.
“As I’m looking through some of the tax collections, actually some of our tax collections were only down 8%, which is again another tremendous saying,” said Outman. “I just received the January (2021) report (for the TCED), collections were up 9% over last year so we’re seeing a slight rebound there. But what Rachel, I think, is going to tell you today is that our visitor in 2020, they stayed longer and they spent more money. They spent more money per person and they spent more money as a party and actually if you compare it to the last five years, they spent more money than any time over the last five years and they spent it in 2020. So, we accomplished exactly what we wanted; we accomplished couples that came in the market with a higher income, spent more money and stayed here longer.”
According to the presentation, the behavioral profile showed:
- Core and primary market visitation increased in 2020 due to the pandemic causing regional travel to increase around the country. 37% of visits came from the outer markets.
- First time and repeat visitation in Branson remained steady in 2020 despite the change in travel behaviors due to the pandemic.
- There was an increase in leisure visits in 2020 by +4 points. Visitors are still taking more than two and a half months to make their decision to visit the area.
- Personal auto remained the most popular way to travel to Branson. Those who did fly favored the Springfield Airport, however the SGF saw a decline in 2020 due to the use of other airports in the region.
- Brochures, billboards and local coupon books remained the most used local media sources.
- Live shows remained Branson’s largest functional driver of visitation at 58%, Silver Dollar City placed second at 25% and shopping came in at 23%.
- Visitors are still seeing approximately three shows during their trip. Live theater productions (78%) and dinners shows (49%) remained the most popular.
- Fewer than one in five visitors came on a timeshare visit. However, 2020 saw a sharp increase in other types of timeshares with the vast majority being long-time owners of timeshares in the area.
- The majority of Branson visitors stayed overnight on their 2020 trip. There was a decline in hotel stay in 2020, however 41% of Branson visitors that stayed overnight stayed in a hotel/motel.
- Each party that visited Branson spent more money than ever in 2020. This is not surprising due to most of the people that traveled in 2020 came from higher income households. Party trip spending was approximately $1,063 while per person trip spending was approximately $335.
- Branson’s Net Promoter Score increased once again in 2020 to 65% due to a 2% shift of visitors from the ‘Neutral’ to ‘Promoter’ category.
- The intent to return to Branson held up its several year streak of 89%.
- Due to the pandemic, Branson visitors visited from a more regional location in 2020 with a seven point decline in visitors visiting from more than 300 miles.
In 2020 visitors placed importance on America’s Christmas Tree City and said it played 46% on their decision to visit; and 83% of visitors were in agreement that the Branson experience delivered on marketing position.
“We have excitement for the future and I just want to share a couple quick things why we’re excited: I just read a report by Destination Analysis, travel sentiment report and right now the willingness to travel is at a pandemic high of 60.6% so that’s meaning that almost 61% of the people are saying they’re beginning to have more willingness to travel throughout the United States and right now almost 38% of those people have begun planning a trip. So, we’re starting to see that the business is picking up,” said Outman.
“One of the things that’s going to put us in a great position, I know you already saw the Forbes ranking; they ranked us No.4 in the nation (‘The Top Ten Best Places In America To Travel Right Now And Avoid The Pandemic’ by Peter Lane Taylor) and that is why we’re seeing sentiment for us even higher than what you’re seeing in other areas around the country because they feel safe coming here. - We are looking at recovering faster than others because we are a leisure destination, because we have so much outdoor entertainment, because our theaters have done a tremendous job of being able to promote a safe show environment for our visitors that are coming to see a show.”
According to the presentation, the travel planning and expectations showed:
- Most travelers did not consider other destinations when considering Branson; those who did included: 6% for Pigeon Forge; 4% for Destin; 3% for Kansas City and Gulf Shores; 2% for St. Louis, Myrtle Beach and Wisconsin Dells; and 7% for other destinations.
- 2020 saw an increase in sources used to plan a visit to Branson; this could be due to travelers being unsure of what would be available during the pandemic.
- There continues to be an increase in visitors who own technology like smartphones, PCs and social media accounts.
- While more Branson visitors indicated they were using social media, the traditional types of social media haven’t increased much.
- In 2020, 43% of visitors looked up information on a smartphone or tablet prior to their visit.
Also included in the presentation was U.S. travel performance. The U.S. Travel Association forecasts that leisure travel will be down by 24% for final 2020 figures. They also forecast that it will grow rapidly for the next two years to make up for the losses. The U.S. Travel Association is also forecasting that business travel was impacted even more in 2020 and will take until 2022 to grow and make up for those losses.
“Obviously I wasn’t here in 2020 but the chance that I’ve had to review the staff here at the chamber and CVB, let me just say we have a tremendous staff and what I was able to read and see what they were able to accomplish through 2020, through this pandemic, I applaud them,” said Outman. “This was a very difficult time obviously and we’re still going through it, but the chamber and CVB staff did an outstanding job of really trying to continue to drive and market Branson the way that it needed to be done.
“We’re real confident, we’re excited, we’ve got a great plan in place, we’ve got the community partners like the MOC, the TCED, the convention center, our hotel partners that have helped us put a plan in place for ‘21 and we’re real excited.”
Visit bransonmo.gov under ‘Agendas and Minutes’ in the ‘Government’ tab for the complete presentation.
Click the ‘Live Stream’ option at bransonmo.gov to watch the discussion that starts are approximately the 1:37:35 time-stamp.