Travel: Branson Hoping for a Rebound

by Tom Reed
WMV Web News Cleveland
Story filed October 9, 2003

Since Branson, Missouri, became a national tourist attraction during the past couple of decades, every year has been bigger and better than the last.

Until this year.

The Branson Daily News quoted a Chamber of Commerce official as saying, "We are not having an up year. That's the first time we have probably ever had to say that."

"Branson Revenue Flat So Far in 2003" was the headline on a September 2 story in the Springfield News-Leader.

As a native of Springfield, 35 miles to the north, I had seen Branson grow from a small town in an outdoor vacation area, to a glittering entertainment center that attracts 7 million visitors a year to its 46 theaters. At show time, in recent years, traffic was bumper to bumper on busy Route 76.

So it was surprising to find no traffic jams when I visited Branson in late August. This was partly due to the construction of alternate roads, designated as the yellow, red, and blue routes, to divert traffic from 76. And it was partly due to the fact that the last week in August is typically a slow period, because the beginning of the school year keeps families away. But there was something more. A waitress in a hotel coffee shop told us "This has been an unusual year," a sentiment echoed in almost the same words by the Chamber of Commerce executive.

The reasons are varied: bad weather in the spring and early summer, the war in Iraq, and the down economy. Then there's the graying of the audience. It's no secret that Branson attracts an older crowd (the average age of visitors is 54 years).

The Branson tourism industry is trying to salvage the year with an aggressive campaign for fall tourists. Actually, autumn is a good time to visit the area. The weather is ususally mild (average highs in October range from 64 to 75, in November from 50 to 63). Autumn and the holidays have become prime seasons for the theaters.

Andy Williams teams with Glen Campbell for a limited engagement running through October 25. Andy's Christmas show runs from November 1 to December 10.

The Radio City Music Hall Rockettes will do their traditional Christmas show from October 31 to December 7. They've been performing in Branson for ten years, but this year will be the final one.

Other shows range from country music by Ozarks hillbillies to perennial favorites Shoji Tabuchi, the Japanese violinist and entertainer, and Yakov Smirnoff, the Russian comedian.

Branson celebrates the holiday season with a Festival of Lights in November and December. Also during those months, Silver Dollar City's Old Time Christmas includes a nightly parade of lighted floats, presentations of Dickens' "Christmas Carol", and other activities.

The southwest Missouri vacation area draws 49 percent of its annual visitors from outside the region, and Ohioans are well represented in the totals.

For more information, visit http://www.explorebranson.com


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