Director of Marketing, Springfield Convention & Visitors Bureau
2015 Economic Outlook: Laura Whisler
Laura Whisler is the head marketer to draw tourists to the Springfield area. 2015 Projection “We do anticipate both room demand and room sales to continue to increase.” SBJ: Springfield’s hotel room sales have improved every month in 2014 compared to 2013. Do you see that happening in 2015 as well? Laura Whisler: We do. I would anticipate that things would likely … slow down a little bit, just because 2014 compared to 2013 was so significant. We subscribe to a travel industry indicator group that says domestic travel will increase by about 3.5 percent in 2015. We have estimated, on the lower end, room demand increasing around 2 percent for Springfield. For room sales, we would expect an increase of about 6 percent. That’s primarily because we grew at a larger rate in the last year than even the national averages. The economy and the unemployment rate are continuing to improve, and also gas prices.
Gas prices definitely are something that impacts travel to Springfield, because we’re primarily a drive market. In previous years, we’ve seen negative impacts to our travel industry because of high gas prices. We would guess that, assuming that trend continues, people would be more motivated to travel because they do have more discretionary income.
SBJ: What’s stimulating lodging industry growth? Whisler: In Springfield, our hotel inventory has improved considerably, causing our average daily rate to increase. That’s primarily due to a couple of hotel owners and developers here in town. Robert Low, who owns the Ramada Plaza hotel on North Glenstone, has significantly improved that property and added some additional meeting space. Gordon Elliott now owns 14 properties in Springfield and has taken a lot of really rather depressed properties that needed some significant work and he’s purchased those, completely renovated them and turned them in to very nice properties. As well as Tim O’Reilly, who has come online and opened several new properties in Springfield. Because of that continued improvement in our hotel rooms, that’s going to increase overall room sales because we can get a higher average daily rate.
SBJ: What properties will open in 2015? Whisler: A new Hampton Inn is coming online in 2015 at Battlefield and [U.S. Highway] 65. And then the Vandivort hotel will be a nice boutique historic hotel in downtown Springfield. All of those properties are very nice properties and will have a high average daily rate that’s really going to continue to improve our hotel inventory. As far as the Vandivort, because it’s such a unique property in a historic building, that can actually drive some additional … visitation to Springfield.
SBJ: What’s your forecast for convention and event center business? Whisler: It’s about 15 percent of our overnight travel in Springfield. I would guess that would probably be about flat [in 2015]. It would probably not go up more than 1 or 2 percent … because we don’t anticipate any new facilities coming online anytime soon. About seven or eight years ago, it used to be as high as 20 percent. We are losing ground when it comes to group business, and that’s primarily because we have not, as Springfield, made the investment in a true convention center complex that many other destinations in our competitive set have.[[In-content Ad]]