With his finger on the pulse of tourism and travel in the Queen City, Tracy Kimberlin has held the reins of the Springfield CVB since 1987 and landed a spot in the Missouri Travel and Tourism Hall of Fame in 1994.
2018 Projection: Johnny Morris’ Wonders of Wildlife National Museum and Aquarium was a 2017 travel industry game-changer, and it will continue to attract tourists to Springfield throughout 2018.
SBJ: How would you describe the current climate of Springfield’s tourism industry?
Kimberlin: Very robust. I refer to it more as the travel industry, too, because tourism means, to most people, vacations and leisure travel, but there’s a lot more to it. Here in Springfield, that’s only about 40 percent of total travel. There’s business travel, there’s meetings and conventions. We have seen record growth this year, and the question is, is it sustainable? I would be shocked if it were. We don’t have final numbers yet, but it’s already obvious it was a record. I’m expecting room demand for (2017) to be up roughly 5 percent.
SBJ: What pivotal moments in 2017 will be a game-changer for the industry in 2018?
Kimberlin: (Wonders of Wildlife) was the game-changer. I’ve been in this position for about 30 years, and part of my job is to talk about the importance of the travel industry to the overall economy to the city. But until WOW opened, most of the people who heard it, gave me an, “Oh, that’s nice,” kind of look. But once it opened, it was like a light bulb went off in people’s minds. The Bass Pro [Shops] complex in general, there is not a complex like that in any city of any size anywhere else in the world. We have it right here. Frankly, we have taken it for granted for years. Some people were even resentful of the success of Johnny Morris and that facility. I don’t hear that anymore now.
We have seen occupied hotels increase (last) year and I’m sure WOW had something to do with that. How much? I don’t know. The last six months of 2017, room demand increased by close to 10 percent. A lot of times, like anything new, once the new wears off, things tend to level out a bit. Whether that will be the case here, I don’t know. But one thing I do know is that it’s not going to be a static facility. It’ll be changing over time. Those kinds of things keep people coming back.
SBJ: Are there any ongoing projects that may be future game-changers?
Kimberlin: One of the things we’re lacking in Springfield is a true, municipally owned convention complex. We have the Springfield Expo Center, but that’s an exhibit hall. We need a convention center, with a fine finish and all that sort of stuff like Branson has. We’re losing a lot of business as a result of it. The one segment of our industry that is not growing is meetings and conventions.
There’s a vacant lot (downtown) that was designed for it and that would attach to the Expo Center. That has been the plan for some time. Hammons Hotels and Resorts had a development agreement with the city to do it and then the recession hit and the city wound up taking back the acre of ground. The city owns that now and the Hammons’ folks don’t seem interested in pursuing anything at this point. You could argue for the Glenstone and Kearney area – there’s 3,000 hotel rooms up there on that corner. You could argue for someplace around Bass Pro – there’s not a bigger attraction anywhere.
SBJ: What else would help Springfield’s travel industry?
Kimberlin: Amateur sporting events. We have been very fortunate to host a number of statewide, regional and national sporting events that create a lot of overnight travel for the city. Other communities have started seeing the value of amateur sports. They have started building facilities for the purpose of hosting tournaments. We need to get on the bandwagon and start looking at developing quality, preferably indoor, sporting facilities to stay competitive in that market. We’re very well-positioned to attracts sports, because people tend to drive, instead of fly, and we’re smack dab in the center of the country.
SBJ: What could be most disruptive to travel industry this year?
Kimberlin: Economic conditions impact all segments of travel. A downturn would be a major threat at any point. The economy’s going great right now, but I think everybody thinks that’s going to end at some point. And it often ends with a bit of a crash. I don’t think it’s going to occur next year, but it’s a threat. Another is terrorism. We can’t forget what happened on 9/11. Travel stopped after that for roughly three months. It was awful.
Steve Childers to lead city’s key growth initiatives, including Forward SGF.