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2024 Tourism Outlook: Cynthia Carson

General Manager, Sight & Sound Theatres and Immediate Past Chair, Branson/Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce & Convention and Visitors Bureau

Posted online

Carson’s 2024 Projection: Coming off of a record year in 2022, we believe with it being an election year, we plan for less attendance in Branson – not as strong as 2022 or ’23. We are budgeting it to be lower or to hold at 10 million visitors.

Branson set a record of 10.2 million visitors in 2022. What do you attribute that to?
It was a little bit of a surprise. I think everybody thought it would plateau, so that was exciting. There wasn’t a lot of new (attractions), but we’re seeing younger families. The average age we’re seeing is 46. It is an easier destination to get to. The benefits here are being a cost-effective place. We can see that. Especially for 2023, we’ve reached out for some marketing co-op work with Springfield and we’re seeing Springfield visitation up in this area.

What are the keys to attracting visitors to a market like Branson?
Having new capital. Silver Dollar City’s new capital venture with the new Fire in the Hole ride should drive that. I believe there are people who love to come to an area they know is consistent and has great hospitality. They see that in Branson. With Sight & Sound Theatres, I know bringing in a new premiere is typically the strongest year, which we did in ’23 and it was the biggest year we’ve had. We’re sitting just a little under 85% capacity for the whole year. We’re going to be over 720,000 for audience in ’23. It’s a strong year.

Is the Branson demographic changing?
It’s a family destination, so we’re still seeing all ages. But through the years, we’re seeing that average age come down. The older folks are still coming, but we’re seeing a lot of attractions geared toward families. One of the new ones that started this year is Ozark Nights, and the Shepherd of the Hills is doing some outdoor shows and increasing their property. It is attracting those younger crowds and families.

How do you see Branson and Springfield collaborating for tourism?
It’s been a great partnership. The Convention and Visitors Bureau in Branson is working in conjunction with others in the co-op to bring awareness and understanding that it’s in your backyard and a great vacation for its value.

We’re seeing Springfield visitors increasing. It’s a co-op between Branson, Springfield and SDC. The title is This is Ozarks. The marketing photos show the beauty of the Ozarks, the lakes and the mountains – come and relax and let this be your vacation. There’s going to be some more information coming out on that soon. Springfield, as a whole, is up to 22% of our visitation to Branson, January through October. It was 19.6% in 2022, so seeing some growth there.

Where does branding and identity come in? What is the region’s identity to you?
It’s important for guests to know they can come and see consistency and great hospitality, and know this is family friendly, healthy, wholesome and they feel safe to come and enjoy time with their family. That is one of the highlights our brand brings out – we’re truly known for that. We look at it as family, friends, faith, flag and fun – it’s like five legs. We use that in our marketing.

Is there potential to extend the region’s tourism reach to northwest Arkansas?
Yes. We believe it’s part of our market and advertise within that. It’s that 100-300-mile radius, still our biggest visitation. In 2023, January-October, we’re seeing that 41% of visitors are coming within that radius, and that definitely dips down into northwest Arkansas. We believe there is opportunity to see that grow.

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