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Branson tourism tax trending down

City officials expect collections to still finish near 2018 record of $13.6 million

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Tourism tax revenues in Branson have trended down this year to the tune of 5.9% below 2018 through August. But records are hard to beat.

“We are trending down for tourism,” Branson Finance Director Jamie Rouch said of the $7.96 million collected through August.

The tax numbers are up against an all-time high of $13.57 million collected in 2018.

“We are still trending this to be the second-highest year in 10 years,” Rouch said, noting a rainy spring might have kept some visitors away. “That’s still pretty good.”

According to Branson Finance Department records, the tourism tax has generated over $12 million a year since 2015.

This year, with the exception of the city’s reported February tourism tax receipts, each month has been below 2018’s pace, according to city of Branson monthly tax reports. Taxes collected each month primarily reflect business sales made the prior month, Rouch said.

Collections in August closed the gap some. After July, the numbers were 7.5% off of last year, but the $2.07 million received in August represented only a 1% decrease from a year ago. It’s the smallest revenue dip of the year.

Now, Branson officials say they’re bullish on prospects in the last few months of the year. For the fiscal 2019 budget, they projected $13.7 million at year’s end.

“At this point, we’re not too concerned about it being down,” Rouch said. “We still have our fall season and Christmas season yet to come.”

Rouch said the past three December totals, which report November business sales, were $1.52 million in 2016, $1.47 in 2017 and $1.46 in 2018.

She noted the tourism tax revenue, which applies a 4% rate for admissions and lodging, and a 0.5% rate on food and beverage sales, fluctuates throughout the year. This year’s average monthly revenue is just shy of $995,000.

Although the city’s tourism tax has dipped, tax revenues are still strong for the Branson/Lakes Area Tourism Community Enhancement District, said Lynn Berry, communications director with the Branson/Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce & Convention and Visitors Bureau. Assessed in Stone and Taney counties, the 1% sales tax generated $8.5 million last year.

Berry said the tax collections are up roughly $140,000 this year through July, a 3% increase compared with a year ago.

“We’re up a little bit and have a good feeling about fall and Christmas,” Berry said.

Since voters first approved the tourism district tax in 2005, she said last year was its second-best year. The tourism district tax was subsequently renewed in 2014 and extended until 2025. The revenue is used to market Branson and the lakes area.

Tourists are also still making their way to the Branson area, Berry said. There were approximately 8.8 million visitors in 2018, with CVB tracking this year’s total at around the same.

“I’d say we’re looking at another good year for tourism,” she said, noting the visitor count was about 7 million when she started working for the CVB in 2007.

Like the tourism district tax in the counties, revenue for Branson’s tourism tax partially funds marketing efforts, Rouch said. One-fourth of the taxes collected are deposited into a tourism promotion account. The remaining 75% is dedicated to infrastructure maintenance and improvements, including sidewalks, streets, waterworks, wastewater and waste disposal facilities.

Berry and Rouch see the Christmas season as a big driver for visitors, both with entertainment options such as Silver Dollar City and shopping. According to city records, December 2018 tourism tax revenue for theaters was nearly $554,000 – the largest by far for the year in that business classification. The next nearest total was in August 2018, at nearly $412,000.

Rouch said a new restaurant addition to the Branson Landing retail center, Paula Deen’s Family Kitchen, should be a draw for Branson residents and those coming into town.

The celebrity chef and TV personality’s eatery brings Branson Landing to near capacity, said Jennifer Dellinger, director of marketing for Branson Landing. She said only one space, formerly operated by Brookstone, currently remains available.

As a city dependent on tourism, Rouch said staff regularly takes a conservative forecast when preparing the annual budget, which is $75.5 million for fiscal 2019. The growth total is typically around 1%, she added.

“We always conservatively budget with anticipation of larger growth,” she said. “We can know the operations of our city can still move forward in the event of a tourism downturn. That’s why we do it.”

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