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CVB launches Web booking tool

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Last edited 2:57 p.m., Jan. 30, 2012

In recent weeks, the Springfield Convention and Visitors Bureau has added a new booking system to in a push to improve the city’s tourism and convention business in 2012.

The JackRabbit BookDirect system comes at a time when hotel occupancy rates in Springfield are climbing but are still well below levels considered healthy, according to CVB President Tracy Kimberlin.

JackRabbit allows users to view maps showing where Springfield Hotel & Lodging Association-member lodging facilities are located, to compare amenities and prices and book rooms – all without leaving the CVB’s Web site.

Simplified lodging selection
Kimberlin said the CVB partnered with the hotel lodging association to pay $15,000 in startup costs and the $7,000 it will cost annually to maintain the service. “We had wanted for sometime a booking engine on our Web site that would allow people to book in real time their hotel accommodations, and we settled on the JackRabbit system, which pulls from the hotels’ central reservation system inventories,” Kimberlin said. “(Visitors) can ask the booking engine for availability on a given set of nights, and it will pull up all the hotels in our system that have availability on those nights, and what the lowest rates are.”

Brad Danzag, president of the Springfield Hotel Lodging Association, said the organization, which represents roughly 120 hotels and affiliate members, felt the new JackRabbit system would make it easier for visitors to book a room.

“What we try to do as an organization is make it as easy as possible for people to book rooms within the city,” said Danzag, who works for Springfield-based Rolling Oaks Hospitality Inc.

Previously, the CVB allowed links to individual hotels on its site, Danzag said. The new system simplifies the process of finding rooms and works similarly to sites such as or

CVB Marketing Director Laura Whisler said the new system went online in mid-December and has generated more than 1,400 referrals.

Kimberlin noted the CVB does not track how many people actually book their rooms through the hotels, only the number of referrals.

Whisler said another benefit of the new system is that potential visitors can see what room rates will be 30 days from the date they visit the Web site, and they can plan accordingly.

“They can see if the rates will go up, which is another great benefit,” Whisler said.

The system also can enable ticket purchases to area attractions and shows, but Kimberlin said the CVB isn’t yet using that capability.

City occupancy
According to the CVB, the total occupancy rate for 2011 landed at 52.1 percent, up from 49.7 percent in 2010. Kimberlin said the growth was a good sign, but a rate of around 65 percent would be ideal.

“Are we satisfied with that percentage? Absolutely not. Are we happy that is headed in a positive direction? Absolutely,” Kimberlin said.

Part of the problem with the city’s relatively low hotel occupancy rate is that the CVB has no control over the supply of total hotel rooms, Kimberlin said. The occupancy rate is determined by dividing the number of available rooms by the number of occupied rooms.

“We have been overbuilt here for some time, going back to when Branson got hot in the early 1990s. We had a lot of hotels built here as well, and that put us in an oversupply situation. And we’ve had some properties added since that time,” he said. “So even though demand has gone up, supply has gone up, keeping our occupancy rates relatively low.”

According to CVB data, room demand was up 4.7 percent in 2011 compared to 2010.

The events recently booked in Springfield through the CVB include the Missouri Republican Party convention, scheduled in June; Premier Baseball tournament, coming in July; and the Missouri Youth Soccer Association Cup, also to be held in June. Combined, these three events are estimated to fill more than 7,000 hotel room nights, and Kimberlin said visitors spend an average of $100 to $150 per day in Springfield, with sporting event attendees being on the bottom end of that range and conventioneers near the top.

Kimberlin said he expects room demand and occupancy rates to increase in 2012, but declined to site a specific projection because of the variables associated with leisure and business travelers.

“If we could see a 4 percent increase in room demand this year, I’d be tickled pink,” Kimberlin said.  

Win some, lose some
The National Christian HomeSchool Basketball Championship is the city’s largest scheduled event in 2012. The tournament, which occurs in March, is estimated to bring in 10,000 visitors.

Not every group the CVB pursues for Springfield chooses the city as its venue, however. Dana Maugans, director of group sales for the CVB, said missing out on the chance last fall to be named hosts of the Missouri State High School Athletic Association basketball and soccer state championships were examples of recent disappointments.

Lower costs in other cities were what led to the decisions to not bring those events to Springfield, she said, and the basketball and soccer championships will be held in Columbia and Blue Springs, respectively.

Craig Long, chief financial officer for MSHSAA, confirmed that price was the deciding factor in the association’s decision to keep the basketball championships in Columbia 2014–16.

Based on estimates of 50,000 tickets sold, it was less expensive to hold the championships in Columbia, which was asking for 6 percent of ticket sales to cover its costs, whereas Springfield wanted $2 per ticket. Long said the estimated cost to bring the hoops championship to Springfield was $208,000, compared to $118,000 to stay in Columbia.

Price also factored into the association’s decision to host the soccer championships in Blue Springs through 2014, as bids from that city included free use of facilities.

“They had a very aggressive proposal,” Long said. “It’s hard to compete with zero.”[[In-content Ad]]


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