During the state’s 42nd annual Governor’s Conference on Tourism, held Oct. 12–15, Kirk Hansen, marketing and public relations director at Fantastic Caverns, was inducted into the Missouri Tourism Hall of Fame. The recognition acknowledges Hansen’s 33 years with Fantastic Caverns, as well as work with the Missouri Caves Association and Springfield Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Q: Why do you attend the annual Governor’s Conference on Tourism? A: It’s a chance for us to go and visit with not just the officials up at the Division of Tourism but folks who we work with around the state and also with the state’s ad agency, which is very influential in how southwest Missouri is represented in the different ad campaigns that the state of Missouri does. If they know who you are, you have a better chance of being represented. And I think our area has done a good job of attending those and has become … a driving force in the state’s tourism industry.
Q: What tourism trends are you seeing to help attract visitors? A: I think families on vacation and regional travel is going to help us. As the economy struggles, people still have the urge and the desire to travel, but maybe not as far as they used to. The Ozarks and southwest Missouri sit right in the middle of a lot of people and within a day’s drive. They can have a trip to see all sorts of shows, natural attractions, fishing and boating – everything that families can look for. You can just draw a big circle, maybe 600 miles around Branson and Springfield, and that’s where I think our customers of the future live.
Q: What are the challenges in reaching those customers? A: The biggest challenge I see is how the different mediums to reach those people are getting fragmented. For example, in Springfield, there was one radio station that pretty much carried the wood, and if you advertised on that station, everybody heard you. But now, how many stations are there in this market? And each one of them has a share. We’re seeing the same thing with television. … All those different venues for us to reach the people are getting so fragmented that it takes a lot of study. Besides an advertising agency, we’ve even got a media buyer that studies and presents to us what their recommendations are, then negotiates everything for us. With our business, the very last cut we make is in our advertising.
Q: Earlier this year, you held a fundraiser called the Groundhog Mosey. What is it? A: It’s basically just a walk through the cave. It’s a fundraiser for Relay for Life. We’re going to be doing that again the Saturday after Groundhog Day this spring. Last year, we wanted to do it on Groundhog Day, and we learned that doing something like that on a weekday morning at “oh-dark-thirty” is probably not the smartest move.
Q: Is the Groundhog Mosey the most unusual event you’ve had at the caverns? A: No. I think the most unusual events, you go back to some of the uses of the cave’s auditorium room. Before your time and mine, they had a speakeasy down there with gambling and drinking. Back in the late 1960s and early ‘70s, they had the Farmerama programs (with) country music shows, and they had a house band, and then on-the-road talent would come in. That’s back in the days when the talent from Nashville would get out in the caravans and go into all the little towns. … Then in the early ‘80s, we did opera in the cave, working with SRO. And one time, we did an event for the symphony.[[In-content Ad]]