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Stats show 8.7 percent increase in overnight visitors

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by Jan K. Allen

SBJ Contributing Writer

More than 1 million overnight visitors came to Springfield in 1998, an 8.7 percent increase over 1997, according to Tracy Kimberlin, executive director of the Springfield Convention & Visitors Bureau.

"It was a good year for travel nationwide," Kimberlin said.

The winter was mild in the state of Missouri, and Springfield and Branson spent more on media advertising than the year before, which probably contributed to the increased numbers, Kimberlin added.

Promoters are expecting even more people to come in 1999 in response to media advertising valued at just under $1 million this year. Of this total, $550,000 is designated for a cable TV ad campaign.

The $1 million figure is more than double what was spent last year for the same type of advertising, Kimberlin said.

The state of Missouri has committed $277,000 to the campaign, with Fantastic Caverns pitching in $177,000 and Bass Pro Shops contributing $100,000. Springfield tax revenues will make up the rest.

Another factor expected to drew visitors in '99 is the stepped up ad campaigns by both Branson and the state. The influx developed from these campaigns is bound to benefit Springfield, since many Branson visitors pass through the Queen City.

Two major events planned for the coming summer will also have an impact. The meeting of the Gold Wing Riders Association, scheduled for June 29-July 4, is expected to bring 15,000 visitors. In July, the AAU Basketball Championship, for girls under 12 years old, will be bringing players and their families to Springfield, the CVB stated.

Room tax revenues totaled $778,483 through Sept. 30 of last year. This was an increase of 15.6 percent compared with the previous year. Though statistics aren't complete for the third quarter, the indication is that the increase for that three-month period is at least 10 percent.

The Convention & Visitors Bureau surveys people who come to the CVB's visitor center, and although the figures may not be representative of all visitors, it provides an indicator of what people like to see and do.

Of visitors surveyed, 55 percent visit Bass Pros Shops' showroom, 50 percent shop at the mall and other local facilities, 18 percent visit Fantastic Caverns, 13 percent visit Wilson's Creek and 10 percent go to Exotic Animal Paradise.

In 1998, 76,432 people stopped at the CVB on East Battlefield. At the bureau booth located at the airport, 16,056 visitors were assisted with local and regional information.

Print ads have generated 55,120 inquires. A conversion study conducted by Purdue University showed that 47.6 percent of the inquiries result in actual visits. Of the 55,120 inquiries, 11.2 percent are from Missouri, 32.2 percent from bordering states and the remaining 44.4 percent from all the other states combined. Only 1 percent of Springfield's visitors come from outside the United States, according to available statistics.

"Inquiries do come from all 50 states," Kimberlin said.

The statistics gathered by the CVB also show that 20 percent of Springfield's visitors are more than 65 years old and 54 percent are more than 50 years old. Sixty-four percent have some college education, and 30 percent have earned at least a bachelor's degree. Forty-two percent have family income of more than $50,000. The average size of a party of visitors is 2.9 people.

Research also shows more and more people are getting their travel information from the Web. The visitors center maintains a Web site

In 1997, 36,987 user sessions were recorded on the site. The figure jumped to 61,182 in 1998. User sessions reflect the actual number of people who visit the site, not the number of hits as a user moves from one page to another, Kimberlin said.

The increased interest indicates Springfield is drawing attention from more people outside the region. Kimberlin said that statistically, it is hard to determine how many of the overnight visitors are here on business, and it is impossible to estimate the number of day trippers who come to Springfield.

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