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Tourism Outlook: Derek Smith

President and Chair, Branson/Lakes Area Tourism Community Enhancement District

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Derek Smith has served on the Branson tourism district board since 2014 and last year began his second term as president. His day job is as a partner with BKD LLP in Branson, where he focuses on tax services in construction and real estate.

SBJ: In 2019, Branson had a record 9.1 million visitors. Then COVID-19 hit and visitation is predicted to be down roughly 30% for the year, with roughly 5 million visitors to Branson recorded through October. What’s the forecast for 2021?
Smith: We’re going to be spending every dollar we can to market the district and try to drive visitation. Our tax is based on a percentage of sales at retail versus a bed tax. Visitation and people spending money is very important to our community. We believe that visitation is going to rebound in 2021. The projections that we’re hearing from U.S. Travel Association and other sources, it’s going to be a couple of years before we can get back to our prior visitation of the 9 million that we had in 2019.

SBJ: How does 2020 sales tax revenue compare with the year prior, and what’s the 2021 budget?
Smith: Back in April, when the pandemic was starting to affect our area, we saw limitations on businesses even being able to open into May and June. From our numbers back then, if we would have come in at 50% of 2019, I think we would have felt really good about that. Right now, we’re projected to come in at, from 2019 numbers, down probably somewhere in the range of 18%-20%. We’re budgeting $8 million to be spent from a district perspective [in 2021]. We had projected $9 million for 2020. Right now, we are sitting at year to date $5.7 million.

SBJ: Let’s talk about the Branson theater study the district commissioned. One highlight is that Branson’s live theater and music industry creates about 2,300 jobs, $44 million in earnings and $147 million in economic output. What are some of the areas this study highlighted for development of this critical part of Branson?
Smith: That theater study was commissioned before the pandemic. Nobody can, at this point, predict fully how this is going to impact our theaters and live entertainment. But what we do know is our theaters and live entertainment are critically important to our community. They provide a great source of attracting visitors and providing jobs and economic output for our region. I think we got a lot of great actionable items as a community. One of the things that has already been implemented is there’s a not-for-profit group that’s been started to help be advocates for the growth of the theaters and provide education and support for our theaters. Another thing, they’re starting to have workshops to help local theater owners and operators and live entertainment venues learn different things about their business and how to improve. One of the vendors that we use is Wisdom, they’re a digital marketing firm, and they came in and did some workshops and training.

SBJ: The Branson/Lakes Chamber of Commerce and Convention & Visitors Bureau has a new leader arriving this month. Jason Outman comes from South Carolina and a larger market than Branson. What was your hope in bringing him on, and what is his vision?
Smith: In Jason Outman, we find somebody who’s very passionate about destination marketing, and he’s extremely passionate about what CVBs do to help bring visitation to the area. He has a very diverse background in destination marketing and he comes to the area with a very sound, research-based approach. He’s not afraid to try new ideas. We also find that Jason is very connected within the global DMO, what we call destination marketing organizations. He’s connected on a national level and it brings connections to be able to bounce ideas off. He’s going to work very hard at aggressive growth strategies to get new business into our local economy.


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