Springfield, MO

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Tourism Outlook: Joe Wadkins & Tracy Kimberlin

Board Chair (Wadkins) and President/CEO (Kimberlin), Springfield Convention & Visitors Bureau Inc.

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2022 Projection: We’re going to see business travel come back in a pretty strong way.

What is the current state of travel and tourism in Springfield?
Wadkins: From my perspective at the DoubleTree and being on the (Springfield Convention & Visitors Bureau) board, travel is coming back. It was a good year. We all talked a lot about the pent-up demand that happened during COVID when everyone was quarantined and couldn’t get out and do things. We saw that really come back, especially in 2021, especially the second half of the year. We’re starting to see business come back. We’re hopeful that next year we’ll really get that group business back.
Kimberlin: We’ve already set a record for [2021] as far as room demand is concerned. We will easily be over 1.4 million in occupied rooms. We’ve had nine record months this year as far as the number of rooms occupied. Leisure travel has come back with a vengeance, but as Joe said, business travel, meetings and conventions are still soft but starting to come back.

How is the industry continuing to promote that growth?
Kimberlin: The record we’re seeing now, at least in my opinion, is a result of pent-up demand and leisure travel, but in addition to that, we have spent about $3 million in the last two years advertising Springfield as a destination. I think it set the stage for what has happened this year. We’re also running well ahead of the national average, the state average, and we’re running well ahead of St. Louis and Kansas City as far as occupancy. To keep it going in this direction, we’re going to have to see the demand from meetings and conventions and from business travel. We’ll also need to invest in the travel infrastructure to keep the demand growing. We can’t just keep advertising.

Do you see more hotel developments being announced in 2022? Is the market ready for more rooms?
Kimberlin: Anytime you see occupied rooms at the levels that they are right now … it does perk interest from hotel developers to start adding rooms to the marketplace. I feel like the current room demand is not typical and has been created by the pandemic. People just want to get out.

What’s your forecast for flight travel in 2022? Will we see an uptick?
Kimberlin: Air travel is going to be tied very tightly to business travel and meetings and conventions. With business travel starting to come back, I think the airport numbers are going to continue to climb, and I wouldn’t be surprised if we’re not back to the over 1 million [passenger] level even next year.
Wadkins: At the DoubleTree, the business travel we are seeing back, it’s all flight driven. We’ve got a lot of folks that we did not see a year, a year and a half ago. I think we’re going to see even more people coming into 2022. We do a lot of business travel, especially the weekdays. We’re starting to see that come back, mixed in with the leisure travel that was off the charts this year.

What are the labor challenges facing the tourism and hospitality industry?
Wadkins: That’s a big unknown. It’s been very difficult for us this year. We had built a fabulous team here prior to the pandemic, and we lost a lot of those folks during 2020.  We’re hopeful as business travel comes back, we’ll see more and more folks return to the workforce.


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