Is Branson’s $480,000 CVB payment a SmackDown of shows or their marketing reality?

After ignoring repeated requests by The Branson League of Theatre Owners & Show Producers (League) for the grant of some independent marketing funds and the formation of a “Blue Ribbon Task Force” to look into the way Branson is being marketed by the Branson Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce and CVB (CVB), the Branson Board of Aldermen awarded more than $480,000 to the CVB for use in their marketing of Branson. Depending on one’s viewpoint, some might call it a SmackDown of the Leagues efforts, but to an Ole Seagull the payment is not only consistent with, but a strong endorsement by the Board, of the CVB’s marketing plan that has been in place for over three years.

He believes that, in large part, their decision was based on information received from the man, that the Branson tourism industry has relied on for statistics, analysis, and marketing research, for decades, Jerry Henry, President & CEO of H2R Market Research. After seeing him “thrown under the bus” at a recent CVB Board Meeting, and because what was being said was not consistent with what the Ole Seagull believed Henry would say, he contacted him. During that conversation, Henry said the following:

“Since the Branson CVB pivoted their marketing approach in 2013, Branson has not just rebounded but thrived. Visitation this year is up by more during this 4‐year period than any 4‐year period since the 1990s. All of Branson’s key performance indicators are at record levels, as is the Branson CVB’s marketing performance. Tourism tax revenues are up 25% from this same time in 2012 (YTD through the third quarter). By comparison, they had fallen 11% during the previous 4‐year period ending at this point in 2012.

“Likewise, city sales tax revenues are up 15% over this same period, Stone County sales tax revenues are up 26%, Taney County tax revenues have increased 18% and TCED’s sales tax revenues are up 14%. And, STR reports that Branson’s room demand is up 24%. (All compared to the same time in 2012.) Once again, all of these metrics were either flat, or in negative territory, during the previous 4 years ending at this time in 2012 when senior visitation was hovering just above its 15‐year average at 33%.”

There are those who would argue the foundational basis for the statistics and data used to reach these conclusions, but for what useful purpose and by whom? Based on observing his work and the high regard that those in the community have for that work, the Ole Seagull looks to Henry as a qualified expert in his field. At a minimum, the only person he wants to hear contradicting Henry is another expert in the field with similar professional qualifications.

That said, at a minimum, the data indicates how things are trending and, the 25% increase in the City of Branson’s 4% Tourism Tax on shows, attractions lodging and, to a lesser extent restaurants, says it all. Again, there are those who would argue the increase is attributable to increased ticket and lodging prices etc. Don’t know about lodging prices, but anyone with a half an ounce of brains knows that the price of tickets being sold at 50% off or substantially less than the box office price do not support that theory.

The situation that the shows find themselves in is perhaps covered in what Henry said next, when he said, “The Branson CVB’s marketing efforts have also consistently delivered proven results over this time period. In fact, market reach, marketing efficiency and effectiveness of the CVB’s marketing communications programs have not just been strong, they have broken historic records this past year.

“Contrary to naysayer’s dire warnings, Branson’s brand image as a senior destination is changing. Branson is not just prospering, it is thriving…There is no doubt that seniors are an important target market for Branson. But, Branson is far more complex and diverse than ever before, and while seniors are still important, the market has proven it can indeed prosper without this segment fueling the growth.”

For what it matters, an Ole Seagull believes that Henry’s data and recent CVB report indicates success in bringing a new younger demographic to Branson over the last few years. It’s a demographic that, on balance, is more inclined to invest their money, and perhaps more importantly, their time, in things other than shows.” Thus, while Branson, as a whole, has prospered as sales taxes and tourism taxes have continued to rise, many Branson shows have faced financial challenges because the numbers of those attending shows has dropped to historical lows.

That’s the reality of the marketing environment that shows ignore at their own risk! It is a force in motion supported by our community’s political leadership and, unless, he misses his guess, by much of its nonpolitical leadership. In an Ole Seagull’s opinion each show must ask themselves, “What’s the best expenditure of our time, effort, and money; fighting to try to change the system under these circumstances or investing it to produce the best show possible, with the flexibility to entertain the changing demographics, and market it efficiently?” He just has to believe that the answer to that question is a “no brainer!”

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