BRANSON — Branson officials say they are cautiously optimistic about this year's tourist season, despite the southwest Missouri city's continuing efforts to recover from a 2012 tornado and the loss of two star attractions.
Although this is the first time in years that visitors will not be able to see crooner Andy Williams, who died in September, and comedian Yakov Smirnoff, who returned to the tour circuit, city officials hope visitors will be drawn in by new and more varied attractions, The Springfield News-Leader reported.
"I'd say we are cautiously optimistic," said Branson Economic Development Director Garrett Anderson.
Tourists will be able to visit new attractions such as the Xtreme Racing Center, which features go karts that travel up to 40 mph, a walk-through animal safari called The Promised Land Zoo, and Parakeet Pete's, a zip line that will carry passengers across Lake Taneycomo.
Branson/Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce CEO and President Ross Summers said Branson has adapted to new demands and changed throughout its history.
"What Branson is going through is not unusual," Summers said. "Our market and our businesses are reacting to the marketplace. It's a little more challenging. It's a bit of a shift in the marketplace. The entrepreneurs are responding. That's what we've always done here."
Other reasons for optimism include the Outlaw Run roller coaster at Silver Dollar City, which is billed as having the steepest drop of any wooden roller coaster in the world and as the only one that turns riders upside down three times. And city officials point to Southwest Airlines decision to fly out of the Branson Airport.
"It's a boost when a company like Southwest Airlines comes in," Summers said. "It tells us there is great value. They would not come in if the business atmosphere was not good. They have done their research. Branson has proven in their analysis to be a good market."
Fueled partly by rebuilding from a 2012 tornado that damaged some businesses on the city's main entertainment strip, new construction in 2012 was valued at $69.8 million and has reached $23.5 million through April of this year. That's after new construction, based on dollars spent, had dropped every year from 2007 to 2011, to $26.2 million in 2011.
After a few years of flat or declining sales tax, the city is projecting sales tax returns similar to those in 2012, when its 1 cent sales tax returns were down less than 1 percent from 2011. The city's tourism sales tax, which comes from theaters, ticketed attractions and restaurants, declined 3 percent in 2012.
And Branson aldermen have contracted with a team of engineers and architects to develop a plan to renovate and improve the city's entertainment strip, Missouri 76. Preliminary concepts for the $80 million, six-year, 5-mile-long project were unveiled to the public last Tuesday. Efforts will include lighting, streetscapes, landscaping, gathering points, crossings and trolley stops.