Occupancy rates at the Regency Premier Hotel Downtown in Columbia increased to about 85 percent during June’s Twilight Festival, which was an increase of about 15 percent from other Thursdays, hotel owner Mike Ebert said.
“My guests were very impressed about how we can bring 8,000 to 11,000 people together each Thursday in the month of June,” Ebert said. The Twilight Festival continued to lure record crowds and revenues to downtown in June. Estimated attendance of June festivals was a record 42,000, with some nights exceeding 11,000 visitors. In 2003, the estimated average attendance was 7,000 each night, according to a report from the Central Columbia Association.
“The festival is more popular,” said Kurt Mirtsching, owner of Shakespeare’s Pizza. “More and more people are coming to the festival.”
Carrie Gartner, director of the association, attributed the success of the June festival to expanded venues and activities, particularly the special one-time Lewis and Clark event at Flat Branch Park. The advertising conducted by the Columbia Convention and Visitors Bureau focused on the Lewis and Clark event, and the exhibition helped increase attendance, which helped increase revenues, Gartner said.
Consumers spent more than $2.2 million at the June festival — a record for the event — compared with about $1.5 million in 2003.
Gartner said increased consumer confidence also contributed to the record sales in downtown this year. Nearly three years after the Sept. 11 attacks, Gartner said people are beginning to feel more comfortable spending money again and the economy is improving.
Since 1999, when Gartner began tracking the event, the Twilight Festival has increased its revenues each year except for 2001 and 2002. It was designated the “Best Statewide Special Event” by Gov. Bob Holden and the Missouri Department of Economic Development and granted the “Downtown Excellence Award” by the Missouri Downtown Association. This is the 14th year for the Twilight Festival.
According to Central Columbia Association estimates, about 50 percent of visitors shopped, paying $41 on average, and about 88 percent of visitors dined, spending $28 on average. The data also show that about 20 percent of visitors are not Columbia residents and nearly half of them stayed overnight, spending $98 on average.
“We have noticeably a larger number of customers that come in,” Mirtsching said. “Everyone is at the Twilight Festival, enjoying the festival, and when it’s over, they go to restaurants.”
Luanne Andes, owner of Lulu’s Repose, which sells bath and body products, also said the sales doubled on Thursdays in June.
“Many of the things I sell are fairly small and inexpensive, so they can be carried around,” Andes said. “They can be purchased, and you can still go out and enjoy the festival.”
Ebert said the festival is growing each year as a result of careful planning, collaboration of local merchants and the support of the community “that cares about our downtown, wanting to get down to enjoy it and support our district,” he said. “My customers were very happy with the event and will be coming back in September to enjoy it again.”