BRANSON — Business owners here are hopeful that while high gas prices may keep some visitors from showing up this summer, they’ll more than makeup for it with Midwestern tourists looking to stay close to home. Sitting within a day’s drive of a third of the country, the resort town’s tourism industry has weathered past fuel crunches
Branson becomes a reasonable choice when the Gulf Coast and Disney World seem too far, said Ross Summers, director of the Branson/Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce.
The town drew an estimated 7.3 million visitors last year.
Some business owners said they were optimistic that gas prices wouldn’t force everyone to change vacation plans.
Robye Walters Moore, of Laurel, Miss., was visiting Branson last week, along with 57 classmates of the Jones County Junior College Class of 1955.
“I would have come no matter what gas prices were,” Moore said. “It could be my last time to travel.”
But Sheila King, who lives in Eight Mile, Ala., and is a member of the Chunchula Apostolic Ministries, said her group would likely go somewhere closer next year to save money.
Some stores are hedging their bets in case of a downturn in visitors.
Bob and Rhonda Gillespie, who sell imported art and home decor in Branson, said they give customers business cards and have upgraded their Web site so customers can shop anywhere.
Overall sales tax revenue in Branson rose 7.2 percent last year, and tourism taxes on hotels, food and attractions jumped 6.3 percent. Business leaders said it’s hard to separate the effects of last year’s rise in gas prices from the opening last spring of the $420 million Branson Landing shopping center. This year’s numbers could be similarly skewed by the August opening of the Branson Convention Center and adjacent hotel.
Branson is using $6 million from tourism taxes to increase marketing. Also, chamber officials kicked off the second year of Gas Busters, a promotion in which they hand out discount cards to reimburse visitors for fuel expenses.
“It would be shortsighted of us to say it’s not going to affect us at all, and we have to plan for that,” Summers said.
SPRINGFIELD — Donnie Williams cringes when he sees the cost of tanking up his family’s personal water craft for a day of wave running on Table Rock Lake.
Williams plans to continue cove-hopping on his houseboat, but he will skimp on the boat he uses for water skiing. And the Springfield auto service shop owner says the rising price of boat fuel appears to be keeping some people off the water.
“We were down Sunday (May 13), and it was like a ghost town. It was weird,” he said.
A gallon of boat fuel cost $3.89 last week at the marina at Table Rock Lake State Park in Branson.
There are several reasons boat fuel costs more than gas for your car, said John Buchanan, an analyst with the Missouri Department of Natural Resources Energy Center.
Most marinas don’t sell as much gasoline as land-bound service stations, boosting the cost, Buchanan said. Marinas also have to make most of their fuel revenue between Memorial Day and Labor Day and spend more to prevent spills, he said.
State Park Marina manager Pat Cox said he expects fuel prices to hit a plateau soon.
In the meantime, there are ways to economize.
Boaters can keep fuel receipts to take advantage of fuel tax refunds given to consumers who use gas for more than road travel.
The Missouri Department of Revenue will refund gas tax to boaters who register and submit the proper paperwork, department spokeswoman Maura Browning said. And it’s not too late for boaters to file for a refund for 2006.
Filling your boat at the local gas station can save money, Ulrich Marine service manager Craig Pilger said, though it can pose problems.
Pilger said marine engines are finicky, particularly when it comes to filters, and he advises customers to use an additive.
Marinas that participate in the Boat US program, like G and G Marina on Lake of the Ozarks, give a 10 percent refund to members, said G and G owner Larry Goudy.
Cleaning the hull can also help, he said.