For those interested in the economic future of the Lake area, the data shows what might could even be called a disturbing trend.
A recent study by a leading hotel and market assessment group indicated a changing tourism market that the Lake of the Ozarks may be falling behind in adapting to.
The HVS study by Justin Westad focused on Branson, but with its comparison to similar markets, it also revealed information about the Lake of the Ozarks region which has an economy strongly tied to tourism and related industries. For those interested in the economic future of the Lake area, the data shows what might even be called a disturbing trend.
According to the study, room night demand growth at Lake of the Ozarks is lagging behind resort areas around the country including Branson, which had suffered years of stagnant demand. HVS identified the Lake of the Ozarks region as an under-served market.
While Branson’s market had leveled off, it is seeing a resurgence as a national and international tourist destination, the study says, tying this renewal to a new focus on outdoor and amusement offerings. While Branson had catered to an older demographic for decades, the new attractions have been aimed at a younger generation.
In 2015, room night demand in Branson grew by nearly 8 percent as the town worked to appeal to a wider demographic. During the same period the Lake’s room demand increased just 2.2 percent, the second-lowest increase among the 12 areas studied, again, according to the HVS study.
Part of the issue appears to be appealing to the different interests of younger travelers.
“The shift in Branson attractions from live performances to sports, shopping, and amusement is made clear by the annual increases in revenues,” the study states.
According to HVS, the attraction for younger demographics have included an emphasis on the varied outdoor activities available at natural areas surrounding Branson, including boating at Table Rock Lake but also hiking, biking, camping, horseback riding, fishing, hunting, trap and skeet shooting, spelunking and rock climbing.
Recent developments built from the middle of the last decade have also focused on a new type of shopping experience. Branson Landing, a mixed-use project on 95 acres along Lake Taneycomo, features a blend of retail, restaurants, hotel, convention center, condominiums and theater space in one planned area that includes synchronized water, fire, sound and light components. This development along with additional shopping elsewhere in Branson, appears to have extended their peak season for visits - traditionally warm weather months similar to Lake of the Ozarks - has been extended, according to the study. The shopping in turn encouraged other attractions to open for more of the year, giving Branson more year-round business.
The well known theme park Silver Dollar City has always boosted the visitor base, and it continues to evolve with new rides and attractions in order to keep appealing to a wide range of people. The Track Family Fun Parks also recently brought Chicago’s Navy Pier 15-story Ferris wheel to Branson, and a new amusement park called Fritz’s Adventure - which features outdoor adventures like zip lines and ropes courses into an indoor environment - opened in 2015. And similar attractions are opening or are in the works to open next year, according to the study.
Sporting events are also an increasing draw for Branson which increased marketing efforts and infrastructure to bring more regional youth sporting tournaments in.
Of course, economic factors such as declining gas prices and increasing employment levels around the Midwest also impact the market of Branson and Lake of the Ozarks which are both destinations most typically reached by car from residents of the Midwest.
Room night demand at various tourist destinations is also being affected by a change in hotel demand demographics, according to the study.
“Historically, independent hotels have done exceptionally well in the Branson market. Younger travelers, however, especially millennials, have a strong preference for brands and the specific amenities offered by branded hotels. In addition, adolescents have become accustomed to modern amenities and luxuries that branded properties provide in comparison to some of the market’s independent hotels,” the study states.
One thing the study does not address, though, is the impact of the increasing popularity of vacation rentals through sites such VRBO, which provides a place to rent out individual houses for a transient stay. This type of vacation rental is widely available at the Lake of the Ozarks, though the extent of the market has not been enumerated, and may be contributing to the lower growth rate in traditional hotel-room demand in the Lake area.
One proposed development in Osage Beach is hoping, however, to offer a new resort hotel that will appeal to millennials.
With major hoteliers Hilton and Westin indicating interest in the project, it would have the amenities that draw younger travelers and those with children to entertain, says developer Dan Foster of Osage Beach. In addition, the planned pubic event space associated with the hotel could bring new business and new people to the table.
“We are moving steadily toward the goal of providing the Lake a major resort hotel and event space,“ he says.
In September 2015, the Camden County Commission signed a memorandum of understanding with D&N Land Company, LLC — headed by Foster — related to a major waterfront resort and convention center on a 37-acre tract of land near Highway 54 and Route KK in Camden County. D&N Land Company also received received approval from the commission for the establishment of a Community Improvement District in December 2015, and has filed a petition in the 26th Judicial Circuit Court for the creation of a Transportation Development District.
Estimated cost of the hotel is roughly $45 million.