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For KSMU I'm Mike Smith, and on this edition of our Sense of Community series, we look at the economic impact and importance of tourism in Missouri.
Our tourism focus will be on the Southwest part of the state, specifically Springfield and Branson, but before we zoom in to this area, let's take stock of the entire Show Me State as a tourist destination.
According to Blaine Luetkemeyer, Director of the Missouri Division of Tourism, nearly 39 million visitors came to Missouri in FY 2006 making tourism a 13 billion dollar industry for the year. Luetkemeyer says tourism ranks right behind agriculture and manufacturing in its economic impact for the state.
The largest number visitors, both "Day Trippers" and vacationers, head to St. Louis and Kansas City, but Blaine Luetkemeyer says the southwest part of the state brings in the next largest number of visitors who are responsible for the 3rd largest amount of tourism tax revenue going to state and county coffers.
In terms of "attractions" or "destinations", Luetkemeyer says the St. Louis Cardinals play host to the most visitors with nearly 3.3 million tickets sold annually. The St. Louis Arch and Branson theme park Sliver Dollar City are 2nd place rivals with each receiving 2 million visitors. Bass Pro Shops national HQ in Springfield is also near the top according to Luetkemeyer.
In Springfield, helping to guide tourist to their target destinations is Bob Cline, an 18 year volunteer at the Tourist Information Center on east Battlefield. Cline says many of the 150 to 200 visitors who walk through the TIC doors "ask about the Pro Bass Shop. We generally correct them on the name and give them the information. They also ask about Wilson Creek National Battlefield, and Route 66, but a lot of them want information about Branson. I tell them if they get tired of Branson after a few days, come spend time back in Springfield."
"When it comes to tourism, we feel that Branson compliments Springfield and Springfield compliments Branson, so I really see no competition there" says Tracy Kimberlin, Director of the Springfield Convention and Visitors Bureau. "On the other hand," he says, "Branson is ready to open a convention center, and we will compete with Branson when it comes to conventions." Meanwhile Ross Summers, President and CEO of the Branson Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce and Convention and Visitors Bureau says "The fact is, we've had (smaller) conventions here in Branson for a long time, but the Branson Convention Center, due to open in August, will provide for larger groups, but I prefer to describe it (the relationship between Springfield and Branson) as cooperative and friendly but still somewhat competitive in nature."
Topics we'll get into further at 4:30 this afternoon when this edition of the KSMU Sense of Community Series continues.
I'm Mike Smith.