SPRINGFIELD, Mo. — It’s no surprise the travel industry has taken a big hit during the pandemic as people are merely not traveling, and especially not for fun.
More than three million people visit Springfield each year. And they each spend, on average, about $650, according to the Springfield Convention & Visitor’s Bureau. That’s a significant boost to the local economy.
In this Ozarks Tonight, Jenifer Abreu explores how tourism in Springfield was impacted and how it’s now recovering as state and local guidelines allow more businesses and attractions to open, slowly but surely heading towards entertainment and travel.
Tracy Kimberlin, CEO, and President of the Springfield’s Convention and Visitor’s Bureau says the CVB has seen improvement in the last few weeks, but it wasn’t significant.
“We hit bottom the first part of April,” Kimberlin said.
He said the city-wide hotel occupancy rate was at 22 percent. In the first week of May, that number went up to 32 percent, that’s a 53 percent decline compared to the same period last year.
“That’s still terrible occupancy,” Kimberlin said. “But when you’re standing on the bottom looking up, anything looks good. At least we are headed in the right direction.”
Recently, many significant events have been canceled or postponed, including Mid-America Street Rod Nationals and Wing Ding 42, an annual motorcycle rally that was supposed to be back in Springfield in late June after more than 20 years. Those plans have changed.
Kimberlin says since the repercussions from the pandemic began, a total of 51 groups the CVB deals with have canceled events planned in the city. That means almost 50,000 room nights, an $27 million in lost revenue. And that doesn’t count groups that go directly to hotels or individual leisure travel, he said.
Although Springfield won’t be seeing that revenue this year, Kimberlin says, for the most part, it will be coming later.
“We were successful in rebooking most of the groups we deal with,” he said. “Many other groups have rescheduled their events.”
Street Rod will occur in October, and the Gold Wing Road Riders moved their event to 2021.
The travel industry is coming back in stages, and Kimberlin says the first thing that is going to go back is visiting family and friends. Business and leisure travel will start back slowly, Kimberlin said.
“We don’t think it’s going to go back to what we consider normal until probably next summer,” he said. “Unfortunately, it won’t come back as quickly as it went away.”
On Thursday, Greene County and Springfield officials announce Phase Two of the Road to Recovery reopening plan. And as many businesses and attractions start getting the green light to open up slowly, Kimberlin encourages residents to explore their town and help boost the economy back up by helping their neighbors, and bring friends and family along with them.
“We hope that Springfield residents will invite their family and friends to come to Springfield,” he said.
Places like the History Museum, the Zoo, other outdoor activities, and local restaurants are some options.
“We encourage people to safely get out and about in their local community when they feel comfortable doing so and help the people here who have been hurt financially by this pandemic,” Kimberlin said.