Citing concerns with marketing decisions and first-time visitation numbers, a Branson alderman is calling for an extension on the contract for Branson/Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce and CVB.

Aldermen Larry Milton led the discussion Tuesday saying the board should consider an item to extend the contract for the Branson/Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce and CVB for a year to give more time for the request for proposal process.

Milton pointed to concerns with Branson’s first-time visitation numbers in recent years. According to Milton, when the Branson/Lakes Area Tourism Community Enchantment District tax was headed to the ballot, one of the points was raising first-time visitation above the “all-time low of 20% in 2004.”

From 2014-2018, Milton said Branson’s first-time visitation is at 21.4%.

“The previous five years, 2009-2013, we averaged 26%,” MIlton said. “That’s a healthy number, always like to see it higher, but it’s a sustainable number. When Alderman (Bill) Skains and I sat on the (Marketing Advisory Council), we would have been very alarmed to see these numbers.”

TCED collects a 1 cent sales tax in a district that primarily covers Branson, Indian Point, Silver Dollar City, the Showboat Branson Belle and Table Rock State Park Marina. The TCED contracts with the Branson/Lakes Area Convention and Visitors Bureau to market the area.

Milton also pointed to marketing decisions made by the CVB, saying the group decided years ago to not market Ozark Mountain Christmas.

“CVB made this decision unilaterally, this board had no say in it whatsoever,” Milton said. “Today we focus on Christmas trees, and many believe the Christmas shows ... are what makes the decision for a trip to Branson for Ozark Mountain Christmas. 

“What happens when someone from the CVB decides there’s not enough (return on investment) in marketing Veteran’s Week? Wouldn’t we feel strongly that we’d want some input before that decision is made.”

In 2010, Milton said the CVB directed the Marketing Advisory Council, which was made up of up to 17 members, 10 of which were elected. In 2015, one year following the awarding of the original contract to the CVB, Milton said the committee changed to a council made of 11 members selected by executive committee and approved by board of directors.

“This was the key component to get the TCED passed in the first place,” Milton said. “The concern the survey said when the TCED tax failed was there would be a handful of people making decisions with the marketing dollars, this marketing council was put together those concerns.

“The major concern is this tax is going to sunset, I believe, in 2025, which is six years. 

“Whoever gets this next contract, five-year agreement, however they’re handling those funds puts at risk whether the community will approve this tax again.”

When asked by Alderman Brian Clonts if the CVB is independently audited, Jamie Rouch, director of finance for the city, said the city annually signs off on the confirmation of an audit. Milton said the city should visit with the TCED to extend their RFP process to submit proposals simultaneously. Branson aldermen do not conduct a vote during study sessions, as Milton asked for the issue to be placed on an upcoming regular meeting. 

“I think the whole topic is about accountability,” Milton said. “We used to have accountability, and now there’s virtually no accountability from this board.”

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