For many Branson theatre's, failure to plan is failure to profit. A significant number of Branson venues don't release schedules until doors open in March. Millions in sales are conducted before these schedules are available.
According to Larry Milton, owner of Branson Tourism Center, roughly seven percent of his companies 350,000 annual theatre ticket sales are conducted between January and February. Milton's sales staff routes customers to theatres that have provided him with schedules. Sometimes, tickets sold are a client's second choice.
John Johnson, owner of Reserve Direct contends people are planning trips even earlier. "Tourists are trying to plan April vacations in October….they try to make reservations but they can't," states Johnson. Reserve Direct is a passive system; all transactions originate and are completed through his online booking engine. Consumers that attempt to purchase Branson theatre seats are unable to finish a buy if schedules aren't available. Psychographic and demographic data clue Johnson into details behind what motivates and when tourists are trying to book vacation packages. The company's local product, Reserve Branson yielded over $6.4 million in bookings last year.
Though Branson remains both Johnson's primary market and corporate headquarters, expansion into new tourist destinations has ensued full throttle over the last couple of years. He admits some markets are difficult to penetrate citing challenges the Pigeon Forge region has created for his company. Steady traffic and consistent numbers during peak weeks have convinced venues such as Dollywood that marketing funds should be dedicated to intercept strategies. Even venues such as Dixie Stampede, who've experienced substantial success with Reserve Direct locally, rely on influencing tourists after they've already arrived in the Gatlinburg region. Convincing the Pigeon Forge market that efforts focused towards demand creation to a wider market is proving to be an uphill battle, at least for the time being. Johnson is convinced this will change when the market reaches a larger critical mass and increased competition becomes more of an issue. His experience comes from a recent launch in Orlando where he found a Disney deal easy to ink. Negotiations with the destination superpower took less than a week.
Milton attributes his success in Branson to out of area marketing. A budget dedicated to pitching consumers outside our area has exceeded $1,000,000 annually over the last two years.
Both Milton and Johnson agree that an early release of show schedules would result in more businesses beginning the season deeper in the black without spending a penny.
This article was written last month for the Branson Daily Independent.