First, the Ozark Marketing Council said it will miss its projection of 6 million visitors for 1994, and may finish only even with last year's 5.4 million. Hotel owners say some Branson properties suffered as much as a 75% decline in occupancy.
Then, none other than former Chrysler Corp. Chairman Lee Iacocca told those at a land dedication ceremony last week that Branson should think about gaming if the numbers don't improve.
As a result, the council has retained Bozell Worldwide, New York, for its $1.5 million marketing budget next year. Ads had been done in-house. Camelot Communications, Dallas, still places media.
Entertainment and tourism are the backbone of the Ozarks community that became a hot destination in 1992.
Jan Pinkerton, executive director of the Ozark Marketing Council, wasn't totally pessimistic, citing an increase in the length of stay by visitors that resulted in a 19% sales tax increase.
"Whatever virus we have, others have it also," she said, citing declining figures for the Smoky Mountains in Tennessee; Disney World; Myrtle Beach, S.C.; and other attractions.
Ms. Pinkerton said she can't put her finger on reasons for the decline. But others say they can.
One business source said families, the segment that decreased the most, stayed away because they had already seen the stars perform and few new ones had come to the southwest Missouri community. Others cite the town's lack of gambling and nightlife.
Peter Herschend, vice chairman, Silver Dollar City, a primary theme park attraction in the area, said the fact that Branson is surrounded by gambling in Missouri, Illinois and Mississippi is beginning to hurt the attractions. But he still opposes the concept: "Bringing gambling in here will cause an economic collapse."