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Missouri: Meet (in) the new Branson

Courtesy Branson CVB

With 8 million visitors surging into Branson each year, it made sense to build a convention center to accommodate more meetings and conventions. Two years ago, the Branson Convention Center was completed. It offers 220,000 square feet of high-technology meeting space, including two exhibit halls that total 47,000 square feet, a 23,000-square-foot ballroom and five second-floor meeting rooms.

Perched on a prime location with a view of Lake Taneycomo, the design of the building, from the facade to the exposed timber to the gracefully curving windows, reflects the natural beauty of the surrounding Ozark Mountains. One of the convention center’s most spectacular design elements is in the ballroom. When guests look up, they are treated to a light and sound display that mimics birds in flight. Seventy-two silver and white high-technology fixtures containing hidden lights and suspended from the all-white ceiling depict the annual migration over Branson each year. Lights and music can be customized to whatever event is held in the ballroom.

“People are amazed by this when they see it,” said Bill Tirone, assistant general manager for Hiltons of Branson and the Branson Convention Center. “We can theme the colors and the music to a corporation or a holiday, whatever the meeting planner wants. There are many options.”

The Hilton hotel that adjoins the convention center has 294 rooms, and there are 242 rooms in the Hilton Promenade across the street. The Hilton also manages a Hampton Inn, a 15-minute drive from the convention center. It has 89 rooms that can be used for overflow.

“Our convention center business really runs the gamut,” said Vienna Bowling, director of meeting and convention sales.

“We host state, regional and national professional association conventions; corporate trade shows and business meetings; religious conferences; concerts; and banquets. The events held at the convention center help support our new airport [which opened in May 2009], as well as restaurants and businesses in downtown historic Branson and the Branson Landing District.”

“Convention business supports our entire community,” said Tirone. “Conklin just completed their annual convention here, and 150 of those attendees went to the Circle B Theater for a dinner show. And those are just the ones we know about.”

The convention center also edges Branson toward a year-round economy rather than a seasonal flow; thanks to the center, there is more business during the first quarter of the year, when crowds are typically thinner and prices are lower.

The new airport also plays a role in attracting convention business. Three airlines serve the airport: Air Tran, Frontier and Branson Air Express, an airline launched by the group that built the airport.

Service varies depending on the day and season, with more flights offered during the summer. Air Tran is offering daily flights to Atlanta and Saturday flights to Orlando. Branson Air Service began service to Gulfport/Biloxi, Miss.; Nashville; Austin, Texas; Houston; Des Moines, Iowa; and Shreveport, La., in late May. Frontier began offering flights to and from its Denver hub in late April.

“We can’t begin to describe how excited we are about our partnership with Frontier Airlines,” said Jeff Bourk, the airport’s executive director. “This opens a whole new dimension to the services Branson Airport is able to offer.”

Branson’s CVB hopes the one-two punch of a new convention center and a new airport will keep the meeting business in this friendly Ozark Mountains town humming.

(800) 296-0463

The show goes on
Driving down the strip in Branson is much like driving in Las Vegas. Bright lights flash and twinkle, live music shows beckon from every direction, and excitement is in the air. There’s a lot happening in the 52 theaters in the self-proclaimed “Live Music Show Capital of the World,” where about 110 shows run concurrently, all family-oriented.

“So many people think of Branson as being hillbilly or hokey,” said Vienna Bowling, director of meeting and convention sales. “They are really surprised to see the quality facilities we have for meetings and conventions here. And there are plenty of leisure activities once the meetings are over, too.”

The range of those activities is broad. Live music shows are fun, but there are also laughs to be had, adventures to be found and authentic trips back in time to be discovered.

The White River Comedy Club at Branson Landing, which opened a year ago, is upscale and well appointed, but you may be laughing too hard to notice.

Standup comics who have appeared on The David Letterman Show, The Tonight Show, Home Box Office and Comedy Central are featured. The 178-seat club, like many other venues in Branson, plans to go on hiatus for six weeks at the beginning of each year. Group rates are available.

You can also get a bite to eat there at Groucho’s Nachos, White River Burger or the Cheesecake Factory.

Opening this spring is one of Branson’s newest attractions, the Branson Zipline and Canopy Tour, seven miles north of downtown Branson.

“This is a completely different experience,” said Emma Hamilton, general manager. “There is no other attraction that comes close to combining ecology and adventure in a fun activity that is exciting and safe for people of all ages.”

The tour allows visitors to “zip” through the Ozark Mountains using a system that originated in the jungles of Costa Rica. Observation platforms are placed throughout the course, with certified guides pointing out topographical and historical features of the Ozarks. It’s the only facility of its kind in the region.

“We can take up to 12 people at a time, so there is very limited capacity,” said Hamilton. “We strongly advise making reservations now.”

Tours began May 1 and can be booked at The course is a low-impact activity suitable for all ages, and group rates are available.

Also open this spring is the Ozark Medieval Fortress, 27 miles south of Branson. The project began a year ago and will be completed in 2030, because that’s how long it took to build a real castle during medieval times; but the first phase is available for public viewing. The dungeon is already finished, with shackles hanging on the rock walls.

Thirty masons, carpenters and stone carvers, authentically dressed, are building a medieval castle with 45-foot-high towers, a drawbridge and stone walls surrounding an expansive inner courtyard. This trip back to the Middle Ages is the brainchild of Michel Guyot, who had a similar project in France 10 years ago.

Details are being worked out, but extensive group offerings are expected. Groups will be met by guides who explain the project. Kitchens are also being built, where soup and bread will be prespared for guests.

(800) 296-0463

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