BRANSON, Missouri — The 2023 Select Traveler Conference drew 258 upscale buyers, industry representatives and vendors to Branson, Missouri, March 27–29, where both the host city and attendees confirmed travel’s robust return. In Branson, a city known for tourism vitality, buyers and sellers described 2023 as a record year in the making for global tourism.
“Groups are a vital market segment for us, and we take them very seriously,” said Samantha Gutting, senior VP and chief sales officer for Explore Branson’s groups sales department. “The future looks great for groups. We devote a lot of dollars to this market. We stress quality over quantity and the Select Traveler Conference delivers that for us.”
Jim Edwards, vice president for U.S. affinity development for Collette, the country’s oldest tour operator, echoed the positive outlook. “Collette will have the best year in its 105-year history this year. Our travelers know they are not guaranteed time and they are seeing the world in record numbers. They are buying extensions on their trips, and many are doing itineraries back-to-back. The demand is remarkable.”
Sightseeing options for conference attendees showcased Branson’s vast entertainment scene and its Ozark Mountains setting. They dined at McFarlain’s Family Restaurant, known for its Ozarks cuisine and homemade pies; spent time with the Haygood entertainment family after their show; and relaxed at the Chateau on the Lake Resort Spa and Convention Center, overlooking Table Rock Lake.
Bud Geissler of GroupCollect, a tool that streamlines planning group travel, delivered a keynote address on new technology for tour management. Nearly 50 buyers spent two hours together sharing ideas for growing their travel programs.
Anthony Stacy of Branson IMAX and Branson Restaurants Inc. spoke about how Branson has evolved from its start, some 60 years ago, as a haven for aging entertainers.
“We’ve beaten the image of ‘honky-tonks and old people’ now,” he said. “That’s not who we are anymore. Families are coming, golfers are coming, fishermen are coming. Branson is drawing 10 million visitors annually. But we still see groups as some of our best ambassadors. Groups go home and tell everyone they know about Branson. They create word-of-mouth that money can’t buy.”