Rebuilding America: Local tourism branding 'We are the Lake'

Joyce L. Miller
AquaPalooza is a popular event held on the water at Dog Days in Osage Beach. It is held in July.

As summer gets into full swing, the Lake of the Ozarks is showing signs of rebounding after a dismal and bleak start to the season.

After weeks of waiting, Memorial Day weekend arrived with an influx of visitors.

Stay-at-home orders and social distancing devastated tourism, one of Missouri’s biggest industries.

By the end of March, the Missouri Division of Tourism reported hotel occupancy was down 67% from a year ago, and travel spending in the state was down $242 million.

Statewide, Lake of the Ozarks along with St. Louis, Kansas City, Branson, Columbia and Springfield weathered not only the loss of visitors and large meetings, but the loss of jobs as well as lodging and sales tax revenue.

Lake area businesses who depend on the tourism industry may have seen a late start to the season but as past history has shown, those who call Lake of the Ozarks home are resilient. As visitors return and businesses open up, the outlook for the season is improving.

Early on, as the challenges of the pandemic began to be felt by the local businesses, the Lake of the Ozarks Convention and Visitor Bureau launched a marketing campaign aimed at giving potential visitors a glimpse at what was waiting for them.

Called “Stay Safe. Stay Healthy. There Is Nothing More Important Than You, Our Visitor,” the marketing campaign included multiple platforms to reach visitors, showcasing the lake.

CVB Director Tim Jacobsen said the objective was to create a campaign to send a message to visitors that they are important and when the time is right, Lake of the Ozarks would be ready and waiting.

Another partnership between CVB and lake area chambers launched a “We are the Lake” campaign. The lake area collaboration is to assist local businesses with the promotion of re-opening the region. These efforts are being presented by the Lake Area Chamber of Commerce, Lake West Chamber of Commerce, Camdenton Area Chamber of Commerce, Eldon Area Chamber of Commerce, Versailles Area Chamber of Commerce and the Lake of the Ozarks Convention & Visitor Bureau.

Moving into Memorial Day weekend, the Lake Area Chamber reported they were fielding calls from potential visitors.

“Over the last few weeks as the holiday weekend draws near the phone calls, emails, and online inquiries have picked up immensely. People are ready to visit this beautiful community of ours and we have to be ready to welcome them. Many of our businesses have suffered major hardships due to the COVID-19 Pandemic and they rely on this upcoming holiday weekend and the traffic it will bring to keep their doors open.” LACC Executive Director K.C. Cloke said just prior to Memorial Day weekend. “Our members have done an amazing job adapting to the current situation and many are able to provide their service/product only in a different manner than before. As we visit with the inquirer we share many of those updates with them so they are not surprised once arriving to the lake.”

For the cities of Osage Beach and Lake Ozark, the loss of sales tax revenue that both experienced during the height of the pandemic is a challenge when it comes to budgeting and recovering from the shortfall but the officials are optimistic.

Osage Beach Mayor John Olivarri said there is, of course, the hope that visitors will be responsible and practice social distancing when they visit. It is a challenge, he said, because you do worry about the spread of the coronavirus but it is encouraging to see the businesses reopening and people out and about. Olivarri said the overall economic well-being of the lake area is at stake.

In Lake Ozark, Mayor Gerry Maruwski said Memorial Day drew people to the area from all over the Midwest who, had they not been under stay at home orders, might not have chosen Lake of the Ozarks as their destination. Maruwski said it’s good to see visitors and businesses being responsible and enjoying the lake.

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