Early-year sales tax gains forecast a busy tourist season at the lake

Mitch Prentice
Lake Sun Leader
Attendees of Aquapalooza 2018 enjoy the heat of summer at the yearly event.

There is a buzz around the lake this week. As Memorial Day weekend is days away, many are preparing for what is normally considered the beginning of the lake tourist season. 

This time in 2020, things were uncertain. Many states were still under heavy COVID quarantine protocols and the state of the pandemic was growing more concerning. However, in Missouri, many hard restrictions were phasing out and it looked like the lake would have ample opportunity to have a big summer. Looking back now, that’s exactly what happened.

The lake area saw record tourism numbers throughout the remainder of the year and sales tax figures saw massive increases, ranging from 5% to 12% in each major lake county. Real estate sales topped $1 billion for the first time and all in all, the lake came out of a tough year looking strong. 

As the 2021 tourist season begins, Osage Beach Mayor John Olivarri says that the city has already seen a positive monetary increase through the first five months of the year. Currently, Osage Beach is 17% up in sales tax figures compared to 2020. The early months of 2020 were notably difficult for the lake, as the COVID pandemic saw a dip in sales tax figures early on. Still, seeing increases suggests that a tourism-heavy summer should be on the horizon.

Olivarri expects a big wave of foot traffic over the weekend, and for it to continue through the summer season. 

“Right now, if you don’t have reservations at the lake, it’s gonna be hard to find anything,” Olivarri said.

For Olivarri, this increase in tourism and a potentially record setting summer is nothing short of exciting. He says that for many tourists, it only takes one trip to the lake to see its many qualities and to fall in love. He believes that simply getting people to come to the Lake of the Ozarks will turn into another wave of second home owners. 

This does lead to a question of available housing, which has been a notable issue in the lake area. Olivarri says he wishes he had the resources to continue building more and more housing, but it’s difficult. This availability in affordable housing has struck the lake through a hiring shortage as well, causing some local concern of business staffing once tourism demands reach a peak. Olivarri says that, while this of course a real issue, it’s not unique to the lake and is being felt throughout the country. 

Looking ahead, the question becomes whether or not this surge of tourism will fade or if these numbers will become the new normal. Olivarri says that he believes once people visit the first time, they will continue to come. He says that bigger markets of tourism near the major cities of Missouri still have many residents that have not ventured into the lake yet, and that market may be a major portion of who comes down in 2021. 

Whether or not the expected high turnout this year is accurate, Olivarri is just excited to expose more of the country to the opportunities of the lake. 

“I don’t think things will slow down. We’ll probably see an uptick this year as a carryover from COVID… but I think we’ve opened the eyes of people who didn’t know much about the Lake of the Ozarks," Olivarri said.