Beyond Air Service

Jodi Richards
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Branson, MO, is known as the "live entertainment capital of the world." With 100 shows each day, 60,000 theatre seats, lakes, golf courses, family venues and more, it certainly lives up to its name. And a welcome center in the terminal of Branson Airport (BKG) connects visitors with the myriad of local options.

Tourists can purchase show tickets and book hotel rooms and flights through Fly Branson Travel Services, a business offshoot of Branson Airport LLC.

Fly Branson Travel is Branson LLC's own, for lack of a better term, travel agency, Bourk explains. It's also a concierge of sorts. People can call an 800-number to arrange all their needs for their next Branson vacation. "We're making a convenient, one-stop shop for Branson," Bourk says.

Steve Peet, president and CEO of Branson Airport LLC says the benefit of Fly Branson Travel is two-fold: profit and "not leaving to chance getting butts in the seats."

By October, BKG expects to have an online booking engine up and running so travelers can reserve their entire Branson travel package through

BKG is also building an in-terminal advertising program, he says. Companies can purchase ad space within the terminal to promote their business - something he expects to be another profitable revenue opportunity for the airport.


Ross Summers, president and CEO of the Branson/Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce & Convention & Visitors Bureau, says the community is "very excited" about the airport. "It's a facility that is going to really bring Branson to an entirely different level," Summers says.

Although Branson draws visitors from all over the country, it has been a drive-to destination, he notes. While many are from a 300- to 400-mile radius, roughly 60% come from outside that radius. "We know there are huge markets out there where folks do not want to drive to get here," he says. "The airport opens a number of doors for us."

Branson Airport officials are reaching out to the entire community, Bourk says. "Every hotel, theatre, attraction in town is motivated to reach out to people," he says. And the airport is relying on this motivation to help make its operation a success.

Bourk and his team are promoting the airlines by reaching out to travel planners and tour operators that have a history of coming to Branson, as well as working with Convention and Visitors Bureaus, state tourism departments and businesses in town that market Branson. The airport has also purchased an undisclosed amount of television, radio, print and outdoor ads.

"We're a business," Bourk says. "If an airline partners with us and flies into Branson, we are motivated to help make them successful. Our business fails if they're not successful."

Summers says the Chamber will promote the airport any way it can and has been working closely with the new airport and its staff. "We are anxious for them to be successful," he comments. "They have chosen Branson to put their dollars at risk and we are thankful and excited. We have a huge potential market here."

Summers expects the airport to increase business travel as well as tourism. "We opened up a brand new convention center here a year-and-a-half ago, so it really opens up a whole new business sector for us," he comments.

The city of Branson has a population of some 7,500. An economic impact study estimates the airport will add $210 million and generate 3,000 new jobs in the region - in its first year alone. Officials expect to reach one million enplaned passengers within a very short time, adds Bourk.

"You really don't have to dream that much," Bourk says. "Reno has 2.5 million visitors, Myrtle Beach is over a million. Ninety-five percent of visitors drive here, but that's because they (previously couldn't) fly. Branson is a destination people want to come to and the air service market here could develop really rapidly."

Just the Beginning

After three months of operation, everything is still in "start-up" mode, Bourk comments. Improvements and adjustments are being made where necessary, but so far, "It is working the way it's supposed to," he says.

"We're continuing to learn as we go," Bourk notes. "It's all about efficiency. We're a business and we are profit-driven. Like any business, we are always evaluating our position to see where we can improve."

"We are excited about where we're at," he says, noting that passengers are coming from unexpected markets.


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