• Thu. Sep 22nd, 2022

Wally Kennedy: The local tourism industry is doing well — so far | Local News

ByStephanie M. Akbar

Jun 17, 2022

Escalating fuel prices are not, at least for now, having a noticeable negative impact on Joplin’s tourism industry. But it could be about to happen.

People who monitor local travel trends tell me there’s no evidence yet to suggest regular unleaded at nearly $5 a gallon is slowing the travel season this summer.

“We haven’t seen a decline,” said Tammy Uto, supervisor of the Missouri Division of Tourism Welcome Center at the 2-mile marker on Interstate 44. “People are going to our state parks, Branson and St. Louis just as they have done in the past.”

In fact, visits to Missouri shelters increased 30% from January to April compared to the same time last year.

Let’s not underestimate the importance of Missouri tourism. It provides a $13.5 billion economic impact that creates more than 257,000 jobs in the state through lodging, food sales, recreation, attractions/entertainment venues, amusement parks and sports complexes. Lodging alone in Joplin brought in more than $37 million last year.

“Not so long ago it was predicted that we would now feel the impact of rising fuel costs,” said Patrick Tuttle, director of the Joplin Convention and Visitors Bureau. “Those predictions have not come to fruition. Our internationals – bus tours on Route 66 – have not diminished. We have yet to see any evidence of impact.

Tuttle said people, unhindered by COVID-19, don’t abandon their planned vacation even if it costs them more than they originally planned.

It appears that American consumers, who have stashed away $2.4 trillion during the pandemic, have weathered this wave of inflation by using their savings to offset higher fuel and food costs. This manifested itself in April’s savings rate falling to its lowest level since 2008, as well as a pick-up in consumer borrowing.

The savings rate was 8% at the start of the year. It is now 4.5%, reflecting withdrawals for four consecutive months. The question becomes: when will consumers start withdrawing to preserve what is left of their savings?

It could happen now. The number of local accommodations is slightly lower than last year. Local restaurant owners tell me traffic has slowed recently. And, according to a Commerce Department report earlier this week, retail sales turned negative in May as consumers cut spending.

Have we reached a tipping point? Are we heading for a slowdown or a recession? Only time will tell.

Pizza Ranch

With the recent openings of the new Chick-fil-A and Raising Cane’s Chicken Fingers on Range Line Road, we are two down and two to go in terms of new restaurant openings.

The next one will be Pizza Ranch at 3223 E. 20th St. It is located just east of Byrider Joplin. Plans call for the restaurant to open on Tuesday July 5th.

Pizza Ranch is a family-friendly buffet restaurant, featuring pizza, chicken, and a salad bar, plus video games and more in its FunZone Arcade. It also offers a full take-out and delivery menu.

Pizza Ranch announced this week that it still has several positions available. If you are looking for a job, visit www.pizzaranch.com/careers to complete an application and arrange an interview. With so many restaurant openings this year, it’s apparently getting harder to find employees.

After Pizza Ranch, the next new restaurant to open on or near the Strip will be Panera Bread at 2101 S. Range Line Road. This property is the former site of Pizza By Stout.

Panera Bread is moving from a mall to 2401 E. 32nd St. Expect an opening in September or October if all goes according to plan.

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