Branson (Mo.) Convention Center

The City of Branson, Mo., had just 90 days to put out an RFP, hear proposals and decide on a new management company to run operations at Branson Convention Center. SMG, Global Spectrum, and PHR Hotels bid to replace Hilton International, which had managed the convention center and connected hotel for about six years.

“[Hilton International] had come to some decision with the owners of the hotel to terminate that agreement and said if they weren’t going to be running the hotel they weren’t going to be running the convention center, either,” said Bill Malinen, Branson city administrator.

SMG took over convention center operations April 1, with new General Manager Marc Mulherin arriving just the day before. PHR Hotels will run the attached property.

The contract extends three years, with the option for two additional years.

Though Mulherin said SMG didn’t have access to the existing team or the space leading up to the transition, it has gone fairly smoothly. Most of the staff, including 18 of the 20 managers, was retained.

Branson Convention Center General Manager Marc Mulherin.

“The team here has some good senior level experience, with the shortest tenure about a year and a half all the way to starting when the building opened in 2007,” said Mulherin, who added that the goal is to transition to SMG beliefs and values. “From our management perspective all the way down to our hourly employees, we want to make sure that the same level of service and commitment to the product is still there.”

Malinen said that though SMG and Global Spectrum both did a great job and he was confident that either would be successful stewards of the property, a couple of things about SMG really stood out, including a lower price quote.

“They’re certainly a well-rounded company and the way they addressed the food and beverage fit us a little better,” said Malinen, of the option to include concessions through SMG’s Savor as part of a single contract. “So basically it was a little cheaper, then the food gave them an edge.”

He added that the company’s plan to reach out to the community, getting involved with the convention and visitor’s bureau, lodging association and other stakeholders, made SMG the clear choice.

Gregg Caren, SMG’s executive VP for convention and exhibition centers, pointed out that the venue marks the company’s first convention center property in Missouri and serves as a nice complement to other regional venues.

“We are excited to provide immediate access to our national network of first-class venues, and work with the local hospitality community to expand new sales opportunities,” Caren added.

Mulherin said his team is still researching how the convention center was previously run and how many dates it filled with events including conventions, trade shows, public events and social functions from weddings to proms.

“Basically we’re going to take a hard look at how business was being conducted and how the business has been sold, and we want to make sure we’re increasing it,” he said, adding that he has a plan to get more eyes looking at Branson Convention Center. “I don’t think the center had enough looks, so our focus is to get meeting planners in here, become active in social media and active in trade shows throughout the industry.”

“We need to touch base with clients at a higher level,” he added.

Interviewed for this story: Gregg Caren and Marc Mulherin, (614) 827-2500; Bill Malinen, (417) 337-8548