Skift Take

These Missouri hotel innovators asked themselves: What should thoughtful, modern hospitality look like in the Ozarks? The verdict is still out on their just-opened boutique hotel. But their approach offers a peak into current trends in design thinking.

The Ozarks may have a branding problem. Built up in the ’80s and ’90s with big hotel chains and arguably kitschy attractions, Branson has garnered a reputation among some as “the Las Vegas of the Midwest” — just more family-friendly. But the team behind The Ozarker Lodge in Branson, Missouri, which opened June 30, has some fresh ideas.

“The Ozarks isn’t hillbilly country,” said Jeremy Wells, a partner at Longitude Design, the Springfield, Missouri-based consultancy behind the boutique hotel. “It’s not just all hokey, cheesy stuff.”

That’s why Wells, along with his business partner Dustin Myers at Longitude, decided to jump into hotel ownership.

“We noticed that there was a lack of unique, modern, and design-forward lodging options in the Ozarks region, which is our backyard,” Myers said.

The duo joined forces with Eagle Point Hotel Partners, the investment company behind Calistoga Motor Lodge and Spa and Basecamp Boulder, to buy the 102-room hotel in 2021.

From Podcast to Deal

The two teams met about a year earlier on Wells and Myers’ podcast, “Future Hospitality,” when they invited Stephen Chan of Eagle Point to be a guest.

“We had the property under contract, and we were just trying to find the right partners,” said Wells.

After a grand tour, Eagle Point was in.

Wells and Myers took on the conception and branding of the hotel, while Eagle Point handled construction and development. Midwest-based design firm Parini focused on guest room aesthetics.

guest room ozarker lodge
A guest room at The Ozarker Lodge in Branson, Missouri, that officially opened on June 30. Source: Longitude Hospitality.

Accenting the Best of the Ozarks

Wells and Myers, being locals, relied on some of their nostalgia when creating their lodge’s branding and design.

Many families have fond memories of time spent at Table Rock Lake, said Myers, one of the top bass fishing lakes in the U.S., and just a three-mile drive from The Ozarker.

“We wanted to lean into that experience of being an outdoor lodge and help people connect with nature,” said Myers.

A creek that runs through the property helps set the lodge’s outdoorsy tone — serving as something of a reference point to all the hikes and mountain biking trails surrounding the nearby lake.

“The creek is one of the most special aspects of this property, so we designed out a whole creekside experience with a new pool, a natural playground for kids, some great space for dogs, and cedar soaking tubs which are down by the waterfall that’s at the end,” Myers said.

When creating the lodge, they decided that if a vehicle were to represent the brand, it would be a vintage Jeep Wagoneer.

So they created branding materials and illustrations around that idea. Then they bought and restored a 1982 Jeep Wagoneer, which they planned to park out front.

To keep the hotel locally relevant, they’re leaning into help from local businesses. Kingdom Coffee has created a custom roast. Mollyjogger, a local brand that creates outdoorsy products like pocket knives and playing cards, sells goods in the hotel store. A lobby bar offers charcuterie boards from nearby Terrell Creek Farm.

A Jeep Wagoneer. Source: The Ozarker Lodge
A Jeep Wagoneer. Source: The Ozarker Lodge.

Appealing to Multiple Generations?

While The Ozarker Lodge’s demographic may skew toward millennial and Gen Z travelers, Wells and Myers also hope the hotel becomes a meeting point for grandparents through grandkids.

“A lot of travel in the Branson area spans multi-generations,” Wells said.

The lodge has fire pits, for example, that the hotel designers imagine families will sit around, roasting s’mores or using popcorn makers (both of which are sold at the hotel).

“We hope that it will be a special place in children’s minds as they’re growing up, and maybe somewhere they want to take their kids someday,” said Myers.

Soon, Wells and Myers hope to develop more hotels in the Ozark-Branson region and beyond.

“A lot of the challenges Branson has as a market is that it hasn’t fully found its identity, I would say,” said Wells. “There’s a lot of room for us and others to help define what that is.”

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Tags: boutique hotels, branson, design, eagle point hotel partners, future of lodging, hotel design, missouri

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